My lunch was interrupted yesterday by a sad piece of news scrolling at the bottom of the screen on the four letter sports network. New England Patriot running back mainstay Kevin Faulk had torn his ACL and would have to miss the rest of the season. The news quickly sparked a few minutes of debate at my table.
A couple of coworkers declared the injury was meaningless in National Football League terms, saying Faulk was old and slow. These were hardly Patriots fans, and in today’s world of fantasy stats I can forgive them their naiveté. Faulk is old; thirty-four is ancient by NFL running back standards. And yes, he’s dump truck slow in comparison to most the league’s ball carriers. I’m no Patriot fan either, but I do love football (especially of the professional variety) in much the same way I love the beautiful game, and as such, it would be impossible for me not to admire what the NFL’s version of Arsene Wenger has created in New England. Like the Arsenal gaffer and Denzel’s character in Training Day, Bill Belichick is playing chess while his contemporaries are content to jump each others’ checkers each year. Within the woefully overused chess metaphor, Kevin Faulk has been Belichick’s favored knight for the past twelve years.
Faulk has never been an every down back or even an every down player for the Pats, but he’s usually good for between 50 and 70 all-purpose yards a game. That’s not going to win you the gag trophy or overhyped keg of imported beer that goes to the Bro’s League Fantasy Awesome Champion, but Faulk doesn’t care about that crap. The dude cares about winning. He cares about the fact that his 50 to 70 yards are usually important ones that help decide the game for New England. Faulk is a tail back that’s never had a thousand yard rushing season in his career, but he’s got three Super Bowl rings and is the Patriots all-time leader in all-purpose yards. He’s returned kicks and punts, lined up in the slot, as a fullback, and yes, he even plays his natural position of regular old halfback on occasion. Tricky and useful, like the knight. By the way, he’s been doing it since college too, where he played second-fiddle yet team MVP behind All-American and current Florida penal system resident Cecil “The Diesel” Collins.
Taking my Kevin Faulk discussion/appreciation day back to the TYAC home offices, I first had a series of adjectives and phrases thrown at me, which, when stitched together summed up the New England “third down back” pretty well. Brace for the stream of consciousness part of our program:
Unheralded. Dedicated. Versatile. Bought in. Doin’ it for the cause.
Basically, this is the type of guy you need on your team, whether you’re facing the biggest game of the season or a midweek practice session that nobody else seems able to get up for. Faulk is the guy opposing fans forget about right up until he’s breaking their hearts.
The next step was naturally to poll some of the Yanks writers on who the Kevin Faulk-type players on their favorite English Premier League teams were. After confirming with another West Ham supporter that the current squad has no player who fits the bill (and crapping myself with relegation fear), here are my findings:
Puck – Manchester City – Shaun Wright Phillips
A couple years ago I never would have thought I’d be saying this, but the 2010 version of SWP is a team guy who’s embraced his smaller role in a big squad. He makes the most of his opportunities, and though he only plays on the wing, you probably forget he’s even back at the Eastlands until he’s scoring on your team right? Very Faulk of him.
Neil Blackmon – Everton – Phil Jagielka
He may not be unheralded, but the defender and sometimes defensive mid is a Moyes man through and through. He’s got both the grit and the trust of his manager, and he’s always ready to lay his body on the line for a tackle. He also takes penalties for the Toffees at times, that pretty much seals that.
Raf Crowley – Liverpool – Dirk Kuyt
The Dutchman is content to do the dirty work in the shadow of the Kop and Fernando Torres’ haircut of the week. He won’t touch the ball for twenty minutes, running all the while, then he’ll receive a pass and make space for an apparent shot before dumping the ball to one of the Reds’ glamour players for a certain goal. Dirk would throw down beers with Kevin Faulk, no doubt.
Raf and I also agreed that former Liverpudlians Danny Murphy and John Arne Riise were worthy of mention. Murphy’s dedication and determination get him into this conversation just like they’ve got him wearing the captain’s armband at Fulham. Riise may not match Murphy for fire, but his versatility and penchant for scoring rarely but in big spots get him a spot on the Faulk list.
We don’t have a Man U fan in our midst, but Sir Alex Ferguson has probably gotten the best out of more Kevin Faulk’s than any manager in the Prem, so I figured I better give the Red Devils a mention. Currently Darren Fletcher, John O’Shea, and J.S. Park all fit the bill. They’re not even entrenched starters for the club, but they take Fergie’s word as gospel, and are rewarded for it every year.
We all know a team must have big time talents to win consistently, but the positive correlation between number of Faulk-type players and winning football clubs is there as well. It’s not just about having a large squad either, Real Madrid discovered that last season. The presence of a Kevin Faulk can make the difference in a season, or a tournament, or a locker room.
Okay, now it’s open forum time. Being that this is The Yanks Are Coming, it’s only appropriate that I ask who plays the Faulk role for the U.S. Men’s National Team? Under Bob Bradley we have players bought into the system and giving it all to the team and each other. But which Yank is as versatile on the field and as under-the-radar yet effective as Faulk? Don’t let the picture above of the perfectly allowable disallowed goal influence you too much. Or do, we don’t care. Have at it.
Jon Levy is a Co-Founder and Senior Writer at The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at email@example.com or you can follow him on Twitter at @TYAC_Jon.