First things first: long time/first time! Big fan of the site! Keep up the great work!
Don't know if you guys have heard, but apparently Marshall Faulk is supposed to be getting some sort of yellow-ish jacket thing this weekend. Since it's kind of a big deal (I heard Jim Hart had one once, until people realized he just dipped a blazer in mustard and added an NFL sticker to it), I thought I'd share a kind of unique story I have about him - unless you're from Edwardsville, IL too, then it's not really that unique.
I was in my pre-teens during the Greatest Show years, and was not only a football player in the St. Louis area, I was also a bit of a football stat-head. I was pretty much a 12-year-old Bill James - there was even a point in time where I could actually calculate a QB rating in my head (although that was a pretty short-lived parlor trick). Add to that a move from Missouri to Illinois in the summer of 2000, a very slow capacity for making new friends (especially at the time), and the final, silent seconds of Super Bowl XXXVI being the last moment my family had together before my parents finally split, and it's easy to see why the Rams were very much my life during those years. For a good two or three years, I didn't miss a single snap of unashamed entertainment from Mad Mike's squad. And even though my two favorite Rams of all time would be Kurt Warner (obvious reasons) and London Fletcher (I played middle 'backer for a while), the feats of Marshall Faulk never failed to amaze and dazzle me every Sunday (or Monday - remember when we played on Mondays almost once a month?).
But when I wasn't rooting for my Rams or playing myself, I had another favorite gridiron team - the Edwardsville Tigers! Although I wasn't in high school yet, I would never miss a Friday night under the lights, and as a player for the middle school team, I got to get in free. And although Tiger football as a whole lot different than the Turf Show (there were meaningful, closely contested games where we'd literally not throw a single forward pass), we were nearly as successful, making the state title game in both 2001 and 2002 (unfortunately losing both years to Mt. Prospect - DAMN YOU, PROSPECT!!!)
But one memorable Friday, those two worlds somehow collided.
It was a mid-season conference home game in '01, I believe against one of the Bellevilles, and we were winning pretty comfortably early in the 2nd half. Then all of a sudden, a couple men in street clothes came walking towards the Tiger sideline. Usually security was quick to escort anyone outside of recent football playing alumni from the area, but these men were clearly not just out of high school, and no one seemed to bother them. One man was wearing a thin white sweater and jeans that were loose fitting, but not baggy. Not only could afford to dress stylish, he clearly knew how to. And he looked frighteningly familiar, too.
"...That's not......it couldn't be...could it?......there's no way that he's.........oh my god, it actually is!"
It was Marshall Faulk.
As I would later hear through the grape vine, the Tigers all-state running back was at a major mall in St. Louis earlier that week, and happened to meet Superman himself, Marshall Faulk. After talking a bit, he asked Marshall if he would like to come to his game that Friday - where he got the balls to think he'd even consider it, I'll never know. But he had the balls, and that Friday night, the then reigning NFL MVP was there on our sidelines - the same sidelines I hoped to one day stand on myself!
The best part about seeing him was that everyone in the stands were all thinking the same thing I was. By this time no one was paying much attention to the game, it was all about Marshall. Why was he there? (See above.) Who was with him? (Still don't know - one younger kid next to me thought one of them was Isaac Bruce, but it clearly wasn't.) Would the Rams get back at the hated Saints this year? (I'll be honest, I really miss that rivalry, as short lived as it was.)
After the game - which we won going away - I started to leave through the main gates. From the other side of the parking lot, I saw Marshall and his posse getting into a car. I thought about running over for an autograph, or at least a closer look at one of my heroes, but I completely froze with shock, even with the hour or so I'd already had to absorb it. I heard on Monday that he refused autograph requests that night, anyway. But even if I had been rejected for a signature that night, I don't think it would've diminished my astonishment.
Throughout his career, Marshall Faulk made the TransWorldJones Dome turf into his personal plaything. He didn't just revolutionize how a running back could be utilized, he spoiled my expectations of what a back SHOULD be able to do on a football field. But one of my favorite memories of him will always be in street clothes on the sidelines.
And not one where I was complaining about Trung Candidate playing either.