I've never been much of a tribute writer. Blame it on some deep-seeded Cold War cynicism, but I never really felt much attachment to heroes. Probably because I learned early on that heroes were just regular people, pressed into some extraordinary situation...or some cliche like that. If you elevate a person to hero status, they will inevitably disappoint, from fathers to presidents to football players, human fallibility is inescapable.
Sounds rather strange and kind of depressing for a sports fan, no? I don't think so. I think most rational adults don't confuse appreciation with worship. And there aren't many football players I appreciate more than Marshall Faulk, who was a big reason I warmed to the St. Louis Rams, a team that seemed like nothing more than a bunch of strange outsiders to a group of Midwestern football fans jilted by their previous team...until 1999.
The university had spit me out onto the street the year before, with only a history degree to fend off the dangers of the world. Astonished that employers were not lining up to hire me, I had little choice but to go to grad school. Defeated, I needed an outlet. I kind of put my sports fandom aside during college, aside from fly fishing and drinking copious amounts of beer under the clear, cool Western skies, giving over most of my attentions to study and girls...mostly girls, which took up an extraordinary amount of time.
Living at home at again, girls were most assuredly out of the equation. I need some distraction. And I found it in a curious oddity that I had mostly ignored. The St. Louis Rams of Tony Banks seemed, that summer, to finally be evolving into something worth watching. Having swung a deal for Marshall Faulk signaled that the Rams finally meant business. Maybe this team was worth watching after all.
I was not disappointed.
Another reason I hate tributes: the adjectives. Sports writing is dominated by cliches, from the nationally recognized writers all the way down the food chain. Yes, Faulk was "electrifying." He really was "awe inspiring," and "amazing," and "like no other." Few players possess the talent to truly "change the game" like he did.
Taking nothing away from the appreciation I have for Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, Marshall Faulk made "The Greatest Show on Turf" a real revolution. The Martzist spread offense has since gone viral throughout the NFL, an offense driven league. Teams have tried to find a player like Faulk, but have mostly resorted to recreating him by committee. It still makes for an entertaining spectacle...but it's not like watching Marshall Faulk.
Faulk is notorious for being not so friendly to fans, having turned away more than one wide-eyed young autograph seeker. I don't really care. And that is why keeping a divide between the entertainer/player and the private person is a healthy thing. Faulk played his way out of life in New Orleans' Ninth Ward, as much as I don't need an autograph, I do still fall for the occasional Horatio Alger story.
However, that's enough human interest story for me. On the field, Faulk made for some of the best football I have ever seen. As a football fan, that's what I appreciate the man for, not some need to connect on a more personal level. I love football. I like to obsess over the Xs and Os. I like to play armchair general manger with free agents, amateur scout with the draft. I, obviously, enjoy it enough to spend a considerable amount of time writing about it. Boil it down the sheer essence, though, and I like football because it's entertaining. Being a fan, identifying with a team, makes it that much more enjoyable, delivering the highs and lows that we feed on for a healthy form of escapism and, more important, a deeper connection with our fellow fans. Another branch on the tree of identity.
Marshall Faulk was a blessing for Rams fans (maybe not the autograph seekers), making every game three hours of sheer pleasure and breathing life into a team and its fan base. That act, in and of itself, deserves enshrinement.