The Roar
The Roar

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How a freakishly talented runner started my NFL love affair

Tony Romo is still the best quarterback in the Cowboys. Still. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
Roar Rookie
12th September, 2016
10

When I was a young kid, as the Michael Jordan wave crossed the globe, I became a massive basketball fan. With no particular favourite team, I just loved the game including the glitz and glamour that came with it.

Like all young kids, I started collecting basketball cards, which was a huge craze in Australia in my early teens. I quickly befriended the owners of a card shop in my home town.

Rohan, the owner, was a massive Dallas Cowboys fan and his favourite player was Emmitt Smith. I remember Rohan telling me that I should follow NFL. “It’s a much better sport than basketball,” he told me.

I was intrigued, but now I needed a team to follow. Rohan loved running backs and passed his passion along to me. This was an era when the likes of Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Jerome Betis, Thurman Thomas and Curtis Martin were running around.

It was arguably the greatest era of football the game has ever seen! Rohan mentioned that this rookie running back by the name of Marshall Faulk. He was from San Diego State and was going to get drafted. “You should follow him,” Rohan encouraged.

I became an instant NFL fan and wanted to absorb as much information and knowledge as possible – and as quickly as possible. I stopped collecting basketball cards and started collecting NFL cards.

There was a set of Marshall Faulk Rookie Draft game cards. He was dressed up in multiple teams’ colours – the card manufacturers were predicting where he would end up!

Looking back now, I could’ve been a Cincinnati Bengals fan, a Washington Redskins fan, a New England Patriots fan (yuk!) or even a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan. How life could have been different! But I am so grateful that Jim Isray decided to draft Marshall Faulk to the Indianapolis Colts.

This is how I became a Colts fan. This was a team that was always at the bottom of our division and always struggling in a town that was known more for its car racing then for its football. I loved them anyway.

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Watching Marshall Faulk’s career was inspiring, a freakishly talented runner from the backfield, he was starting his career off in the same fashion as his peers and the great running backs of the game did.

Back in those days there was no internet and the only way we got to watch the NFL was through a two-hour highlight show on SBS at 2:00am in the morning hosted by American ex-pat Don Lane.

I would leave post-it notes all over the house reminding my mum to record the NFL for me, I was hooked. I would come home every Tuesday from school and watch the NFL every week, I fell in love with the game at the age of fourteen years old.

As the years went on I started to understand the game better and better and found a love for Madden football on the Sega Mega Drive and Play Station. Between Madden, collecting cards and studying the game at every chance I got, I was feeding and fuelling my love of NFL.

I’d go to school and tell everyone about this game I loved, but no one understood. My mates only cared about Australian rules football. I would constantly hear comments such as “those guys are fat” and “they’re not athletes” and “they need to were pads, how soft are they?” No one got it. 

I couldn’t talk to any of my peers about how the strategy of the game was similar to a game of chess and how it was about field position and anticipating the plays. It was about outsmarting the opposing team; it was about being five steps ahead.

NFL was like a drug to me; I was addicted and couldn’t get enough of it!

Ironically, 22 years on, the game has grown considerably in Australia and I now have a circle of friends that don’t only like the game, they love the game.

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In 1998 the Colts drafted a rookie quarterback called Peyton Manning. We were finally starting to build a good franchise with a solid quarterback and superstar running back. How good was this?

It wasn’t until the start of the 1999 season that the Colts announced that they had traded Marshall Faulk to the St. Louis Rams for a second and fifth round draft pick, who at the time was at the peak of his career.

Former Colts General Manager, Bill Polian, has since said that “the problem we had with Marshall was his dissatisfaction with his contract, and I couldn’t blame him. It was excessively long and bound him in ways that his agent surely regretted after it was signed”.

My favourites player was now gone, traded to a team I didn’t know much about. I was torn. Should I follow my boy Marshall Faulk and become a St. Louis Rams fan? Or should I stay loyal to the Horseshoe?

I decided to stick with the Colts and watch our young quarterback closely, not knowing at the time that Peyton would become possibly the greatest quarterback the NFL has ever seen.

Marshall Faulk was still my favourite player. I watched the Rams games closely to see how he was playing. In 1999, his first year as a Ram, he rushed for 1,381 yards and received for 1,048 yards, only the second player in NFL history behind the 49ers Roger Craig to do this in two different categories. 

I was thrilled when the St. Louis Rams won Super Bowl XXXIV and felt privileged to watch his Hall of Fame career.

Running backs are still my favourites and I pay close attention to all of them today. I still believe it’s one of the most critical positions on the ground. T

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he Pittsburgh Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell and the Arizona Cardinal second year back David Johnson remind me of Marshall Faulk. Bell is such a fluent running back – time stands still for him – and his vison is seconds to none.

He has great hands in the backfield, can read blitzes, block and is incredibly intelligent. Providing he can stay healthy he would be the closest thing we have to a modern day Marshall Faulk and may well be the first player since him to rush and receive for over 1,000 yards in the same season.

I will be forever grateful to Rohan Smith from Unlimited Sports Cards for introducing me to the game of NFL, a game that is my number one passion and that is a huge part of my life.