A day in the life of the NFL's best young player can be pretty
interesting, especially when it's the heart of the off-season
and he goes to have his nails done.
Today Marshall Faulk is driving around San Diego in a
three-week-old Range Rover, at $54,000 hardly the most expensive
of the 11 cars he has bought in the last two years, and the
music on his stereo is so loud and obnoxious that even inanimate
objects outside seem to sit up and take note. Light poles
quiver; park benches slouch toward the trees. Somebody has made
somebody mad, the song seems to be saying, and somebody has got
It's rap, of course, and it causes the worst sort of headache.
Yet Faulk, who is 22 and attuned to the problems of his mad,
misanthropic generation, has an expression on his face that is
just short of blissful. He knows the words and sings along, his
voice a crusty whisper until at last he reaches Mission Gorge
"I like to groom myself pretty nice," Faulk mutters--at least his
lips seem to say that--as he turns right into a nondescript
shopping center. A jumble of signs decorates the long, narrow
building, and one near the center says ACRYLIC NAILS, big and
July 23, 1995
Faulk enters and takes a seat, plunks one hand down in a basin
of water, the other under a ring of incandescent light for
somebody named Nina to inspect. "You big football star, yes?"
the manicurist asks.
"I play for the Colts," Faulk replies. Then, as if further
explanation is necessary: "In Indianapolis."
Nina begins attacking his nails, clippers sounding a musical
tattoo. In her eyeglasses Faulk's hand looks twice its normal
size, and this frightens and amazes, both at once.
"You make good money, huh?"
Faulk gives a lazy shrug and answers after a time, "I do all
right. Enough to survive."
There is no hint of irony in this remark, and no humor. Maybe
Faulk has forgotten his particular place in time, not to mention
the many fabulous miles he has traveled since the Colts made him
the second overall pick in the 1994 draft. Faulk today is a
millionaire by virtue of an athletic talent so uncommon that he
is often compared with the finest ever to play the game. No
longer does he live in the sordid New Orleans housing project
that was his home until only about five years ago, a ghetto that
ranks among the worst in the country. At the time of Faulk's
signing, his contract was the richest ever paid to a rookie in
the NFL. It is worth about $17 million, $5.1 million of which
was presented to him last year as a signing bonus. He owns homes
in Texas, California and Indiana, the last of these a mansion,
with some 7,200 square feet of living area, nestled beside a
body of water whose name he has yet to learn.
Nina lathers his cuticles with lotion.
"Well, anyway, I do all right," Faulk is saying, returning to
the subject of earned income. "Let's just say I make enough to
make Uncle Sam rich and to keep him happy."
This being spring, Faulk isn't in top physical shape. In fact,
he hardly looks like an athlete; he could pass for a musician,
say, or a nightclub sharp with too many daylight hours on his
hands. He stands two inches short of six feet, and his 200
pounds isn't of the defined, rock-hard variety that besuits most
world-class athletes. Faulk looks soft, fleshy. As a result, he
often goes unrecognized, even by students at San Diego State,
where he was an All-America two years ago and where he has
returned this spring to continue work on his degree in public
Nina knows him because he's a regular at the salon.
"Can you do them a little shorter?" Faulk says.
"They are very...." Her eyes have contracted to a tight squint,
her mouth to a narrow snail.
"Hard?" Faulk says.
"I will ... I will ... try...."
Last season, after rushing for 1,282 yards and scoring 12
touchdowns, Faulk was a landslide selection as Associated Press
Offensive Rookie of the Year. Little more than a month after
receiving the award, he rushed for 180 yards in the Pro Bowl,
shattering a 22-year-old record held by O.J. Simpson. He was the
only rookie in the game, but that wasn't why all eyes were on
him. Faulk simply outplayed everybody else. And for that he was
honored as the game's MVP, a tribute that by definition seemed
to shortchange his accomplishments. In that game, as in so many
others, Faulk was more than the most valuable player; he was
also the most dazzling, the most surprising, the most engaging,
the most fun to watch.
Not that he cared about winning the MVP trophy or, for that
matter, his Rookie of the Year award. "They don't mean
anything," Faulk says of individual honors. "Not really. When we
do better as a team, they'll start to count."
In 1994, in a space of only five months, Faulk earned himself a
ranking among the league's premier running backs--Emmitt Smith of
the Dallas Cowboys, Barry Sanders of the Detroit Lions, Thurman
Thomas of the Buffalo Bills. Even more noteworthy, however, was
how Faulk helped to transform his team. He made Indianapolis a
contender. In 1993 the team went 4-12; last year, with Faulk
carrying much of the load, it enjoyed a respectable 8-8 record
and inspired among Colt fans the kind of optimism last felt when
the team still belonged to Baltimore.
Faulk took his success in stride--just as he takes everything.
He's about as excitable as a box of rocks and oftentimes is so
detached that one feels inclined to give him a good hard shake
and ask if everything is all right. Before games he's so relaxed
that it's all he can do to keep from falling asleep in the
dressing room. His eyelids grow heavy; he lets loose big,
ripping yawns that flutter the windowpanes. There he is, ready
to snooze, and outside the world awaits with binoculars poised,
certain to witness another historic performance. It has been
that way since his freshman year in college, when he replaced an
injured teammate in the second game of the season and set an
NCAA Division I-A single-game rushing record with 386 yards on
37 carries. Former and present football greats have been queuing
up ever since to offer testimonials to his brilliance.
"You don't exaggerate when you say a guy like that comes along
once in a lifetime," Simpson once said of Faulk.
"He's bad," Tony Dorsett, another NFL Hall of Famer, has been
quoted as saying. "Bad to the bone. He's the total package."
But now on this resplendent day in spring when all of Southern
California seems to be coated with either flower petals or cocoa
butter, the lone opinion Faulk seems concerned about is that of
Nina, who, having finished clipping his nails, says, "Feel
"Want some clear? I put clear on big football...."
"No." Faulk jerks his hands away. "No clear."
"Double the price for big football star," comes a voice from
across the room. It's the manager, lifting a smile and a wave.
The cost is $8. Faulk fishes in his pocket for a $10 bill, drops
it on the counter and leaves, studying his nails. In minutes
he's back in traffic, pushing the Range Rover well above the
speed limit, dodging dawdlers. On the stereo the rapper Snoop
Doggy Dogg reminds everyone in earshot exactly how it feels to
eat big bullets and die. Faulk sings along, his face creased
with compassion. He seems to understand.
They wanted him to go home for Mardi Gras and ride on a float in
some big parade. They wanted him to travel along the streets of
his childhood throwing souvenir doubloons and beaded necklaces
and waving like a windshield wiper set on drizzle. At George
Washington Carver High, his old school in the ninth ward, kids
skip class when Faulk comes to town. There's not much the
teachers can do about it, short of chaining the students to
"Marshall is the salvation of his community," says Wayne Reese,
who was Faulk's coach at Carver. "He could move back here
tomorrow and be a city councilman if he wanted. Win an at-large
seat. Everything shuts down when he comes home. The principal
says, 'Where're all the kids?' And I say, 'Marshall's back.' A
student was telling me the other day, 'I've got to meet
Marshall. If I meet Marshall, my life is fulfilled.'"
Faulk politely passed on the parade, choosing instead to stay in
San Diego with his pregnant girlfriend, Candace Patton, who at
the time was sharing his town house. Faulk wasn't sure about his
future with Patton, but he still wanted to be there for her when
the baby came and to own up to his responsibilities.
"I'm antiabortion," he says. "I'm in a position to give to a kid
who is mine, so that's what I plan to do."
After Faulk and Patton's son arrived, on March 19, Patton sent
out announcements cut in the shape of a football jersey, with
Marshall's number 28 in the center and FIRST-ROUND DRAFT PICK
printed in big type. They named the baby Marshall William Faulk
Jr., but Faulk insists on calling him Deucie. To celebrate, and
because he wanted it, Faulk went out and bought another car,
this one an $85,000 Mercedes-Benz convertible. It is the green
of tropical waters, and its interior is as soft and buttery as a
woman in a dream. The dashboard has so many buttons that there
is even one to operate the headrests on the backseat.
"Which one works the top?" Faulk asked a few hours after getting
the car. He was experimenting with this and that button, and the
roof was cocked wide damn open, and, well, the sky was starting
to brood and look like rain. When Faulk couldn't find the right
button, he picked up his cellular phone and called the salesman
at the dealership for instructions.
"This is Marshall," he said. "Which button works the top?"
And to think, when he was a kid, every last car his family owned
was a clunker. Marshall's father, Roosevelt, ran a bar and
restaurant and worked part time for a trucking company.
Marshall's mother, Cecile, did any number of odd jobs while
raising six sons. "My mom didn't have a profession," Marshall
says. "Her profession was her kids."
On a good day the Desire project looked like a concentration
camp; on a bad day it was more like a war zone after the bombs
had been dropped. It was building after building of ugly,
pockmarked brick, windows missing glass and screens, doors
hanging from their hinges. The hysterical wail of sirens
blistered every night, and crime was almost as rampant as
poverty and despair.
Roosevelt never got around to seeing his son play football, not
a single game. Too something was always his excuse. Too busy.
Too much work. Too little time. Too Roosevelt.
He died of throat cancer in early 1991 after being hospitalized
for a couple of weeks. Faulk is evasive when discussing his
relationship with his father. He says he was on a recruiting
visit at San Diego State when Roosevelt died, and nobody called
to tell him-not even his mother, who "knew how important the
trip was for me." He says he spent three days in California
"being recruited," and "when I got home was when they told me.
They'd already buried him."
But Roosevelt actually died a few days before Marshall left on
his trip. Reese recalls that "I had to make Marshall go to the
funeral. Marshall and his daddy didn't get along--not at all, you
understand? There are some things that happened between them
that Marshall doesn't like to get into, and neither do I. But
when his daddy died, I put Marshall in my van, and I said to
him, 'You're going just to pay your respects--if only because he
was your father. Whatever might have happened in the past, he's
still your dad.' I drove him to the funeral myself, but he
wouldn't get out of the van. He just sat there and watched from
When asked why he would fabricate a story about what happened at
the time his father died, Faulk says, "It's not that I'm ashamed
of him or anything. I just choose to let him rest in peace,
Nearly five years have passed, but Marshall hasn't once visited
the cemetery where Roosevelt is buried. "I think what I'll do,"
he says, "I'll buy him an expensive tombstone or something like
that, one of the nice ones. That'll be my gift to him. I know
what graveyard he's in, I know exactly where it is--if I wanted
to go, yeah, I could go. But there are certain things you put in
the back of your head just so you can stay focused. I had a task
to accomplish, and I couldn't let his dying bother me, you know
what I'm saying? The way I see it, I can either get down about
my father and let it get to me, or I can go on with my life and
do what I have to do."
At the time of Roosevelt's death, Reese had become a surrogate
father, as he had been to many of the young athletes who passed
through the corridors of Carver High. Marshall was in junior
high school when he first came to Reese's attention, and Reese
liked what he saw. After "doing some research," Reese says, he
discovered that Marshall came from "a great bloodline but was
like any other kid from the area. That is, he was leaning more
to being bad than to being good. What separated him from the
others was his intelligence. Being from the street, a really
tough kid, Marshall was strong enough to meet a whole lot
head-on that others his age would run from."
He also had speed. Faulk has been timed at 10.3 seconds in the
100 meters, and he says he has been caught from behind only once
in his life: as a freshman in high school, while slowing down
before crossing the goal line. It was a mistake he has never
"What sets him apart from everybody else is that he can go from
a standing start to full speed faster than anybody I've ever
seen," says Ted Marchi-broda, the Colts' coach. "When he runs
the ball and is forced to hesitate, his next step is full speed."
One day early in his high school career, Marshall announced to
Reese that he was quitting football to pursue a job at his
brother Kinsey's barbecue stand. "I've got to work," Marshall
told the coach. "I need the money."
Reese sat him down and described in detail a picture of the
future that awaited Marshall Faulk. It was filled with every
greatness, if only Marshall could ride out this tough time.
Reese can really talk; his tongue is as quick and silvery as any
TV preacher's. And this day his words found their mark. Later he
would prove how determined he was to help Marshall; he got the
young man a job at school. Marshall became a janitor, hired to
mop up whatever mess, to scrub whatever sink, to polish whatever
commode. "I made a little money," he says, "and I learned
something too. I learned that when I grew up I didn't want to
work a normal job."
Because of his custodial duties, Marshall was one of the first
students to arrive at Carver in the morning. And because of
football, he was one of the last to leave. Never comfortable in
crowds, he spent most of his time alone, despite the fact that
he was the most visible athlete at school, rushing for 1,800
yards and scoring 32 touchdowns in his last two years there.
Not many of his fellow students knew him well, but that was by
design. Marshall kept to himself because he liked it that way.
He hasn't changed.
"You would never know who he is in a room of 30 or 40 people,"
Marchibroda says. "And he wouldn't want you to know. He doesn't
care to be the center of attention--that's the sort of person he
is. He's very confident and aware, but at the same time he's
humble. He has the actions of an older person, and this is one
of the things I find most interesting about him. He was 28 last
year when he was 21." By his senior year Marshall was spending
most of his time outside of school with his best friend, Mark
Bruno. When Cecile moved from the Desire project to another
troubled, though less benighted, area of the city, Reese
persuaded her to allow Marshall to stay near Carver. Soon after,
he moved in with the Brunos. "It wasn't a project house," Mark
says, "but right on the corner--real close, you know."
By now some of the nation's football powers were recruiting
Faulk--Miami, Nebraska and LSU among them. But in the city of New
Orleans he was relatively unknown, a fact that disturbed him
less than it did his coach. Says Reese, "He went to a black
school coached by a black coach. Had he been coached by a white
coach at a private school, Marshall Faulk would've been a
household name in this city."
Carver fielded average teams, and this added to Faulk's
obscurity. "We always had the ability to beat great teams,"
Faulk says, "but we just never put it together because guys
would get into trouble. My senior year we lost a cornerback. He
was arrested on a manslaughter charge. Believe me, it hurt us."
Those college recruiters who coveted Faulk wanted him to play
defensive back, having seen so little of him as a runner. When
Faulk was on defense, he played only one position, but on
offense he filled in wherever he was needed. He played
quarterback, running back, tight end, wide receiver,
flanker--everywhere but on the line, and even there he probably
would have outdone his teammates. Faulk's body mass is centered
in his rear end and thighs; he looks as if he could move a
seven-man sled all by himself. "A football field used to seem so
big to me," he says. "But now it seems short--it seems like I can
run it fast, in no time. Boom! And I've covered it. The bigger
and older I got and the faster I got, the shorter the distance
seemed. Now it's like nothing. Easy."
Tired of being told that his future was on defense, Faulk
informed Reese that he would commit to the next recruiter who
reported to Carver offering him a chance to play running back.
It seemed a rash decision, a line too hastily drawn, but Faulk
seemed to mean it. A short time passed, and in walked a
receivers' coach from San Diego State, a Western Athletic
Conference school with little to offer compared with some of the
behemoths recruiting Faulk.
The man told Faulk he would be given a fair shot at running
back, and just like that Faulk knew where he would go.
"If another school had come through the door that day promising
to let me run the ball, I'd have gone there," he says. "You get
your mind set, and you stick with it. I'm a firm believer that
whatever I want to do, I'm going to do."
Another thing about San Diego appealed to Faulk. It was half a
continent away from New Orleans, where, he says, "you always had
to be careful and watch what you said or who you were with. Out
here you can be more open and do more things and feel safe about
it.... I don't want to be back in New Orleans and jeopardize all
that I've got going for myself here. People there provoke you to
do things. It could happen here, but I think the chances are
greater there if only because of where I'd be hanging out, and
that would be my old neighborhood--I'll never run from that."
But he does fear that in New Orleans he would meet the same fate
as his brother Raymond, jailed for robbery.
There are a few other reasons why Marshall feels more
comfortable on the West Coast, not the least of which are the
agreeable weather, the scenic beauty, the healthy-looking,
high-spirited people and the freedom to go and have your nails
done without raising a single eyebrow.
Deucie's asleep on the couch, drooling buckets. One of
Marshall's friends wanted to nickname the baby Jitterbug
because, when awake, he moved around so much. Marshall objected.
"Right now we're calling him Deucie or the baby," he declared.
"Not no Jitterbug, you understand?"
The house is clean and uncluttered, with vaulted ceilings and
broad windows offering expansive views of the hills. Large
framed pictures of Faulk posing in football attire crowd the
walls. Mythic Faulk. Determined Faulk. Sexy Faulk. There's no
question that whoever owns this place has either a sizable
opinion of himself or a limited grasp of what qualifies as fine
art. On the 50-inch big-screen TV in the den, the inevitable
Judge Ito is holding court.
Faulk's brother Kinsey is visiting this afternoon. "What I don't
understand," he says, "is why they don't look at the spy
satellite film to see who murdered those people."
At 34 Kinsey is the eldest of Faulk's siblings, and behind his
old-time black-frame glasses he bears an uncanny resemblance to
the young Louis Armstrong. As Marshall searches for something to
eat in the kitchen, Kinsey rustles up a photo album crowded with
pictures of a barbecue stand and a deli he once owned. He points
to a kitchen complete with pots and pans, an electric meat saw,
a table loaded with food. "Used to be mine," he says with a note
Kinsey is a cook, as are all of Faulk's brothers. You grow up in
New Orleans, Kinsey says, you learn how to cook. Even Marshall
can cook. Fried chicken. Pork chops. Cakes and pies. "My
specialty is desserts," Marshall says from the kitchen. Had
football not been in his future, the odds favored a career in
the kitchen. "Maybe," he allows. "I never thought about it."
It's Kinsey's idea to bring first-class Cajun and barbecue
cooking to San Diego. He has enlisted Marshall, the only
millionaire in the family, to help bankroll the project. Kinsey
estimates they can make a killing.
But back to the Simpson trial. "Those satellites can see
everything," Kinsey continues. "They can see through your shirt,
they can get so close. If they look at the film, they'll see
where everybody was at the time it happened. If O.J. wasn't
there, the pictures'll show it."
Marshall doesn't say anything; he's too busy hunting food.
Kinsey closes his picture book and leans back on the couch. "I
guess because it's a state case, they can't use those satellite
photos," he says. "But now if it was a federal case...."
The truth is, Marshall is in no mood for Judge Ito or satellites
or old pictures of steaming brisket. Last night the baby was up
till all hours, and Marshall didn't sleep. Now that his nails
are done, he would like some peace and quiet. When Deucie cries,
it sounds worse than a chain saw that has cut one too many
trees. The one real sanctuary in the house is Marshall's game
room, and he goes there now and stretches out on the couch.
"I've been in here before from sunup to sundown and then some,"
he says. "When it rains outside, or when I want to get away,
this is where you'll find me--here on this couch, playing my
But 10 short minutes into a video game, when he is starting to
really enjoy himself, the phone rings, and Faulk makes the
mistake of answering. It's the mother of a friend in New
Orleans, and over the speakerphone she's describing a number of
recent tragedies, some that have befallen family, others
suffered by mutual acquaintances.
The timing of the call is unfortunate, but Faulk is too fine a
friend to tell her that. He keeps playing.
"They put her in the hospital," the caller is saying, her voice
bright with alarm. "Isn't that terrible?"
Da-dong da-dong da-dong....
"I know she'll be O.K., but still...."
Blit BLAT blot....
"You know what I mean, Marshall?"
Coach K College Basketball this particular amusement is called.
Right now Faulk's UCLA team is playing Virginia, and the score
is close, too close for Faulk to risk losing by getting swept up
in a telephone conversation.
"I feel so bad for her," his friend's mother continues.
BLIT blat blong....
"I guess it's just one of those things. But the mental ward!
It's the mental ward they went and put her in!"
"Uh-huh. Yeah. Uh-huh."
It was F. Scott Fitzgerald who once said, "The test of a
first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas
in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to
"Well, let's go see how they're doing," Faulk says after the
call. And he means the cars, or some of them. This is the high
point of his day, the small, sacred thing that makes him feel
most alive. Tomorrow, after he gets his haircut, he'll do the
same things he has done today. The next day, too. And the day
after that one. He'll do this until something like football
intervenes and takes him away.
At this moment three of his cars are being worked on at AJ-USA,
Inc., an upscale dealership on Mira Mesa Boulevard. One of the
cars is his new convertible. He's replacing its exhaust, tires
and rims, even though they contributed sig-nificantly to the
$85,000 price tag. As if chrome isn't good enough, Faulk's
having the frames of the side view mirrors painted green.
On the way he says, "Sometimes I find myself, like, tripping out
over things. I've lived in the South, the West and now the
Midwest, and things are different in different parts of the
country. For instance, the forms of the law. Out here in
California, if the police use radar, you can see them from a
certain distance. In Indianapolis they can hide, and they have
dark motorcycles, and at night that scares me. I ride around in
nice cars, and if a dark motorcycle or car pulls up behind me,
I'm not going to stop, I'm sorry. He can put his lights on or
whatever, but I'm not about to be pulled over. Follow me to the
nearest gas station or something, but I'm not stopping." Faulk
keeps shaking his head, imagining the scenario. A minute passes,
and then he says, "It worries me. A lot."
A while back Faulk risked everything and drove all the way from
Indianapolis to New Orleans without stopping except for gas and
to use the bathroom. No hotels, no catnaps at rest areas. He was
traveling in the new Lexus SC 400 he'd just bought for his
mother, and he was eager to surprise her with it. On and on he
drove, just Faulk and his music and his numb right foot.
"Finally I pull up and give it to her," he says. "There's
nothing she can say. She's just ... I dunno, happy."
He also gave Bruno a car, a Mitsubishi Eclipse, and he gave a
car to Candace as well, a BMW convertible with a vanity license
plate that reads 28 LVSME. "I didn't surprise her with that
one," Faulk says. "She wanted it."
He tried to buy Reese a Chevy Suburban, but the coach refused
and went out and spent his own money on one. "Why'd you do
that?" Faulk asked him. "I'd have bought it for you."
"But I wanted to buy it," Reese explained.
"But why?" Faulk said.
"Because I don't accept welfare. And I want you to live your
life. Coach was working long before you ever got into football,
and Coach will be working long after you're through with it."
AJ-USA has a big iron fence surrounding its back lot, and to
enter you announce yourself at a gate. Faulk presses a button,
hears a greeting, then says, "Yeah, Marshall here to see Corky."
In the garage, men in knee-length aprons are washing $100,000
sports cars with toothbrushes. "How you gonna take all your cars
back to Indianapolis?" somebody asks Faulk. "You gonna drive
"I've already got it planned," he says. "Later in the summer,
before camp starts, I'm going to rent a tractor-trailer and load
them on it. I'll have them shipped."
He spends an hour and a half at the garage, asking questions of
Corky Deenik as they walk from Porsche to BMW, from Lamborghini
to Ferrari. When Faulk leaves, it's with his music thumping
shallows in the pavement as somebody named Notorious Big turns
his angry verse against the wrongs of this world.
Not far from home, Faulk turns off the stereo and confesses as
to how he's having difficulty controlling his spending. "I have
an allowance," he says, "but it's hard for me to stick to it;
the money's so new, you know." In addition to the cars, he has
bought uniforms for every team at Carver High, and he has bought
the school weightlifting and other performance-enhancing
equipment. He's also paying for an addition to the football
offices at San Diego State. A quarter of a million, that project
will run. And Faulk's donating every penny.
"Marshall," Reese told him, "there comes a point when you'll
have to stop." His agent, Rocky Arceneaux, told him the same
thing. "Marshall," he said, "you can't save the world."
"We didn't have much when I was growing up," Faulk says. "The
projects, you know. And I was always dreaming. Mainly it was
cars I dreamed about--I dreamed about them all the time. Somebody
might look at me buying all these cars as a stupid thing to do,
but I used to wish that I could have a car. Just any kind of
car. Just one." He is thoughtful, wrapped in the deep, searing
quiet of a vehicle too often filled with noise. "I like to be
happy, and this is how I do that. I don't know how long I'll be
able to live like this. Hopefully it'll be forever." He's
reaching to turn the radio back up. "Hopefully," he says again
before suddenly finding himself silenced by Snoop Doggy Dogg.
Nobody plays forever, but Faulk is only 22, and it's such a
pretty thing to see him run. Such a pretty, pretty thing.
"My next car?" He's shouting now; he has to. "I don't know what
my next car will be. Nobody knows. And I don't know when I'll
see it and have to have it. Next month, next week, tomorrow."
He's shaking his head, laughing above the terrible, pounding
rhythm that is the music of his life.