Jim Herrick is the Executive Director of SDSU’s Alumni Association. This post was originally published in his blog Directly Speaking.
This month Marshall is entering the NFL Hall of Fame as a first ballot unanimous pick which gives us all, his fellow Aztecs, a chance to feel some pride in his amazing life.
On September 14, 1991 I was at Jack Murphy Stadium, but my various responsibilities precluded me from paying too much attention to the game. I was aware that we were playing Pacific and that we were annihilating them. I was aware that our top runner, T. C. Wright, had gotten injured. I was aware that we were scoring a lot of touchdowns.
It wasn’t until much later that night after the boosters had vanished, the corporate sideline placards were dismantled and stored, and the gear stowed that I caught the tail end of the post-game wrap-up on 760 AM. Some rookie named Marshall Faulk had rushed for 386 yards and had scored all 7 touchdowns!
It was no fluke.
Subsequently, along with every other Aztec fan—or any true football fan, actually – I was transfixed by his sheer talent and completely mesmerized and awed by his larger-than-life presence and skill.
For 15 years I devoured every game or clip I could because, well, transcendent athletic art is compelling. I never tire of his highlight reel—and it is a heckuva long movie.
Some of Marshall’s attributes are just part of an overall amazing package: Speed (obviously), ability to change directions (superb), coordination (duh!), jumping ability (definitely), ability to catch the ball and his aversion to fumbling are the basic ingredients. But the thing I marvel at the most when watching these clips is his ability to read the best paths to optimize his yardage every play. The speed his eyeballs and his brain processed and reacted to the circumstances, I think, is what made him the best combination of receiver and running back the game has ever known.
And it nearly didn’t happen.
Many know the story of how Marshall, as a prep player growing up in the dangerous Desiree projects of New Orleans, actually dodged bullets figuratively and literally (Well, dodging bullets probably doesn’t qualify as a literal term, but with Marshall, maybe). The SEC schools were highly aware of his speed and he was pegged by several schools as a cannot-miss defensive back. But Marshall wanted to play halfback and then-coach Al Luginbill and receivers coach Curtis Johnson promised him he could run at San Diego State, so here we are.
So a few days after his remarkable freshman year, I remember our sports information department got in some hot water for failing to anticipate the fact that Marshall was named all-America.
Marshall’s second year was more of the same with a lot of fans jumping on the band-wagon. As the director of the Aztec Athletic Foundation, I had the honor of dealing with Marshall on a few things including a project where local sports artist Gene Locklear made 100 poster-sized prints that Marshall signed and we sold for scholarship monies. The NCAA rules were intrusive, but following them essential, so I was allowed to provide him a Big Mac, fries and a coke during the 90 minutes he was signing. Subsequently I tried to arrange special parking at the Murph for Marshall and recall that it was impossible to strike a rational balance between providing for Marshall’s safety and abiding by the NCAA laws. But I did get to deal with him on these matters and what I discovered was that Marshall’s ability to communicate is powerful.
So now let’s fast forward through his pro career, which will be better covered by others this week, and arrive back a couple of years ago when Marshall retired and moved here full time. What has this remarkable Aztec done since then? Between his jobs as analyst for the NFL Network, he has demonstrated that he is a true fan and has attended many football and basketball games. He started the Marshall Faulk Foundation which steers inner city youth down better roads. He has been a big donor to our athletic department. He was elected to the board of directors of the Campanile Foundation. He has an annual event in the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center on the eve of homecoming which draws in hundreds of Aztec and Marshall fans and friends and raises money for us, the Jackie Robinson YMCA and the Marshall Faulk Foundation. It is called the Aztec for Life event.
Oh yeah, one more thing (Wait, that was Peter Falk, not Marshall Faulk). Marshall coined the term “Aztec for Life” which just happens to be the San Diego State University Alumni Association mantra.
Marshall Faulk, we are proud of your NFL Hall of Fame election. And we are even prouder of everything else you have done.