Every dynasty has that glue guy.
The Yankees had Jorge Posada, the Lakers have Derek Fisher, the Mystery Machine had Velma. The Patriots have Kevin Faulk.
In his 13th season in New England, Faulk is the longest-tenured Patriot. When Faulk was a rookie in the NFL, Tom Brady was fighting for his starting job at Michigan and Bill Belichick was on Bill Parcells' Jets coaching staff.
Faulk has never been to a Pro Bowl. In fact, he has only started 47 career games.
But he is going to play in fifth Super Bowl and has been a factor on all five AFC championship teams. He has also loved every second being a Patriot.
"I appreciate this. I understand the consistency level of being at this place," Faulk says. "No disrespect to any other place in the NFL because I'm pretty sure every other place is wonderful, but to be consistent on this team, knowing what it takes to be a New England Patriot and how much hard work you do to be here this long, that's one of my top three accomplishments about being in the NFL."
At the end of last season, the prospects of playing another year in Foxborough looked grim for Faulk. The versatile back tore his ACL in Week 2 and was placed on injured reserve, ending his season. Faulk watched the Patriots' season and the final year of his contract play out from the sidelines.
"I sort of thought I may not play again," he says. "That's every year, though. You always wonder if you're gonna get back there. There's a lot of different ways and a lot of situations that have to go on for you to make it to this point."
When the lockout ended in July, the 35-year-old was rehabbing without a contract. For the first time since the 1999 NFL Draft, Faulk was waiting for an NFL team to call.
Then an old friend named Bill dialed his number. Belichick checked in and invited Faulk to training camp.
"Him calling just shows the respect and relationship we have built over time," he says. "I guess that shows the consistency I've shown as a person and as a football player for this organization."
Faulk is the only remaining player from the Pete Carroll-era who saw the Patriots before and after Belichick's hiring. Thus, Faulk may be the only player who knows exactly how Belichick changed the New England culture.
"It's his work ethic," Faulk says. "Once you see a coach put in so much work and so much passion to what he does, that just trickles down to the team and everyone else wants to be like him."
On the field, Faulk is the only player who was in New England before Brady arrived. Watching the quarterback in the huddle, Faulk has seen Brady progress from sixth-round pick to future Hall of Famer.
"His leadership has definitely grown," Faulk says. "He's that guy that's competitive, passionate and fiery that wants to go out and win and make every throw and make the best throws that he can make for his guys to make a play."
For Faulk, the road has not been as smooth as Brady's. Time and time again, the Patriots have brought in bigger names and bigger bodies at running back. Every time, Faulk finds a way to maintain a role and keep contributing. Part of that comes from never doubting himself.
"Once you put yourself in that predicament you're done," he says. "You lose. I'm never gonna do that. No disrespect to any other running back because you always have confidence in yourself. The confidence you have in yourself is gonna make you on the football field or whatever you do."
One of those backs is fellow Louisiana native BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who looks at Faulk as a mentor rather than a rival for playing time.
"Kevin has been great for me because with him and his veteran presence, he’s been through so much," Green-Ellis says. "He's seen so much that you can't replace that with him. What he's got over the last 13 years, I don't think just for me as a running back, but all the young guys on the team look to Kevin to talk to and guide and mentor and he's doing a great job of that."
Faulk embraces his role as a team's old man. In Indianapolis, he is trying to calm the nerves of his younger teammates.
"I just let them understand that we're here to play the football game," he says. "All the other distraction is for everyone else. We'll be able to take care of that after the game is over. Understand you're here to play for a championship, something you'll be able to talk about after and for years to come."
Faulk has three rings on his fingers, but none of them means the most to him. Does that make any sense? He can explain: "I think the next one means more than anything. You're always trying to get to that next one."
That next one may slip onto a fourth finger Sunday.
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