- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Tuesday’s retirement news conference for Patriots running back Kevin Faulk, as expected, was a first-class affair.
One of the highlights were Bill Belichick’s off-the-cuff remarks on Faulk, which are transcribed below:
“I appreciate everybody being here today. It really is a special day. This is the first Patriots team, as head coach, that I’ve had without Kevin. It’s been a little different year here. We all miss him as a player. But he’s been around and so that’s always a positive.
“Kevin was here when I got here [in 2000]. I remember when I first got here, my first year, it was a little bit of a rocky year. I think Kevin and I were both trying to figure out where we each stood, what we were going to be about, and how it was going to work. I remember talking to him very early in that season, and he said, ‘Coach, I want to be here, I want to be a big part of this team, what do I need to do? What am I not doing?’ We talked and I told him these are the things you need to work on, these are the things you need to do if you want to play here, these are the things you have to improve on, this is what you have to become.
“I’d say in my coaching career, nobody has ever worked harder to do the things that he was asked to do, from that season on – in terms of ball security, blitz pickup, having different roles in the game and that changes from week to week. Kevin was just so adept at figuring out his role, doing it to the very best that he could. He was the ultimate team player, the hardest worker, always well prepared. I can’t remember asking a question in a team meeting that he didn’t have the right answer to, and I used to try to give him a couple hard ones [smiling]. He usually aced those.
“Some of the memories I have of Kevin, the one thing I’d say is the 2008 season is probably one that not many people realize what Kevin did for us that year. When Tom [Brady] got hurt in the opener against Kansas City, Matt Cassel came in as the quarterback but it wasn’t really Matt’s team. Ultimately Matt grew into the role of a great leader and quarterback that he was that season, but it didn’t really start that way. When Tom was out offensively, even as a team, we were kind of trying to find some leadership and some glue to hold the team together. That’s one of the many times – one of the many times – that we saw Kevin really come forward and be truly a leader of our football team in that season. He's the guy who kept the cohesion offensively, and ultimately Matt took over that role as a quarterback should. But Kevin was very instrumental in that.
“There are so many great plays that we saw Kevin make here on the highlight film that bring back a ton of memories. But one wasn’t on there, and one of the ones I remember the most, is 2004, the divisional playoff game against the Colts. We had the lead [13-3], we had the ball on our own 6 yard-line, backed up here at the lighthouse, and it was third-and-10. We call ’65 Under H Pick.’ Except we didn’t run the pick with Kevin like we usually did, we ran the ‘Close.’ And Tom threw a ball, it was a tough catch, it was behind him, he had to reach back and make a catch. He gained 11 yards on that. That was the key play, really, in that 93-yard drive that pretty much ate up the rest of the clock in that snow game. It was his only catch of the game.
“I think that really kind of summarizes Kevin to me. No matter what he was asked to do, no matter how critical the situation, whatever it was – whether it was blitz pickup, whether it was a two-point play in the Carolina [Super Bowl], which he had several big plays. It was 14-14 to put us into the lead in that Super Bowl. Whatever it was he asked to do, from anything, whether it was on the practice show teams to show our defense a look at another player that we were going against – whatever his role was, nobody did it better than Kevin.
“He was the ultimate team player. What a pleasure to coach. He always put the team first. He always worked hard. He always knew what to do and the bigger the situation, the more critical the play, the better he played and the more you could count on him.
“Kevin, it’s been a wonderful career. It’s really been an honor to have the opportunity to coach you and to be on a team with you, because I don’t think anybody really stands more, and embodies more, of the teamwork [dynamic] … I’d say the same thing I did about Troy [Brown]. Those two guys, of all the players that I’ve coached, and certainly here, they’re right there at the top. I think whether you want to compare Troy to Kevin, or Kevin to Troy, that’s really the gold standard in terms of teamwork, commitment, performance and winning. And that’s really what we’re all here for – to win. Nobody contributed more to the overall team winning than Kevin did.
"So Kevin, again, it’s been an honor to coach you. Congratulations on a wonderful career. I’ll never forget the many, many accomplishments you had on the field to help make our team successful, and more importantly, what I’ll really remember is all the things you did on the practice field, in the meeting room, in the locker room, as really one of the most important members of our team, with the leadership and example that you set – not just for the other players, but for every one of us who was on that team. Congratulations.”
[At the end of the entire ceremony, Belichick returned to the podium to mention that one of Faulk’s most impressive behind-the-scenes feats was the nearly 60 game-balls he was awarded over his career.]