- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Kevin Faulk didn't single out a favorite moment or play during his retirement news conference on Tuesday. He picked something else, and it spoke volumes about what football, and his clutch 13-year career with the New England Patriots, meant to him.
"The fondest memories right now for me, because it's fresh, was walking into the locker room each and every day and saying, 'Good morning,' to a different person and them understanding your feelings," an emotional Faulk said.
"You might say, 'Wow, it's going to be a long day.' It's a feeling that you and that person understand and know as a football player and, 'We're going to get through it together.' That's what I miss right now. That's my moment. That's what I think about."
It's the brotherhood. The connection. The team.
That came through so clearly during a first-class, poignant, heart-on-his-jersey-sleeve retirement ceremony at the Patriots Hall of Fame that included a highlight video with touching comments from quarterback Tom Brady and defensive lineman Vince Wilfork.
Faulk personally thanked every coach and teammate (past and present) in attendance in his 20-minute speech, a group that included Troy Brown, Deion Branch and Logan Mankins, addressing each by name as he locked eyes with them. He also relayed powerful thank-yous to owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick, saying how the attention to football details helped him become a better father and husband in addition to a better player.
He smiled. He cried. Then he closed with a bang, pulling out his three Super Bowl rings and two AFC Championship rings before saying, "I can't even begin to think about where I was, or what I would have been doing, without accomplishing this. This is why we do it."
That's what stood out most Tuesday, how football is such a big part of who Faulk is, how it created opportunities for him -- professionally and personally -- that he couldn't have dreamed of growing up in the Louisiana town of Carencro.
It was being ripped away from him now, maybe one year earlier than he hoped. Just to walk through that locker room door one more time and feel that connection again
"When you've been here for so long, you meet so many people, you tend to feel what they feel and they tend to feel what you feel," Faulk said as he thanked Patriots staffers from all corners of the organization, including those no longer with the team, such as Bobby Grier, the vice president of player personnel who drafted Faulk in the second round in 1999.
Mary Vivian Faulk would be so proud. Faulk's mother, who died of leukemia in 2004, was so much a part of this.
When mentioning her, Faulk started to get choked up, stopping to wipe tears away with his hand, saying his mother was the only reason he was able to go on this incredible football journey.
"When you're younger, there are a lot of things your parents tell you that you never understand, but you paid attention. What my mom went through and how I was raised, and to see where I am, I thank God every day that I have this opportunity for my kids," said Faulk, whose wife Latisha and the couple's three children watched from the front row.
"It's hard because your kids don't have the opportunity to grow up the way you did, even though you don't want them to. To let them know how hard life really is. It ain't easy. She showed me how to be a man, how to learn from wrong and make that wrong right in some kind of way. That's the reason why I'm here. That's the reason I love what I'm doing, to take care of my kids and my wife."
The Faulks will stay local, which is ironic considering that Faulk remembered that in 1999, "When I first stepped on the property, I wanted to go back to Louisiana."
Faulk said he's not sure what he'll do in retirement, but he has several business interests. He's not rushing into anything. He still pops in on the Patriots from time to time, but it's obviously not the same. Belichick noted that this is the first year in his head-coaching tenure in which Faulk hasn't been on the team.
"Kevin was just so adept at figuring out his role [and] doing it to the very best that he could. Whatever his role was, no one did it better than Kevin. He was the ultimate team player, the hardest worker, always well prepared," Belichick said.
Belichick said it was Faulk's leadership that helped keep the Patriots together early in the 2008 season when quarterback Tom Brady sustained a season-ending knee injury in the opening game.
Belichick then singled out one play from Faulk's career that resonated with him more than any other -- an 11-yard catch in the 2004 AFC divisional round playoff victory over the Indianapolis Colts. The Patriots led 13-3 early in the fourth quarter, had the ball at their own 6-yard line on the "lighthouse" side of the field and faced third-and-10.
"We called '65 Under H Pick,' except we didn't run the pick with Kevin like we usually did, we ran the 'close,'" Belichick explained with vivid detail, despite the fact he didn't have notes. "Tom threw a ball, it was a tough catch, it was behind [Faulk], he had to reach back and make a catch. He gained 11 yards on that. That was the key play 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. Whatever the role ... the more critical the play, the better he played and the more you could count on him."
Faulk earned about 60 game balls over his career, according to Belichick, which are awarded to top performers after victories. Belichick added that he couldn't remember a time he'd ask a question and Faulk didn't have the answer, which spoke to his preparation.
No surprise there. Faulk lived football. He craved the connection with teammates, taking pride in being the one player in the locker room who seemed to have everyone's cell phone number.
And he already misses it dearly. That much was clear in his remarks to his wife. The two have been together since seventh grade, and Faulk called her the rock of his family.
"Continue to bear with me. I'm still going to be mourning this," he said in his emotional speech. "I can't believe this is happening."
Kevin Faulk will miss the personal connections he made with the Patriots.