INDIANAPOLIS — Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski was nine years old when teammate Kevin Faulk was drafted by New England in the second round of the 1999 draft. Head coach Bill Belichick was the Jets' assistant head coach and secondary coach, and QB Tom Brady was still finishing up his junior year at the University of Michigan.
Thirteen seasons in the NFL — all with the Patriots — and Faulk is preparing to make his fifth Super Bowl appearance on Sunday.
How does a guy who just twice surpassed 1,000 yards from scrimmage in a single season stick around so long?
"Make plays, consistency, doing your job, being ready whenever the situation calls for you," Faulk said on Thursday. "I never was a starting guy — always came out whenever I was called upon to make a play. That's kind of unique for someone playing in the NFL. But you have to be ready, no matter what goes down ... just being ready each and every play and being consistent."
Faulk's job still occasionally involves making plays. An even bigger role for him these days, though, is providing veteran leadership and setting a good example for his teammates.
Coming off an injury-riddled 2010 season, in which he appeared in only two games and touched the ball only 14 times, the 35-year-old Faulk appeared to be nearing the end of the road. Then, in April, New England spent second- and third-round draft picks on RBs Shane Vereen and Steven Ridley, adding to a stable that already included BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, both coming off career seasons, and Faulk's odds of returning seemed to be virtually zero.
"Did the younger guys push Kevin? Yes, he is a big-time competitor," said RB coach Ivan Fears. "He sees those fresh legs coming in. He's not going to back down, though. He knows that he has something that they don't have and that is experience."
Whether it was his experience, versatility or selflessness, Faulk was viewed by Belichick as too valuable of an asset to let go.
"There are a few players that I think you can put into Kevin's category in terms of his contributions, his unselfishness and being a great teammate," said Belichick. "... You can't say enough about Kevin Faulk."
Injuries and a multitude of other offensive weapons led to Faulk putting up very quiet numbers on the field again this season. But Fears raved of the way he has taught some of the Patriots younger players how to be professionals both on and off the field. From training, to dieting, to playing the right way fundamentally, there is not a player in the Patriots' locker room who is more respected.
Faulk is a classic example of how important intangibles are in the NFL. Sure, his numbers will never jump off the page. But he is a proven winner who is getting ready to make history on Sunday for again returning to the Super Bowl. It is unlikely his name will be called often during the game, but his teammates and coaching staff know how much he has meant to the New England franchise, not just this season, but for the past 13.