“I don’t even remember. No idea.”
That’s Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk on what was going through his mind prior to the 2002 Super Bowl, the last one played in his hometown of New Orleans and the second championship game of his career.
“If I know me, I was prepared. Good night sleep, thinking about football. A big game doesn’t make me restless. That was my element. I lived in that. Most people, that opportunity probably affected their nerves. But for me, it was a calm. It didn’t bother me at all.”
We’re in a back room of the Columns Hotel on St. Charles Avenue, site of Thursday night’s benefit for Africa for the Future and the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA). Faulk’s foundation has thrown its support behind both entities. Africa for the Future is a pro-social movement dedicated to uplifting communities in Sub-Saharan Africa through targeted philanthropy and partnership. NOCCA is the arts high school that boasts some of the city’s greatest jazz talents among its alumni and instructors. Tonight’s music is provided by a quintet of current students. (Remember the name John Michael Bradford, trumpet.)
As Michael Irvin laughs and eats at the table behind us, Faulk compares New Orleans in ’02 to the state it’s in today.
“Oh, my god. If you even take away what happened with Katrina, I don’t know if this city would have grown to where it is now. Katrina forced some growth in the city with the people. I think we as a people now are more accepting of each other. I’m not going to say the racial divide isn’t there anymore, but I think it’s not as prevalent as it once was. We look at each other as a people now. It’s like, when you hear someone say they are a New Orleanian, you turn around, it doesn’t matter what color they are or what they look like, it’s a proud feeling.”
He laments that a disaster provoked the changes we see today, but makes it clear: New Orleans is back.
“I believe that this week is going to show America that NO is back open for business. We thank you for your hand outs, we’re good,” the former St. Louis Ram says. “We’re not asking you to just give us, we’re asking you to come support this city with your business and we’re going to continue to grow.”
A graduate of Carver High School in the Lower Ninth Ward, Faulk makes sure to speak about the areas where progress lags.
“To the people who are living in the Lower Ninth Ward and the areas that were affected and are not being taken care of now, they’re restless maybe. They maybe feel like they’re forgotten and I’m only saying, let’s hope not. Let’s just understand that there’s a change and in that change, it’s going to eventually get to them.”
As guests fill up the mansion-turned-hotel to bid on memorabilia, including signed photos of Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, and Prince, Faulk explains his approach to fundraising.
“I try to provide the less fortunate with the opportunity to better themselves. So I look for entities to pair up with. There’s a lot of charities and foundations going under because they don’t get the funding. and I’m not afraid to put my pride aside and pair with NOCCA or Africa for the Future and join forces to affect change. It’s tough to fundraise, it’s tough to be a philanthropist. But it’s not gonna stop my effort. Whether it’s five people in this place or 5,000 people in this place, I’m going to feel the same way, because they’re here for the cause. we’re trying to affect change.”
When the conversation turns to the gridiron, the only man in NFL history with career totals of 12,000 yards rushing and 6,000 yards receiving thinks today’s backs could follow his model of an all-around weapon—if given the chance.
“Man, there’s guys in the game that have that skill set. Arian Foster has the skill set, Ray Rice has the skill set, Maurice Jones-Drew has the skill set. Chris Johnson has the skill set. But the game has become so specialized and coaches have taken over so much of the game and they run guys in and out.” He points to his hometown Saints and the shuttling in and out of four different backs.
“Sometimes people look at the game and think, ‘Oh my god, running backs are about to be extinct.’ It’s not extinct. Look at the game today, the Super Bowl we’re about to watch Sunday. There’s two premier backs in this game. Neither one of these teams would be here if it wasn’t for these two backs. So there’s quite a few guys who can do it, not a lot of coaches asking them to do it.”
Brian Boyles is a TDdaily contributor covering Super Bowl week in New Orleans. Follow him on Twitter @BrianWBoyles.