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A Short History Of Faulk's Knee
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Fantasy football is based on three major factors: Luck, opportunity, and risk. You need to have luck on your side when that running back breaks the plane of the goal line - will the instant replay official rule it a touchdown?

You have to maximize your opportunities, by starting players who enter the red zone constantly in a prolific offensive attack. With the NFL MVP Marshall Faulk on your roster, you're probably going to have a good dose of luck on your side, and plenty of opportunities to mark up TDs on your scoring sheet. But there is that third factor - risk - that no one seems to really mention when Faulk's name comes up. If you want to minimize risk during the 2001 fantasy campaign, perhaps Faulk should not be on your roster this season.

You're thinking, "Blasphemy!" How dare someone bash the league's biggest scoring machine! After all, this is the same Faulk who scored a whopping 26 TDs last season. The same Faulk who had three different 4-TD games last season. The same Faulk who seems to play flanker and tailback at the same time, catching 254 passes in the last 3 years. Yes, the man is all of this, and a bag of chips. But he's also the same man who has at least 1 bum knee -- plain and simple -- and it's going to catch up to him one day.

Go back to the fall of '92, when a 19-year-old Faulk and his San Diego State Aztecs hosted the Miami Hurricanes. He was held out of the game with a sore knee. Miami demolished the Aztecs 65-13. Nothing was ever really said about the injury, because Faulk returned to action the next week and finished the season with 1,630 yards and 15 TDs. He also placed 2nd in the Heisman Trophy voting. All is well.

Two years later, he suited up for the Indianapolis Colts and was the 1994 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. But in the fall of '95, Faulk's 2nd pro season, he began appearing on the injury report as 'probable' with a knee injury. Sadly, before week #17 an MRI revealed that Faulk had loose cartilage and floating bodies in his knee - his left knee - and would require surgery to correct it when the season was over. He had the knee drained before the AFC Wildcard game but only managed 1 carry for 16 yards before re-injuring it. On January 5th he gave in to the knee pain and had a major operation involving drilling holes in the bone to stimulate cartilage growth: Recovery time projected to be 4-6 months. His Colts, led by Jim Harbaugh, actually made it to the AFC Championship vs. Pittsburgh without him. Though they lost, the Colts were young on both sides of the ball, and they had a young workhorse who had 2 Pro Bowl selections before his 23rd birthday. All is well.

The January surgery behind him, Faulk worked diligently to get his left knee in shape for the '96 season. He reported soreness in the knee before a preseason game at Houston, and also ended up battling a sprained right foot all year (from favoring that knee?). The result was his worst season in his whole career of football: 198 carries for 587 yards, 3.0 per carry, and only 7 TDs. No one worried, however, and why would they? He was only 24-years old going into '97, his 4th pro season, and his upside was buoyed by a healthier off-season. He logged 1,054 rushing yards, 471 receiving yards, and 8 total TDs. Only no one noticed that he appeared on the injury report as 'probable' or 'questionable' several times, while getting his right, not left, knee scoped before week #4. At least that terrible '96 campaign was ancient history, right? All is well.

In July '98 Faulk banged his right knee in a collision with backup QB Kelly Holcomb. He missed practically the entire camp, but no one noticed because he made it back for the regular season. Training camps and preseason games are like your wedding anniversary: They are hard to remember. Plus, Peyton Manning was in town, so Faulk's knee wasn't the hottest topic in Indianapolis. Faulk compiled 2,227 total yards from scrimmage, and led all NFL RBs with 86 catches. As usual, all is well.

Faulk was traded to the Rams for a 2nd and 5th round pick before the '99 NFL Draft. By this time Marshall was 26, and already entering his 6th season. Amazingly, he had almost 1,700 total touches (carries and catches) under his belt. 1999 was a wonderful season in that Faulk ate up yardage to the tune of 2,429 yards from scrimmage, breaking Barry Sanders' 1997 record of 2,357. His Rams won Super Bowl XXXIV, and again - All is well.

Now we find ourselves in 2001 fantasy draft mode, poring over pages of stats and profiles covering the 2000 season. Faulk's numbers last year need not be rehashed again. Instead, let's focus on what has not been rehashed: His knee problems.

During the 2000 season, while Faulk was scoring TDs, his right knee was growing increasingly sore. By October, Mike Martz said, "It's a chronic situation that continues to be aggravated." He had an MRI that revealed torn scar tissue and an enlarged bruise, in addition to the loose cartilage. Both Faulk and Martz admitted they he had been playing with a sore knee for "most of the season." The torn scar tissue was from "an old injury" according to the doctors. On Sunday, November 5th, Faulk had his knee drained before the Carolina game, but then his knee locked up on him right before kickoff: "He came in and said, `I can't do this,'" Martz said. "For Marshall to say that, you've got to listen to him. If anybody can go, Marshall can go." Well, he couldn't go, and thousands of fantasy footballers had the rug yanked out from under them. It was announced that Justin Watson would start just 2 minutes before kickoff. Ouch.

Faulk would miss the Giants game the next week, but made a near-miraculous comeback and went on to finish with an astounding 2,189 total yards and a record-breaking 26 TDs in only 14 games. All is well, right?

Last March, Faulk met with team doctors, specifically Dr. George Paletta, to discuss the problems this right knee was giving him. "He could feel the cartilage getting hung up in there," Mike Martz said. The "drilling" surgery, like the one Faulk had on his left knee in '96, was suggested immediately. To the dismay of Faulk and the Rams officials, the 4-6 month recovery time would cut into the 2001 season. His other option was to do the usual arthroscopic job, and have the knee smoothed over and the loose bodies removed. Dr. Paletta recommended the major operation, saying, "Without the operation, Faulk is likely to experience rapid wear and tear in the knee." Marshall declined the major operation, and just had the knee scoped out. He missed May's minicamp, but enabled himself to suit up for training camp in July. All is well, for now…

There were reports that Faulk will use an injected knee "lubricant" periodically during the season, in order to alleviate his cartilage problems, or 'lack of', that is. Yikes! That sounds like WD-40 on a rusty bicycle.

On August 1st, Mike Martz said, "Marshall has a slight case of patellar tendinitis, so what we want to do, so that it doesn't get more inflamed, is give him anywhere from 3-7 days off." On August 4th, he had another MRI, this time revealing an enlarged bone bruise on the right knee. On August 6th, Faulk told MNF reporter Eric Dickerson that doctors said he could miss 3 weeks of action with his sore knee. Martz quickly went into spin control, and fired back: "I think what Marshall was referring to is I told him that I didn't want to play him for another 2 or 3 weeks."

What? Is it days or weeks? Now the press is laying hints that his knee is more serious than originally advertised. Plus, it's never good when Coach & Player are not on the same page with an injury. That means there is more to it, and different voices in each of their ears. For instance, Mr. Owner says, "Nah, no major operation - the kid's gotta play, we gotta sell tickets." Mr. Doctor might say, "Sure, but this knee is degenerative and needs attention." It makes you wonder, especially when you know Faulk wants to play, no matter what.

The MVP will be 29 in February, with 7 whole seasons of NFL football behind him. The guy is a warrior, for sure, and might surely fight through his knee problems all season and score another 20+ TDs this season. But given the above evidence, facts, and dialogue, do you really believe that? Study last year's stats well, and fantasize about how Faulk churned out bushels of TDs and thousands of yards, because this year could be quite different. By the way, Faulk opens his season in Philadelphia, and 6 of his first 8 games are on turf. Bottom line for Faulk: All is not well.