Marshall Faulk: 'We knew right away'

Former Indianapolis Colts running back Marshall Faulk caught Peyton Manning's first touchdown pass in a win, 17-12, against the San Diego Chargers on Oct. 4 1998. It was a 19-yard pass in the first quarter.

It's one of the most memorable plays in Peyton Manning's career, but the person most responsible for it is having trouble recalling the details.

"I remember it happening," Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk says, chuckling. "I just don't remember exactly what it was."

The play-by-play from the Oct. 4, 1998, game described it as follows: "P.Manning pass to M.Faulk for 19 yards, TOUCHDOWN."

So simple, so succinct, yet so historically significant when discussing Manning's career. It was not only the first score of the afternoon, but it occurred in Manning's first career win, a 17-12 triumph over the visiting Chargers.

Faulk laughs at his inability to recall the particulars, but he vividly recalls his belief that Manning would reach the iconic level he has today.

"We knew right away," he says. "It has to do with leadership. A lot of people have talent and can do stuff, but how do you lead people? There are people who lead by 'rah rah,' and there are people who just work their butts off and show you that, 'This is the level we're going to do this at, and I need you to do it like this. This is my commitment, and you're either with me or you're not going to be here.'

"That was him. If you were willing to be taught, he was going to teach you. It didn't matter how old you were or how long you had been playing. He had your attention. And it had nothing to do with all his accolades, because he came from college as a kid who couldn't win the big game."

Faulk was entering his fifth NFL season when Manning arrived. He had surpassed 1,000 yards rushing in three of his first four seasons and gone to the Pro Bowl twice. He had a football IQ that was Mensa-like. What could a rookie quarterback possibly have taught him in one season together?

"That you can always do more," Faulk says. "I knew how hard I worked at the off-the-field, mental aspects to make my on-the-field performance look as natural as possible. To see a kid come in with more than what I had, it blew me away. I was fortunate to have Sean Payton coach me at San Diego State and ask more of me in the realm of, 'You know what? You're a pretty darn good running back. I need you to learn how to do X, Y and Z. Here, take this quarterback test.'

"That expanded my brain beyond just being a runner with the football. It taught me defenses and it taught me so much that prepared me for the next level. To watch [Manning] come in and just have an understanding of what was going on around him -- he's one of the few quarterbacks to play as a rookie and just kick the damn door down on a sophomore slump."

The year after winning just three games as a rookie and setting a league rookie record by throwing 28 interceptions, Manning guided the Colts to a 13-3 finish and a playoff appearance.

"It was not 28 interceptions of mental mistakes or physical mistakes or lack of knowledge," Faulk says. "It had more to do with the speed of the game. Every damn interception he threw, he would say to me, 'I just didn't think the guy could get there.' Once he understood the range and the depth of guys and what they were about to do, the next year he was like, 'OK, I've got to get this pass out a little faster, or I've got to put a little bit more arc on this ball.' I mean, where I'm watching teams just dismantle young quarterbacks' minds, 28 interceptions was the best thing that ever happened to Peyton Manning."