Marshall Faulk stood at a podium in Canton, Ohio, four years ago and gave his NFL Hall of Fame induction speech.
“Football heaven,” he described it on that August day in 2011.
For Faulk, the only place better than football heaven is home.
That’s where he was Wednesday, back in New Orleans in the Ninth Ward where his stellar career began.
It was announced that the Ninth Ward Field of Dreams Stadium, being constructed at Faulk’s alma mater G. W. Carver High School, will be named the Marshall Faulk Field of Dreams Stadium.
“Canton was about me,” Faulk said. “But this is about something that a lot of people have invested a lot of time and energy into. I’m thankful and lucky that they looked at my career and wanted to attach my name to it.”
The football stadium, which will be used by Carver and other Orleans Parish schools, will include a state of the art replay video screen, a luxury VIP suite and a certified track.
The Ninth Ward Field of Dreams Board of Directors voted unanimously to name the stadium after the former NFL great who has given so much back to his hometown.
“This is a whole other element of life,” Faulk said. “Not just sports, but of life. (This helps) you understand how your name can change and affect other kids’ lives.”
The crowd of about 200 or so Wednesday morning may not have been as large as the one Faulk addressed in 2011 when he donned his yellow hall of fame blazer.
And past NFL greats like Deion Sanders, Richard Dent and Shannon Sharpe, inducted into that 2011 Hall of Fame Class, weren’t on the stage beside Faulk this time.
But perhaps the next Faulk or Prime Time or Dent or Sharpe was in the group of Carver football players nearby. Maybe the Field of Dreams will be the launching pad to send someone else to Football Heaven.
“If he can do it, I can do it,” said Rodney Major, a star running back at Carver who will be a senior in the fall. “I feel like I can make it to the league too and come back and do stuff like this in the community. This let’s you know we can do things.”
Major loves football.
That wasn’t always the case for the man of the hour Wednesday.
“I remember when he didn’t even like football,” said Cecile Faulk, who was beaming with pride at her son’s latest honor. “You never think something like this will happen.”
And it almost didn’t.
Former Carver coach Wayne Reese remembers seeing Faulk in the cafeteria as a ninth-grader and trying to convince him to come out for the football team.
“Everywhere we put him on the field, he was good,” said Reese, now coach at McDonogh 35.
Curtis Johnson, the current Tulane coach, was an assistant at San Diego State at the time and lured Faulk to sunny California to play collegiately. The rest is history.
He was a two-time All-American who went on to play 12 seasons in the NFL and is one of just three players to reach 10,000 rushing yards and 5,000 receiving yards.
“But he is a better person than a football player,” Johnson said.
And even better than that?
“He never forgets where he came from,” Reese said.
And where he came from was the rough Desire Projects before moving to the Ninth Ward. From there, he went to San Diego State and then the NFL, where he paved his way into the conversation of greatest running backs of all time.
“Every day I wake up and think about where I was and where I am and I think ‘how did I get here?’ ” Faulk said. “It’s a great feeling to have known you accomplished something in life, but there are more things to accomplish.”
Faulk would like nothing more than to see someone else from his hometown make it to football heaven.
Or at least have a success story. That dream could begin on the field of dreams now named in his honor.
“If there is just one more that comes off this field that gets an opportunity to live their dream like I have, it’s worth it,” he said.