FOXBORO - When all is said and done, it still all comes down to a mother's love.
Kevin Faulk spent 13 seasons running the football for the New England Patriots, and he had plenty of thanks and appreciation to share during a ceremony Tuesday marking his official retirement. But one topic made it impossible for him to keep talking without pausing to fight off the waves of emotion that threatened to overtake him.
"One person is the reason why I'm here," he said in tribute to his mother, Vivian Faulk. "One person is the reason why I give 120 percent in everything I do. And that's my mom, who passed away in '04 from leukemia.
"When you're younger, you never know a lot of things your parents told you," he said. "You listened, you paid attention, and you never understood but now, you get it."
Faulk's retirement was celebrated at The Hall at Patriot Place before media and fans, current and former teammates and coaches. Team owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick offered heartfelt testimonials to Faulk's ability, attitude and commitment.
"Patriots' fans have always reserved special places in their hearts for the little guys with big hearts," said Kraft, a diminutive individual himself, poking good-natured fun at Faulk's 5-foot-8 frame.
"Kevin was here when I got here, and our first year was a little bit of a rocky year, and Kevin and I were both wondering how it was all going to work," Belichick said. "He came to me and asked, 'Coach, what do I have to do to be a part of this team,' and in my coaching career, nobody has ever worked harder at doing the things he needed to do."
A second-round draft pick (46th overall) out of Louisiana State in 1999, Faulk finished his career as the Patriots' all-time leader in all-purpose yards (12,349) and kickoff return yards (4,098). He is also the Patriots' all-time leading return specialist, totaling 5,041 combined return yards (4,098 kick return yards and 943 punt return yards). He ranks fifth in Patriots' history in rushing yards (3,607), fifth in receptions (431), 11th in pass receiving yards (3,701) and sixth in total punt return yards (943).
Kraft said his most memorable memory of Faulk was a 2001 play against Miami, "when Kevin was called upon to throw the first pass in his NFL career. He threw a perfect spiral 23 yards to Tom Brady, who was rumbling down the sideline.
"I always wonder why coach didn't call that play more. It was awesome," Kraft said.
"Mr. Kraft wondered why we didn't run that play more, but we did," Faulk said. "We just ran it in practice. We may have run that twice a day in practice, but we never ran it again in a game."
It's ironic that Faulk retired just before the Patriots played the Seattle Seahawks (Sunday, 4:05 p.m.; Ch. 4, 12), because current Seahawks' coach Pete Carroll was the Patriots' coach when GM Bobby Grier drafted him.
Faulk's role changed several times over his career. Miscast as an every-down back in his first few years and occasionally prone to fumbles, he embraced the role of third-down back and excelled as a pass-catcher and at picking up the blitz. Over the years, fumbles became a thing of his past and he was regarded as one of the most reliable ball-handlers on the team.
"Kevin was so adept at figuring out his role, doing it the best he could," Belichick said. "He was the ultimate team player, always prepared. He always put the team first, he always worked hard and he always knew what to do."
Belichick also credited Faulk with being the true leader of the team in 2008, after Brady was lost for the season because of knee injury 71/2 minutes into the first quarter of the opener.
"It was one of the many times you saw Kevin come forward and truly be the leader of our football team," Belichick said.
Faulk said that when he became a free agent after the 2011 season, he knew he'd either be a Patriot or be retired.
"Never kicked the tires with another club," he said. "Had a few clubs call, yes. When I signed the second contract, I figured that I didn't want to be anywhere else for the rest of my career."
Faulk paid tribute to many players, coaches, friends and family during his remarks, but none were more poignant than those to his mother, and to his wife, Latisha.
"For her to show me how to be a man, how to learn from wrong and make those wrongs right, that's the reason why I'm here. Because of her, I know how to take care of my kids and my wife," he said of his mother.
As for his wife, Faulk credited her for keeping things together when the demands of football made him practically disappear from home.
"She has been a rock for our family," he said. "She took care of pretty much everything that needed to be taken care of in the household."
Faulk also paid special tribute to Troy Brown, a long-time teammate and recent inductee into the Patriots Hall of Fame.
"All the things people are saying about me just reminds me of a person sitting in the audience right now that I really look up to, and that's Troy Brown," he said.
His remarks about Belichick, whom he called a "one-of-a-kind coach," were from the heart.
"For a very long time, it was hard for me to figure out who you were," Faulk said, drawing a little laughter at the remark. "But I figured out that if I did my job, that was what you needed to know about me."
He said that he cherished the time he had with Belichick in a one-on-one situation because, "There's always some insight that he has that will make you a better football player."
Belichick, meanwhile, made a point of returning to the podium after Faulk's remarks to remind those in attendance that Faulk had received more than 60 game balls during his career.
"You don't get those unless you win," he said.