The St. Louis Rams were known as the “Greatest Show on Turf” from 1999 to the early 2000s. They were the most prolific offense the NFL has ever seen, absolutely dominating almost every team they came across.
They wouldn’t have gotten that title, however, if it weren’t for their Hall of Fame back, Marshall Faulk. The Rams traded for him in 1999 in what’s unanimously viewed as one of the best trades in NFL history. All it took was a second- and fifth-round pick to pry Faulk from Bill Polian’s Colts, an absolute steal of a trade that would have resounding effects on the NFL.
It was all made possible because of a developing rift inside the Colts organization with Faulk wanting more money than the team was willing to pay. And so, the trade was made.
In the fourth part of our 10-day series examining the league's biggest trades, we look back at the deal and share a few facts about it you may not have known.
The Rams had the NFL's No. 1 offense in each of Faulk’s first three years
The addition of Faulk gave the Rams the league’s best offense. With Kurt Warner and two stud receivers already in the mix, St. Louis needed a versatile back who could do everything. Faulk could.
He helped lead the Rams to the No. 1 ranking in each of his first three years with the team. It was a remarkable feat, becoming the first team ever to score more than 500 points in three straight years.
Additionally, the Rams set an NFL record with a mind-blowing 7,335 total yards in 2000, a mark that has since been broken by the Saints. Quarterback Kurt Warner and the aerial attack also set an NFL record with 5,492 passing yards that season.
It was the greatest three-year stretch an offense has ever put together, and it’s something we may never see again. Not even the Patriots, Colts or Steelers ever had a three-year run like the Rams had, and it’s no coincidence that it began when Faulk arrived.
AFP/Getty ImagesJEFF HAYNES
Peyton Manning improved dramatically right after Faulk was traded
Faulk was a key part of the Colts’ offense, but in order for them to realize their potential, he had to be moved. Manning, coming off of a year in which the Colts were only 3-13, set a rookie record with 28 interceptions, leading the league in that department. He struggled mightily in his first season, but it was a different story in 1999 – the year immediately following the Faulk trade.
Manning threw 26 touchdown passes with just 15 interceptions, leading the Colts to a stellar 13-3 record and a playoff berth. He was also a Pro Bowler for the first time, which was a big step for the young quarterback. The following year, he improved further, leading the league in passing yards (4,413) and touchdown passes (33).
Faulk admits the Colts made the right move, saying “what happened needed to happen.” He had this to say last year.
"Basically, for Peyton to mature and grow into what he did -- it would have been my team. We somewhat shared the team in a sense. Me leaving, it allowed for him to really take over and be the guy that he is now."
Replacing Faulk with Edgerrin James certainly helped Manning, as did Marvin Harrison, but did moving Faulk really play that big of a role in the QB's improvement? Faulk was a do-it-all back who could run, catch and block – a quarterback’s best friend. However, Faulk seems to believe his departure allowed Manning to grow, and proof seems to be there in the numbers.
The Rams gave away Jerome Bettis just three years prior
Three years before making one of the best trades in NFL history, the Rams made one of the worst. They practically gave away Bettis, shipping the future Hall of Famer and a third-round pick to the Steelers for a second-rounder and a future fourth. It proved to be a total blunder on the Rams’ part, especially because of the guy they replaced him with: Lawrence Phillips. He played just one-plus season in St. Louis, rushing for 1,265 yards in 25 games. He was a complete bust after being drafted sixth overall, making the Rams’ trade of Bettis look even worse.
Fortunately, the Rams redeemed themselves by landing Faulk.
Edgerrin James had more rushing yards from 1999-2000, but Faulk was a record-setter
Believe it or not, James -- drafted fourth overall shortly after the Colts traded Faulk -- was the more productive back in terms of rushing the ball in his first two years with the Colts. James racked up 3,262 yards in 1999-2000, whereas Faulk had 2,740 – both massive numbers that were among the best in the NFL during that span.
James led the league in rushing both years, while Faulk was fifth and eighth, respectively. Still, great numbers, especially considering he had 250 fewer carries in that span.
However, as great as James was, Faulk actually set records. Not only did he have the most yards ever from scrimmage in 1999 (2,429), but he was also the fastest player to reach 1,000 scrimmage yards that season (six games). Additionally, he set the record for the most receiving yards by a running back with 1,048 – an unheard-of total. He was the MVP of the league in 2000 thanks to his 18 touchdowns, which led the NFL.
So while James was more dominant on the ground, Faulk was an absolute playmaker in multiple facets of the game, and was a first-team All-Pro in his first three years with the Rams.
The Colts turned down a first-round pick from the Dolphins for Faulk
When it was clear the Colts were looking to move Faulk, the Rams weren’t the only team interested. The Dolphins were actually more willing to part ways with premium draft capital to land the versatile back. Their coach at the time, Jimmy Johnson, said in 2011 that they actually offered more than the Rams did. Significantly more.
"Yep, we offered the Colts a first-round pick," Johnson said.
Of course, Faulk was dealt for a second- and fifth-round pick, so why would the Colts turn down a first? To keep him out of the AFC East. The Colts and Dolphins were in the same division back in 1999, so trading a future Hall of Famer within the East wasn’t a wise move. Colts GM Bill Polian knew that, so he took the Rams’ offer instead.