Motorcycle madness

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was involved in a motorcycle accident Monday morning that left him with injured knees, a broken jaw and some missing teeth. Football fans with good memories will recall that Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. suffered serious knee ligament damage in a similar accident 13 months earlier.

Fans with REALLY GOOD memories may recall that 15 years ago one of the brightest receiving prospects in recent University of Tennessee history also fell victim to a motorcycle accident that hampered a once-promising career.

Craig Faulkner signed with the Vols in 1989 after a fine prep career in Richmond, Ky. He was so impressive in freshman drills that August that I wrote an article on him for The Knoxville Journal. Faulkner later thanked me for the article, especially the fact I hadn't referred to him as a "possession receiver." The 5-11, 177-pounder found the stereotype of "the slow white guy with great hands" insulting, especially since he was the fastest player in his class.

After redshirting in 1989 and seeing backup action in 1990, Faulkner blossomed in 1991. He started all 12 games as a sophomore that fall, ranking second among all Southeastern Conference players with 46.27 receiving yards per game. Proving himself no possession receiver, he caught four balls for a whopping 99 yards versus Memphis State. He also had a seven-catch, 84-yard performance against UCLA that fall. All told, he converted 35 catches into 509 yards and a healthy 14.5 yards-per-catch average. With two years of eligibility remaining, his future appeared incredibly bright.

Faulkner was involved in a motorcycle accident that April, however, suffering a wrist injury that would trouble him the rest of his career. Although he battled back to start every game in '92, he wasn't quite the same player as before. He caught five balls for 128 yards (including a 57-yard TD toss) vs. Vanderbilt in the regular-season finale but his reception total slipped to 31 and his yardage total fell to 462.

Troubled by complications related to the wrist injury, Faulkner announced following his junior season that he was giving up football. After sitting out spring practice, however, he decided to give the game one last try. Incredibly, he led the 1993 Vols in receptions (40), receiving yards (680) and yards per catch (17.0).

Those of us who saw him play remember Craig Faulkner as one of the most underrated Vols of all time. But we also wonder just how good he might've been if he hadn't wrecked that motorcycle in April of 1991.


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