Anything positive you can say about a football player — or about a human being, for that matter — can pretty much be attribued to Curtis Martin. I know we often say children should look to their parents as role models, but I think if there’s one NFL player that it would be more-than-acceptable to emulate, Martin would be that player.
Born in a tough neighborhood in Pittsburgh, PA, Martin was witness to more than one misfortune, including discovering his murdered grandmother and having a childhood friend killed in front of him. He often says he never expected to see 21, and credits football and his strong faith for putting him on a path to survival and success. He’s also claimed that although he enjoyed his time in the NFL, his real goals didn’t include attaining records or amassing personal wealth — he wanted to use football a way to reach out and help others, which he has done, not only by establishing his own charitable organization, but by also donating his money and time to other numerous charities.
But all that wouldn’t be possible if he hadn’t been so consistently great on the field of play.
Having had the great fortune of seeing every game he played for the Jets, it’s hard to come up with one defining play or game — which is a testament to his entire career. (Although I really enjoyed his memorable 174-yard effort in 2003 against the Steelers in the snow.) Very few times did he break off long runs, but I can’t count how many times he just took the ball, made a quick cut at the line, slipped past a few defenders, made another cut before being brought down — and then the referees would have to move the chains. Never flashy, never boastful, never screaming “look at me,” he carried himself as the truly great ones always do — with confidence, with humility and with grace. Even when his career came to a premature end, he quietly worked hard to try and return, and when he realized he couldn’t, he retired with little fanfare (or second thoughts).
Cinderella (the hair band) famously sang, “You don’t know what you got, till it’s gone,” but Jets fans have always known — and appreciated — what they had in Curtis Martin. And it was only after he was gone (leaving a tremendous void both on and off the field), that the NFL realized what Martin had accomplished.
He is 4th all-time with 14,101 rushing yards, 12th all-time in rushing TDs with 90, 10th all-time in all-purpose with 17,430 yards. He is also 3rd in the history of the NFL in touches with 4,002, only behind Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith, and had 8 seasons with over 300 carries, which is tied for 2nd all-time. He made All-Pro five times and five Pro Bowls. And he is only one of two players (the other is Barry Sanders) to start his career with 10 consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
Curtis Martin is the all-time Jets leader in almost every rushing category, including yards (10,302), touchdowns (58) and yards per game (83.8). He started in a mind-boggling 119 consecutive games as a running back. He also was a flawless as a passer, going 2 for 2 with 2 TDs and a perfect 158.3 passer rating — including one of my all-time favorite plays, the pass to Wayne Chrebet against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
During his tenure with the Jets, Martin was voted MVP four times, and showered with numerous awards for outstanding character, leadership, service and inspiration, both on and off the field. Upon his retirement, he said, “Retirement is not an end, but a beginning.” I have no doubt that as the years go on, Martin will only make Jets fans more proud to say that he played for our team.
As Eric Mangini said upon Martin’s retirement: “If you are looking for a hero, you don’t have to look any further than Curtis Martin.”