Yes, it was a rough Super Bowl as advertised for Jets fans, but the one shining green moment was when Curtis Martin and the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2012 was introduced to the Lucas Oil Stadium crowd before the coin toss.
The NFL did a nice job, introducing alphabetically but moving Martin to last. He got the loudest ovation from the fans, a good percentage of which were Patriots supports, of course. But football fans of all stripes could cheer Martin, who along with Chris Doleman are the big names and star power of this six-man class.
Curtis, despite admitting that “my mind is racing today,” invited me and team photographer Al Pereira to come up and chat with him in his Indy hotel room before he began his Super Bowl day duties. As always he was gracious and thoughtful as he touched again on some of the themes he had touched on last year in his first pass at the Hall and again Saturday night in a conference call with Jets reporters while expanding on others.
“It’s been such a humbling experience for me,” Curtis said, still looking muscular and ready as ever as he sat in the comfy chair in his room. “You never set out — I never set out — to accomplish this. Talking about a Hall of Fame class, only elite players are invited into the Hall of Fame. Last year, Deion Sanders and Marshall Faulk, they deserved to be in the Hall of Fame. They just have that elite level. I feel I made the most of the talent I had. With those guys, I didn’t feel snubbed.
“This year, the more emotional part for me was the fact that Bill didn’t get in with me. I’d rather he’d be going in without me. I think what he’s accomplished in this game is phenomenal. It was bittersweet for me.”
He said even as of Sunday afternoon he had not talked to Parcells, who made the round of 10 finalists but was not selected Saturday, about presenting him at the Aug. 4 induction ceremonies in Canton, Ohio.
“But he and I are close. I was thinking of trying to figure out how they would do it if he was an inductee and a presenter in the same year,” Martin said.
Parcells does figure to get in some day. Would Martin present him to the Hall that year? “Bill has a lot of people he knows that he could ask,” he said, “but if he were to ask me, I’d definitely do it.”
Martin said there was a “foreign feeling” to the day and to winning this award that he said “was never my goal.” Part of the surrealness is coming today when he is scheduled to get measured for his Hall of Fame jacket and also to get the first measurements taken for his Canton bust.
Curtis, Carolina (pronounced Caroleena) and perhaps even their new addition, daughter Ava Carolina, will make the trip with Martin’s admirers to Canton in August and check out the new bust, alongside, no doubt, his iconic No 28 green jersey. I was sure he had explained his chosen number at some time in the past but I didn’t remember ever asking him about it. Sure enough, there was a Biblical slant to the number he wore virtually every day of his pro career.
“Before getting drafted, I was talking to my pastor, Leroy Joseph,” he recalled. “I told him I wasn’t really sure about playing pro football. He said, ‘Maybe football is a vehicle for you to reach out to people the way you say you want to do.’ Then one day I was speaking to him my rookie year in New England. I think I was wearing No. 39 at the time. He asked me what number I had. The Patriots said I’d be able to get 28 or 26 after a while. He said ‘Deuteronomy 28!’
“It’s a scripture that I would read a lot throughout my career. It says if you obey God, here’s how your life will be blessed, and how you’ll be blessed coming in and blessed going out.”
Curtis’ religion must be mentioned in this stream-of-bloggyness. It’s a vital part of who he is. It helped get him through the considerable pain he often played in until he couldn’t play through it anymore in 2005-06. It led him to put away 15 percent of every paycheck he made as a pro tailback to completely fund his charity work.
And it still plays a role in his future plans of NFL ownership, which he said are still quite alive.
“I’ve learned to become more patient and I’ve gotten a lot wiser since I retired,” he said. “It was my idea to line my ducks up in a row and when the opportunity arose I could execute it. I had two opportunities. One I thought we were going to close on but there were some points at the end that we just couldn’t agree on so I passed on it. It came back around a year later and I totally (passed on it).
“But it’s still alive and I’m still looking at it.”
I asked Curt if he might consider buying into another pro sport.
“It wouldn’t have to be the NFL but I want it to be the NFL,” he said. “I want to bring what I’ve learned from the ground up, from a rookie being hazed to an owner. There’s a lot to travel between those two points and I want to bring that to an organization. I can’t do the same thing with baseball or with basketball.”
One last topic we touched on was the current state of the Jets.
“I think it’s obvious it’s not ideal right now. There are some changes, some things they have to do to turn it around,” he offered. “I do know that a lot of people give Rex a lot of flak for talking. For me, I champion that, I see what that does. A coach sticks his neck out, jeopardizes his name and his wellbeing — as a player, that really does something for you. It worked for the Jets for two years, it didn’t work for one year. That’s the way he motivates. So be it.”
He reminded that, more than six years (!) after he last played an NFL down, he doesn’t pay close attention to the game now.
“The Jets are usually the only team I really watch. I know it sounds kind of fictitious for me to be saying I don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “But I’ve heard about Sanchez and Santonio Holmes. They’ll fix that. That’s not a huge problem. That’s not something that’s unfixable.”
And with that, Al and I thanked Curtis Martin one more time for his time, congratulated him one more time for his special day ahead, to be followed by many more special days as a member of pro football’s pantheon. When we got out of the elevators, as luck would have it (as well as this being the NFL’s Super Bowl headquarters), Doleman and Hall of Fame official Joe Horrigan and their wives were chatting. Did they have any thoughts on Martin reaching the Hall?
“He’s a Pitt guy, man,” Doleman said smiling. “He did play against me. It wasn’t that often. But Curtis was a great player and what I always loved about him is he was humble, he did his job, he wasn’t a guy that was bigger than the team. He embodied professional football.”
“Everyone who’s ever touched him or been touched by him says the same thing,” said Horrigan, “that he’s a great player and a great person.”
That says it all.
Tags: Bill Parcells, Curtis Martin, Mark Sanchez, Pro Football Hall of Fame, Rex Ryan, Santonio Holmes
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