Curtis Martin followed up his emotional news conference before the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Gold Jacket Dinner on Friday night with a bravura performance running the anchor leg among the six members of the Class of ’12 at Saturday night’s enshrinement ceremony in Canton, Ohio.
“This is God’s honest truth,” Martin said as the sixth and final member of the class to speak and to receive his bust at Fawcett Stadium. “I came up here, I had a chance to spend time with the older guys and the guys who have been inducted. I had a chance to listen to their experience. On Friday morning, we went and listened to Ralph Wilson speak. Just the passion that he has for this game, being one of the founders, one of the founding fathers of this game, there was something that rubbed off on me. And literally yesterday I felt like it was my first day as a fan of the game of football.”
Martin spoke the longest of the six enshrinees but none of the 12,100 in the stadium noticed the extra minutes passing because he timelessly captured the moment in typical Curtis fashion. He broke the huddle with an anecdote from the weekend on huge tackle Willie Roaf. He darted into how he got into football “for a purpose that was bigger than the game itself, because I knew that the love for the game just wasn’t in my heart.”
He cut back as smoothly as ever into soul-baring personal stories about growing up on the mean streets of Pittsburgh and his special relationship with his mother, Rochella, that left him again teary-eyed, and all of the thousands in the stadium silently weeping along with him.
And he strode toward his goal line this night with another anecdote about getting hit so hard in a game against Oakland that he saw black, and kept seeing black as he tried to walk it off, until he realized he was in the Raiders’ defensive huddle.
“I was asked earlier this week if I would allow my child to play football,” he said. “I said, well, football’s getting bigger, stronger, faster and tougher. I don’t know. I would probably be reluctant. But if my kid can learn what I learned from this game, I’d let him play. I think it’s worth the risk.”
Bill Parcells, Curt’s coach with the Patriots in 1995-96 and with the Jets in 1998-99, presented Martin to the gathered fans after helping him slip on his gold jacket at the dinner in the Canton Memorial Civic Center the night before.
”Curtis has tremendous compassion for his fellow man,” Parcells said. ”He is, I think, the poster child for what the NFL is supposed to be. You come into the league, maximize your abilities, you save your money, you make a smooth transition into society, and then you pass all those things on to other people. That’s what this guy has done.”
The Jets were represented at the ceremony by a strong contingent at the ceremony, led by owner Woody Johnson, president Neil Glat and GM Mike Tannenbaum, who helped orchestrate the restricted free agency offer sheet with Parcells that brought Martin from New England to the Jets in 1998. A number of current and former players were there also. I don’t have a complete list but I know Joe Namath was there, as were Kevin Mawae, Pete Kendall and current starting RG Brandon Moore. Eric Allen, Rich Gentile and the multimedia crew were also there, and we’ll have video of events from the weekend up on the Website shortly.
Some Curtis Memories
I couldn’t stay in Canton for Saturday’s festivities, but I knew I at least had to be on hand Friday to honor him. I don’t have any touchingly emotional stories, just small, telling glimpses about covering Martin for the Jets from 1998 through his glorious 2004 season and into 2006, when he tried and tried to get his body ready to play but knew his career was over.
There was the one training camp day at the Netherlands dining hall on the Hofstra campus, when this one beatwriter among many, covering the team for a smaller North Jersey newspaper, asked Martin on the way in to lunch if he had time to talk for a story. He said yes, but then he didn’t show, having taken the side door up to his dorm, no doubt for a nap before the afternoon practice. I accepted being stood up by a big-name player, no big deal, happened before.
Then as I was about to head back for the pressroom, Martin showed up and asked, “I forgot that I was going to talk with you. Do you still need me?” I sensed then the special qualities of No. 28.
He confided in me when he didn’t have to, for stories about goals for the season and playing in the pain that was his constant companion, although no one ever really knew because he never complained and never missed a game. I tried to get him to complain just a little about the way some reporters were willing to write him off one Jets season after a bad start due to some nearly crippling injuries.
“I probably would have written that I stunk, too,” he said.
And he had and continues to have a way with words. Like all other people in the media fishbowl, he revisits timeworn themes and familiar anecdotes during his interviews. But in the locker room day after day, he was never like the comedian on the road who recycles the same routine night after night. Curtis always looked in the questioner’s eyes and had a new word or two, a new phrase that resonated, a new way to make a particular point to reporters and the fans.
Such as Friday at his news conference. He spent perhaps a half-hour answering questions from all of us in the New York Jets media contingent as if he’d never heard them before. He gave details of the murder of his grandmother that he said he’d never detailed for a large interview session before. I’d never been up close to anyone who had bared his soul like that, and I was choked with emotion myself in trying to sum up the story to another reporter a few minutes later.
Being the New York Jets rep at this news conference, I had to ask Curtis about the recent announcement that the Jets will be retiring his uniform number on opening day, Sept. 9, at MetLife Stadium. It’s an honor that’s certainly not on the Canton level, yet I thought Martin might want to speak specifically about the Jets. And he did.
“New York has been the best time of my life,” he said. “I’ve appreciated both organizations that I have played for, but I’ve been at the Jets longer than I was at New England, three times as long as I was at New England. So between the city, the fans, the media and the team, the impact it’s had on my life, and now to be honored with Woody and the Jets deciding to retire my number, next to the Hall of Fame, I don’t know what would be bigger than that.”
Bravo one more time, Curtis. And we’ll see you again in September.
Tags: Bill Parcells, Canton, Curtis Martin, Fawcett Stadium, Mike Tannenbaum, Pro Football Hall of Fame, Rochella Martin, Woody Johnson
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