TJB Hall of Fame: Curtis Martin

1998 – Bill Clinton tangles with Paula Jones, Disney opens Animal Kingdom, “King of Queens” premieres on TV, There’s Something About Mary (and Brett Fav-rey) rules the box office, Britney Spears is steaming up the airwaves with “Baby One More Time,” the NBA locks its players out, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chase Roger Maris’ home run record and the Jets go 12-4 en route to an appearance in the AFC Championship Game.

And Curtis Martin rushes for 1,287 yards and 8 TDs, catches 43 passes for 365 yards and misses 1 game.

1999 – Y2K concerns abound, Columbine High School makes headlines for all the wrong reasons, The Phantom Menace tarnishes the Star Wars legacy, Christina Aguilera lets the genie out of the bottle, Regis asks who wants to be a millionaire, Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away, Connecticut beats Duke for its first NCAA championship, Leon Hess passes away and the Jets go 8-8 with Ray Lucas behind center.

And Curtis Martin rushes for 1,464 yards and 5 TDs, catches 45 passes for 259 yards and misses no games.

2000 – The millennium arrives without chaos, Elian Gonzalez returns to Cuba, George W. Bush (eventually) becomes the president, Matchbox Twenty hits No. 1 with “Bent,” Russell Crowe becomes a gladiator, Larry David curbs his enthusiasm (but not for the Jets), Charles M. Schulz and “Peanuts” end within a day of each other, the Mets inexplicably lose to the Yanks in the Subway Series and the Jets go 9-7 in Al Groh’s lone season at the helm, missing out on the playoffs despite the Monday Night Miracle.

And Curtis Martin rushes for 1,204 yards and 9 TDs, catches 70 passes for 508 yards and misses no games.

2001 – The Twin Towers fall . . . . no odysseys in space, Wikipedia is founded, Apple releases the iPod, Dale Earnhardt Sr. is killed during a crash at the Daytona 500, Mr. Rogers shuts down the neighborhood, the WWF buys out WCW, Alicia Keys falls in and out of love, the first of the The Lord of the Rings trilogy conquers movie theaters, the Arizona Diamondbacks stun Mariano Rivera and the Yanks in the World Series and the Jets go 10-6 in Herm Edwards’ first year as coach before losing in the first round of the playoffs against the Oakland Raiders.

And Curtis Martin rushes for 1,513 yards and 10 TDs, catches 53 passes for 320 yards and misses no games.

2002 – President Bush creats the Department of Homeland Security, the beltway in Washington D.C. is terrorized by snipers, the Queen Mother dies at 101, Kelly Clarkson becomes the first American Idol, Avril Lavigne is complicated, “The X-Files” finds out the end is out there, Spider-Man swings into theaters, the Mets lose every home game in the month of August and the Jets go 9-7 in Chad Pennington’s debut season, sneak into the playoffs on the last Sunday of the season, whip the Colts 41-0 in the Wild Card round before losing to the Raiders (again).

And Curtis Martin rushes for 1,094 yards and 7 TDs, catches 49 passes for 362 yards and misses no games.

2003 – The U.S. invades Iraq and quickly declares “Mission Accomplished,” the space shuttle Columbia is lost upon re-entry from space, the Concorde makes its last flight, Johnny and June Carter Cash pass away within four months of each other, Pixar finds Nemo, the San Antonio Spurs beat the New Jersey Nets to win the NBA title, Jose Reyes makes his debut with the Mets and the Jets go 6-10 after Pennington breaks his wrist in the preseason, resulting in Edwards’ first losing season.

And Curtis Martin rushes for 1,308 yards and 2 TDs, catches 42 passes for 262 yards and misses no games.

2004 – George W. Bush is somehow re-elected president, the last Oldsmobile rolls off the line, Ronald Reagan passes away, a giant tsunami devastates southeast Asia, “Friends” says goodbye, Lance Armstrong wins his sixth straight Tour de France, the Yanks have the greatest collapse in the history of MLB playoffs allowing the Red Sox to break The Curse of the Bambino and the Jets go 10-6 as they find their way back into the playoffs, beat San Diego on an overtime kick and then play to lose against the Pittsburgh Steelers after two Doug Brien misses.

And Curtis Martin rushes for NFL-leading 1,697 yards and 12 TDs, catches 41 passes for 245 yards and misses no games.

2005 – After 10 terrific seasons in the NFL, time and injury finally catch up to the steady and dependable Martin, and he is forced to the sidelines after only a dozen games and 735 yards . . .

When Jets fans hear the name “Curtis Martin” a lot of accolades come to mind: “consistent greatness,” “a warrior,” “classy and humble,” “a true professional,” “selfless teammate,” “lead by example,” “hardworking,” “dedicated,” “loyal,” and of course, “future Hall-of-Famer.” Well, the future is now as Martin becomes a member of the TJB Hall of Fame.

When Bill Parcells left the New England Patriots for the New York Jets following the 1996 season, one of the first things he regretted was not be able to bring along prized young running back — and why not? Not only did Martin win offensive rookie of the year and go to a pair of Pro Bowls, he had also strung together three 1,000-yard seasons during his time in New England (which you can add to the years above).

As soon as Martin reached his 4th year in 1998 — and restricted free agency — Parcells wasted no time in signing him to a six-year, $36 million deal, and happily gave up a first- and third-round draft pick to land Martin. In retrospect, it’s the greatest free agent signing in the history of Jets football. And it’s when the true greatness of Curtis Martin began (as far as Jets fans are concerned).

Anything positive you can say about a football player — or about a human being, for that matter — can pretty much be attribued to 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.”




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