NFL Nation: Curtis Martin

Sixteen years before Darrelle Revis, there was Curtis Martin.

The Hall of Fame running back was the first high-profile player to switch sides in the New York Jets-New England Patriots rivalry, so he knows all about the passion and vitriol of The Border War. Martin remembers hearing more cheers than boos when he returned to Foxborough for the first time, but he doesn’t expect New Yorkers to be as gracious when Revis returns to MetLife Stadium.

His advice to Revis: Buckle up.

[+] EnlargeDarelle Revis
AP Photo/Brian BlancoNew Patriots CB Darrelle Revis won't be receiving a warm welcome when he faces the Jets in New York.
“The game has changed, the fanfare has changed,” Martin told ESPNNewYork.com. “I expect it to be a little more hostile, not as welcoming. [He laughed.] I think he should wear his helmet when he comes out of the tunnel.”

Revis didn't go from the Jets to Patriots – there was a quick stop with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers –- but the fans won’t remember his one year in Pewter purgatory when they see him in Patriots colors. Martin can empathize with the anguish of Jets fans.

“I totally understand the feeling,” Martin said. “It just makes it that much tougher to beat those guys.”

Martin said his initial reaction to Revis signing with the Patriots was, “Wow.” He still considers Revis the best cornerback in the league, and he called it a brilliant move by the Patriots. Martin, an avid chess player, used a chess analogy to describe the impact Revis will have with the AFC East champions.

“The Patriots already have that strong piece in Tom Brady. He’s like the queen, that very powerful person,” Martin said. “Putting Darrelle Revis up there is like having an extra queen in the game. That’s a powerful move for the Patriots.”

The Jets were criticized for not showing interest in Revis, especially since they released Antonio Cromartie. They have a gaping hole at cornerback, yet they didn't respond to an inquiry by Revis’ agent.

Martin said he didn't expect the Jets to pursue a Revis reunion, seeing as how they already jettisoned him once. Asked if he wanted them to make a play for Revis, he gave a yes-and-no answer.

“You put Darrelle on any team, and you've definitely made your team more powerful,” he said. “I would always like to see the Jets with the best players, so, yeah, of course. That being said, there was a reason why he was let go, so I wouldn't necessarily expect them to do that.”

Some considered Martin a traitor in 1998, when he signed a six-year, $36 million offer sheet with the Jets. The Patriots had an opportunity to match, but they declined because the contract was structured in such a way that it could've blown up their salary cap. After three terrific years in New England, he bolted for the Jets.

“Initially, when I first came out of the tunnel, I heard some people say, ‘Traitor,’ but for the most part, people were cheering for me,” said Martin, recalling his first trip back to New England. “I thought that was pretty incredible. It showed their appreciation for what I was there. It actually made me feel good.”

It would be an upset if Revis gets the same treatment.
PITTSBURGH -- Art Rooney II said it succinctly.

The Steelers president also said it best in regard to Jerome Bettis' fourth bid to gain entrance into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

It's time.

Amen to that.

It can be argued that the more pertinent question when it comes to Bettis and the Hall of Fame is this: Why hasn't “The Bus” pulled into Canton, Ohio, already?

Bettis retired after the 2005 season as the fifth-leading rusher in NFL history with 13,662 yards. He is now sixth on that list, and all of the players in front of him who are eligible for the Hall of Fame are in it.

This should be the year that Bettis, one of 15 modern-day finalists for the Hall of Fame, joins them in football immortality.

Full disclosure: Bettis, who will be among those voted on Saturday, is an NFL analyst for ESPN. However, I was given the freedom to make a case for or against him getting into the Hall of Fame.

I frankly don't know of a credible argument I could make against Bettis.

He was one of the most productive running backs in NFL history. He was also unique.

Bettis may have been the best big back of all-time, and he was anything but a plodding, pile pusher.

Bettis' quick feet were as critical to his success as his sheer bulk -- his playing weight was listed at 255 pounds -- and power. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry, which is just a tick below what Hall of Famer Curtis Martin averaged during his career.

Bettis' value transcended the six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons he posted after the Steelers heisted him from the Rams in the greatest trade in franchise history. It also went beyond his ability to grind out the clock when the Steelers were protecting a fourth-quarter lead.

Bettis made those around him better because of the respect he garnered for playing through the pain that is a daily companion for a workhorse back -- and doing so with a smile.

Bettis was also so beloved by teammates that they wanted to win for him as much as for themselves, particularly at the end of his career.

The desire to get Bettis to the Super Bowl in 2005 helped fuel a stirring postseason run that the Steelers capped by beating the Seahawks for their first world championship since 1979.

Bettis called it a career after getting the one thing that had eluded him -- in his hometown of Detroit, no less -- and now it's time for him to receive an honor that has been equally as elusive as a Super Bowl title.

There are plenty of other people stating his case -- from Rooney, who is anything but prone to hyperbole, to Bill Cowher, who coached him, and Mike Tomlin, who coached against him.

Typical of the support Bettis' latest Hall of Fame bid has received is what Franco Harris said.

“Why he isn't in there, I have no clue,” Harris told Steelers.com. “Should he be in there this year? Absolutely. You are talking about a great football player. I am hoping that he will be able to join me in the Hall of Fame this year.”

Bettis has been gracious about his omission from the Hall of Fame, and he is at peace with the argument he made for inclusion in it during a career that spanned from 1993-2005.

“The way I look at it is I can't be selfish in that why am I not in now?” Bettis said. “I think when my timing is there I'll be in.”

As Rooney said, it's time.

Miami mess has a shade of green

January, 9, 2014
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Remember when the New York Jets were known as the most dysfunctional team in the NFL? That unofficial title now belongs to the Miami Dolphins -- the South Beach circus.

Mangini
Mangini
Turns out the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin bullying scandal was only the start of the Dolphins' woes. These days, they're making news with a fractured front office that makes the Christie administration look like the honor society. It might be safer to swim with sharks than to work for the Dolphins. Then again, it's kind of the same thing.

"A lot of politics," a person familiar with the situation told me.

General manager Jeff Ireland, who failed to make the playoffs in any of his six seasons, agreed to part ways with the team this week after losing a power struggle with coach Joe Philbin, according to reports in South Florida and elsewhere. Funny thing is, there's a greenish tint to the entire mess -- meaning links to the Jets.

One of the biggest sharks in the Miami tank apparently is Dawn Aponte, the executive vice president of football administration -- a former underling of ex-Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum. Aponte reportedly stabbed Ireland in the back, formed an alliance with Philbin and worked her way into the inner circle of owner Stephen Ross.

Ross, a super wealthy businessman who lives in New York, has a curious affinity for former Jets. He recently named Jets Hall of Famer Curtis Martin to his "Bully Board" -- an advistory committee that was formed in the aftermath of the Incognito-Martin controversy. In addition, one of Ross' most trusted advisors is Matt Higgins, former team president of the Jets.

You can't make this stuff up.

Dolphins team reporter James Walker does a nice job of outlining the Dolphins-Jets parallels on his blog. It's a must-read.

So now the Dolphins are looking for a new general manager, and the names being reported in the South Florida media include Tannenbaum and former Jets coach Eric Mangini, currently an offensive consultant for the San Francisco 49ers. Once upon a time, Tannenbaum rose to power in the Jets' organization when he convinced owner Woody Johnson to hire Mangini away from Bill Belichick. The Tannenbaum-Mangini alliance ruled the Jets for three years. When Mangini was fired, and hired by the Cleveland Browns, he brought along an up-and-coming star in the front office.

Aponte.

This would be a great reality show, wouldn't it?

Two-Minute Drill: Curtis Martin

November, 16, 2013
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Our weekly Q & A is with Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin, who was in the news recently. He accepted an invitation by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross to serve on an advisory committee to review the Dolphins' conduct policies and make recommendations in the aftermath of the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin bullying scandal:

How does a former Jets great end up on a Dolphins committee?

Martin: It doesn't have anything to do with it being the Miami Dolphins; this is a universal problem. It's this situation. You know all about the turmoil it has caused. Stephen wanted to pick out individuals he trusted, people like (former Dolphins) Jason Taylor and Dan Marino. I'm more of an outside point of view.

You don't see anything weird about it?

[+] EnlargeCurtis Martin
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsCurtis Martin is going to serve on an advisory committee to review the Dolphins' conduct policies in the aftermath of the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito situation.
Martin: No. At the end of the day, the NFL is part of my family now. It wouldn't matter what team it was. This is something I wanted to do. It's a very important issue.

In all the years you played, did you ever witness this type of bullying?

Martin: No, I've never seen anything like it, personally. I'll be really interested to see the final facts. In a situation like this, you have to get all the facts and make a judgment. When I was playing, there's no way I'd be aware of a situation like this and not address it. I take this issue very seriously. I hear a lot of people saying a lot of things. People say [the Dolphins] had to know it was going on, but that's not necessarily true. Really, I'd rather wait until we have all the facts before I say anything more about it.

How did you get to know Stephen Ross?

Martin: We've had some interactions in the past. I definitely have a lot of respect for him. From his words, I think he appreciates the way I think about things.

When you retired in 2007, you said you were close to becoming involved in the ownership of an NFL team A short time later, Ross purchased the Dolphins. Were you talking to him about becoming a part owner of the Dolphins?

Martin: When I was freshly retired and looking to buy into team, he was one of the guys generous enough to give me good advice. I was seeking out the expertise and experience from different owners. I wanted to talk to some owners who had been around a long time, and I wanted to talk to new owners.

Let's talk about the Jets. Are you surprised they're doing so well?

Martin: I don't necessarily feel surprised about it. I always like to see how things play out. I'm glad they're doing well. Say what you want, but 5-4 is encouraging. There's a lot of potential there. Geno [Smith] is growing and growing.

What do you think their record would be if Mark Sanchez still were the quarterback?

Martin: That’s a real guess. To be honest, if I knew, I’d say. Sanchez has had pretty decent years, but I like Geno’s talent. He’s versatile. He has escapability, along with a pretty good arm. Once this kid totally understands the game … I equate it to chess. When I started to learn to play chess, I made some good moves, but I didn't have a sense of the whole board. It's the same thing with playing quarterback. You have to know where everybody is on the field. That will come in time. Geno will be very dangerous as he develops that quality.

You're also a member of the Super Bowl XLVIII committee. How's that going?

Martin: It's been a learning experience. I always thought the teams just showed up at the game, there was more traffic and that was all there was to the Super Bowl. But it's so much more than that. You have to work with the lighting on the field, transportation, sponsorships. What if it snows? It's really a huge, huge task to put on a Super Bowl. Woody Johnson wanted me to sit in on the committee, on hehalf of the Jets, and I consider it a tremendous honor. This is going to be one of the biggest, best Super Bowls ever.

Dolphins Q&A: Tony Dungy

November, 12, 2013
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TAMPA -- Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross announced Monday that he’s set up a task force to clean up their locker-room culture. One of the members selected to lead that task force is former Super Bowl-winning head coach Tony Dungy.

ESPN.com’s Dolphins team page caught up with Dungy before Monday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to get his thoughts on his communication with Ross, Miami’s in-house culture, and how he plans to help.

Dungy
James Walker: Tony, you have been one of the leading figures on several important NFL issues. How did Ross get in contact with you to join this task force to clean up the culture in Miami?

Tony Dungy: Steve called me. I talked to him several times during their coaching search and since he’s gotten the team. Steve called me and said he wasn’t sure what happened. He’s in the process of finding that out. But he wants to look forward and see how he could ensure their locker room and whole organization was operating in the best way. He wanted to get some former players that he respect and former coaches, and put together a recommendation of best practices.

Walker: After the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin saga, how serious do you think Ross is about cleaning up the Dolphins’ locker-room culture?

Dungy: I think he’s very serious. I think he’s disappointed that this happened on his watch, and it could have happened to anybody. People ask me how much should a coach know? How much should you be aware of what’s going on? You do have to count on your players, your leadership. I’m standing around a bunch of guys [in Tampa] who made it happen for me. What I did is set the atmosphere on what my expectations are. But I counted on Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp to let me know. As a coach you are kind of counting on that.

Walker: You, Don Shula, Dan Marino, Curtis Martin and Jason Taylor all have a lot of clout in NFL circles. Why do you think Ross picked this particular group?

Dungy: I think he wanted to get some ex-Dolphins. I think he wanted to get some guys that he respected that could say, ‘This is how football is. This is normal. This is what we had in great locker rooms and this is how you get it.’ I think he picked some great guys.

Walker: How involved will you be?

Dungy: I’m not sure. We haven’t really talked about it. It’s something I think will be very intensive early on, especially, to kind of set the tone. I just told him I would be glad to do whatever I can to help him out.

Locker Room Buzz: Miami Dolphins

November, 12, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Observed in the locker room after the Miami Dolphins' 22-19 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Pouncey
No excuses: Dolphins players offered no excuses for falling to the winless Buccaneers. Center Mike Pouncey and others admitted Tampa Bay played better and deserved to win. The Buccaneers jumped out to a 15-0 lead early and held on.

The boss: Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was in the locker room and didn’t seem too thrilled with another loss. Miami lost its fifth game in six tries.

HOF: Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin was in attendance. He was a guest of the Dolphins after being appointed by Ross to be a part of a task force to clean up the locker-room culture.

Steven Jackson by the numbers

March, 15, 2013
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A day after the fact, Atlanta’s signing of running back Steven Jackson continues to be the hottest story in the NFC South.

I don’t see that changing anytime soon, unless the Tampa Bay Buccaneers suddenly make the trade for Darrelle Revis. So let’s feed the Jackson talk a little more with some by-the-numbers nuggets from ESPN Stats & Information.
  • The three time Pro Bowler has rushed for 1,000 yards in eight consecutive seasons. Only Emmitt Smith (11 straight seasons), Curtis Martin (10 straight) and Barry Sanders (10 straight) have longer streaks than Jackson.
  • Jackson also is a receiving threat out of the backfield. He has had seven seasons with 1,000 rushing yards and 300 receiving yards. LaDainian Tomlinson and Walter Payton, who each accomplished that feat eight times, are the only players to do that more than Jackson.
  • Jackson also can make things happen after contact. Over the past four seasons, Jackson has run for 2,172 yards after contact. Adrian Peterson (2,918 yards) is the only player with more yards after contact in that same span.
  • Among active running backs, Jackson ranks first with 2,395 career carries, first with 10,135 rushing yards and is tied for fifth with 56 touchdowns.
  • Also, in this Insider post, Football Outsiders takes an in-depth look at what Jackson brings to the Falcons.

Dan from Toledo, Ohio, has a problem with the implication running back Steven Jackson would have a better shot at winning a championship by leaving the St. Louis Rams.



"Nobody knows who is going to the Super Bowl, so Steven better make a good choice," Dan writes. "Who says the Rams can't win the Super Bowl this year? Who thought the Rams were going to be that good in 1999?"

Sando: The Rams are improving, but even they would likely acknowledge other teams are closer to championship form at this time. The bottom line is that Jackson would remain in St. Louis if the Rams were willing to pay him $7 million in salary. They weren't willing to pay him that much. That is why they gave him the ability to void his contract.

What Jackson thinks of the Rams is less interesting to me than what the market thinks of Jackson. Players seeking to discover their value sometimes do not like what they find.

Jackson is 29 years old and his production has slipped in recent seasons. He finished last season with numbers nearly identical to the ones he posted in 2008. The difference was that he played only 12 games in 2008 and 16 games last season.

However, some other accomplished backs such as Curtis Martin, Tony Dorsett, Ricky Watters and Warrick Dunn remained productive at that age. Each topped 1,000 yards rushing for the final two times at ages 30 and 31. Jackson might be able to do the same if given the opportunity. He'll need someone to give him that chance.

Back to the original comment from Dan regarding St. Louis possibly contending in 2013. There is every reason to expect continued improvement from St. Louis even though improving from 7-8-1 in the standings, where the Rams stood in 2012, is tougher than improving from 2-14 in the standings, where the Rams stood in 2011.

Would Jackson, uninterested in a reduced role with St. Louis, accept one for a team he perceives to as closer to contending for a title?

"I'm definitely going to have to [have] open ears and be open to all talks, but I don't know what teams want unless I made myself available," Jackson told SportsCenter on Friday. "Doing so, it was a very tough decision to leave St. Louis, but when we started talking about reduced roles and what they see me in the future with the organization, it has to fit and make sure that I could fit in the locker room as well as other players."

Montee Ball could be 'special' RB

February, 19, 2013
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Montee Ball has heard the talk and, contrary to what you might expect, he likes it.

“They say I’m not special,’’ the University of Wisconsin running back said Monday after a pre-combine workout at IMG Academy. “They say I’m not especially fast. They say I’m not especially big. Well, fine, I’ll take that as a compliment. They’re not tearing me apart. They’re just saying that I don’t do one thing special. So what? If you’re pretty good all the way around, then you can be a very good running back.’’

[+] EnlargeWisconsin's Montee Ball
Mary Langenfeld/USA TODAY SportsMontee Ball rushed for 3,753 yards and 55 touchdowns during his final two seasons at Wisconsin.
Ball is talking about the draft gurus and scouts that say he’s not a first-round pick. Most say he’ll go in the second or third round, which is a little surprising for a guy who scored more touchdowns (83) than anyone in the history of college footballe (FBS).

At 5-11 and 212 pounds, Ball is too small to be the traditional power back and too big to be a pure speed back. But, if you want to stereotype him, Ball has a couple of suggestions.

“Curtis Martin and Terrell Davis,’’ Ball said. “People said the same thing about them. They didn’t do anything special. Well, they both ended up having pretty good careers.’’

Ball has a point. He ran for more than 1,800 yards in each of his final two college seasons while scoring 55 rushing touchdowns. As a junior he caught 24 passes and scored six touchdowns.

“The thing that surprise me most about him is the way he catches the ball,’’ IMG director of football operations Chris Weinke, a former NFL quarterback, said. “Coming from Wisconsin, I wasn’t expecting him to be very polished at catching the ball. But he caught the ball effortlessly. He just looks really natural doing it.’’

Wisconsin veered off its normal offense in 2011 when Russell Wilson was the quarterback. The Badgers got Ball involved as a receiver out of the backfield. But Wisconsin went back to its old ways last season and Ball caught only 10 passes.

“I’ve always been able to catch the ball,’’ Ball said. “I did it in high school and I caught it when it came my way in college, but it’s something I feel I can do a lot more of on the next level.’’

Let’s play a little game of connect the dots here. There is one NFC South team that seems to be crying out for a running back like Ball this offseason.

That’s the Atlanta Falcons. Michael Turner is getting older and could be a salary-cap casualty. The Falcons are high on the potential of Jacquizz Rodgers, but he may not be big enough to handle the rushing load all by himself.

Put someone like Ball in the same backfield as Rodgers and the Falcons suddenly could spice up a running game that wasn’t very good last season.

“I don’t have any dream scenario of what team I want to go to or what kind of offense I want to be a part of,’’ Ball said. “I just want to go somewhere and get a chance to be a three-down back and show what I can do.’’

What can Ball do on the next level?

“I think he can be a very good NFL running back,’’ Weinke said. “I think he’s going to show people at the combine he’s a little faster than they thought. We already know he can run between the tackles and change directions. And he can catch the ball and block. Consistent is the first word I think of when I think of him.’’

Maybe that consistency will be what makes Ball special in the NFL.
In Houston’s win against Cincinnati, Arian Foster ran 32 times for 140 yards and had eight receptions for 34 yards.

It’s hard to believe, but ESPN Stats & Info says he was the first player in NFL history to have 30 or more carries and seven or more receptions in a postseason game.

Foster
Foster
His total of 40 rushes-plus-receptions matched the second-highest in a regulation-length postseason game. The Jets’ Curtis Martin had 36 carries and six catches in a win over Jacksonville in the playoffs following the 1998 season, and Lawrence McCutcheon of the Los Angeles Rams had 37 carries and three catches in a win over the St. Louis Cardinals in 1975. Miami’s Lamar Smith had 40 carries and three receptions in an overtime victory over the Colts in 2000.

Foster’s 40 touches were a career-high. He was the second back this season to record at least 140 rush yards and 30 receiving yards in a game. Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles did it in Week 3 at New Orleans.

Some other notes on what the Texans did:
  • They are now 6-0 this season in games decided by 8 points or fewer, including the postseason. They are the only team this season that did not lose a game decided by 8 points or fewer.
  • J.J. Watt recorded a sack, a tackle for loss and a batted pass in the game. Watt had five games with one of each of those plays this season. Only four other players did that in multiple games.
  • The Texans didn’t allow the Bengals a single third-down conversion. It was the first time that an NFL team had been held without a third-down conversion in a postseason game since the playoffs following the 1988 season, when Sam Wyche’s Bengals held Marv Levy’s Bills without a first down on 10 third-down attempts.

Final Word: NFC West

December, 28, 2012
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 17:

Three of a kind. Not since 1991 have three NFC West teams finished a season with winning records. It could happen in 2012 if the St. Louis Rams upset the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. The Rams would finish 8-7-1 with a victory. Seattle and San Francisco already have 10 victories apiece. The 1991 NFC West race finished with New Orleans (11-5), Atlanta (10-6) and San Francisco (10-6) ahead of the Los Angeles Rams (3-13). Also with a victory, the Rams would become the second team since the merger to post an undefeated division record without qualifying for postseason.

[+] EnlargeSteven Jackson
Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY Sports Steven Jackson is nearing another milestone. closing in on his eighth consecutive 1,000-yard season.
Making history. The Seahawks have never finished a season ranked first in fewest points allowed. Seattle enters Week 17 having allowed 232 points, fewest in the NFL by 21 points. Chicago has allowed 253. The 49ers have allowed 260. Seattle has allowed 17 or fewer points in its past four games, the Seahawks' longest streak since 2003 and 2004.

Milestone weekend. Steven Jackson, Russell Wilson and Aldon Smith are chasing milestones as the regular season wraps up.

The Rams' Jackson needs 10 yards rushing for his eighth consecutive 1,000-yard season, which would tie LaDainian Tomlinson and Thurman Thomas for fourth behind Emmitt Smith (11), Curtis Martin (10) and Barry Sanders (10).

Seattle's Wilson has 25 touchdown passes, within one of Peyton Manning's rookie record. Wilson, with a 98.0 NFL passer rating, also has a shot at breaking Matt Hasselbeck's single-season franchise record (98.2).

Smith, with 19.5 sacks, needs three to break Michael Strahan's single-season record for sacks. Houston's J.J. Watt (20.5) is nearer the record, however.

Stopping the bleeding. The 49ers have been outscored by 50 points and allowed more than 700 yards over their past five-plus quarters. That is nearly as much yardage as the 49ers allowed over a 12-quarter stretch of games against Chicago, New Orleans and St. Louis. The trend is about to end. The 49ers' Week 17 opponent, Arizona, has 735 yards in its past four games. The Cardinals' Brian Hoyer is making his first NFL start at quarterback.

Crabtree's time. The NFC West is in danger of finishing without a 1,000-yard receiver for the first time since the NFL realigned into eight four-team divisions in 2002. The 49ers' Michael Crabtree needs 67 yards against Arizona to become the team's first 1,000-yard receiver since Terrell Owens in 2003. Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald needs 215 yards to reach 1,000 for the sixth consecutive season. Seattle's Sidney Rice needs 252 yards for 1,000. Crabtree is averaging 91.5 yards per game since Week 13, sixth-most in the NFL.

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this item.

HOF12: Curtis Martin's amazing story

August, 4, 2012
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CANTON, Ohio -- Curtis Martin won his bet to make it through his Pro Football Hall of Fame speech without crying.

Did anyone else?

Martin, in accepting his enshrinement to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, shared details about his life that would wrench the hardest heart: the murders of his grandmother and aunt; the manner in which his father tortured his mother; the time someone held a gun to his head and pulled the trigger seven times, only to have a bullet discharge on the eighth pull, when the gun was pointed elsewhere.

This was as moving a speech as I can recall hearing.

That Martin would survive all this and grow into a man with the wherewithal to nurture his mother to health? That, together, they would forgive his father?

It's a good thing Martin's speech came last. No one could have followed him.

Martin closed by saying he hoped his daughter, when delivering his eulogy years from now, would speak not of the yards he gained, but of the man he became. He hoped she would speak of having sought a man of similar character. He hoped she would, in closing his eulogy, leave mourners with a footnote.

"Oh yeah," she would say, "he was a pretty good football player."

Martin's presenter, retired coach Bill Parcells, spoke of his former player's great balance. Martin's speech showed the same quality. He balanced those emotional reflections with humor. And he showed great wisdom.

Martin busted on fellow enshrinee Willie Roaf for suggesting the Class of 2012 go for pedicures this week. He joked about Cortez Kennedy speaking for so long that God decided to turn off the lights.

Martin again found the right balance when discussing player safety issues, particularly whether he'd feel OK about his own child playing the game, were Martin to have a son.

Two previously enshrined Hall of Famers -- I could not identify them from a distance -- rose and applauded when Martin provided a thoughtful answer. Martin said he never sought football or loved it, but he learned life lessons from it through Parcells, through his former high school coach and through experiences on the field.

"If kids can learn what I learned from playing the game," Martin said in words to that effect, "I'd let him play. It would be worth the risk."

Martin rushed for 102 yards and the winning touchdown in his first regular-season NFL game. Parcells, upon seeing reporters gather around Martin's locker for postgame interviews, let it be known Martin was merely a "one-game wonder."

Before too long, "one-game wonder" would give way to "Boy Wonder" as Parcells' preferred nickname for Martin. The more flattering moniker survives to this day, for good reason. Martin opened his career with 10 consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, an NFL record shared by another Hall of Famer, Barry Sanders.

Martin turned out to be a pretty good football player, all right, and so much more.

CANTON, Ohio -- Dermotti Dawson, the fifth of six Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinees to speak Saturday night, thanked his parents for the guidance they provided over the years.

The other modern-day finalists preceding Dawson at the podium -- Willie Roaf, Chris Doleman and Cortez Kennedy -- made similar comments.

Curtis Martin, the final enshrinee scheduled to speak, will tell a different story. He'll surely pay tribute to his mother, but so many other factors in his life worked against him. His father left the family when Martin was 4. His grandmother was stabbed to death in brutal fashion when Martin was 9.

Martin never dreamed of the Hall of Fame; at one point, his goal while growing up in a rough Pittsburgh neighborhood was simply reaching age 21. The speech he delivers Saturday night has the potential to pack a different type of emotional punch.
CANTON, Ohio -- New Orleans Saints players gave Cortez Kennedy a standing ovation early in the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement program Saturday.

They won't be sticking around for Kennedy's speech, however.

The Saints, scheduled to open their exhibition season against the Arizona Cardinals in the same Fawcett Stadium on Sunday, left their seats and disappeared behind the end-zone grandstands once former New Orleans tackle Willie Roaf finished his acceptance speech.

Roaf led off the Hall program. Jack Butler's time is now, followed by Chris Doleman and then Kennedy. Dermontti Dawson and Curtis Martin round out the proceedings.

Kennedy played for the Seattle Seahawks, but he works as an adviser to the Saints. He collected a Super Bowl ring with the Saints following the 2009 season.
CANTON, Ohio -- Welcome to Fawcett Stadium for the 2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony.

I'll be blogging throughout the proceedings, as you might have noticed when this post went live a bit earlier. First, a look at the order for enshrinement and speeches for the program, which begins at 7 p.m. ET:
  • Willie Roaf: This one promises to be emotional, as anyone who witness the way Roaf's father, Clifton, hugged him during the Gold Jacket Dinner presentation Friday night. Clifton Roaf is presenting his son. The Hall encourages presenters to limit their comments to eight minutes in duration. That could be tough for the elder Roaf.
  • Jack Butler: Butler had to wait a record 50 years for enshrinement. He won't have to wait long Saturday night. The Hall has him going second.
  • Chris Doleman: The former Minnesota, Atlanta and San Francisco defensive end offered some thoughts Friday on the state of the game. I hope to share those a bit later.
  • Cortez Kennedy: The second career Seahawk to earn enshrinement will have some time to gather his thoughts. He's fourth in the order.
  • Dermontti Dawson: One of the greatest interior offensive linemen follows one of the greatest interior defensive linemen.
  • Curtis Martin: Bill Parcells is presenting Martin. Parcells could be back as an enshrinee before long. Parcells does have some star power. Having him go last wasn't a bad idea.

Should be a memorable night.

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