Curtis Martin: Tebow 'a good backup'

Updated: July 23, 2012, 11:24 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

Hall of Famer Curtis Martin never got booed in his own stadium, but he knows the mentality of New York Jets fans and he suspects they won't have much patience if Mark Sanchez struggles -- not with Tim Tebow looming on the sideline.

"There's no way around it, it's the big elephant in the room," Martin said Monday of the potentially volatile quarterback situation. "It's just a reality and the best man is going to win.

"If Mark isn't having a good year, the crowd will be yelling for Tebow," he continued. "If Tebow gets in there and does well, he'll play."

Martin met with a group of reporters to reflect on his journey to Canton, where he will be inducted Aug. 4. When the conversation got around to the current Jets, he smiled and said, "The quarterback situation is definitely going to be interesting."

After the season, Martin wasn't shy about expressing his opinion, saying he wanted his old team to pursue Peyton Manning. That never came close to happening, but they traded for Tebow in March.

Martin endorsed the move, saying, "If I were an owner, I would've made that deal all day. ... It was a great deal."

This may sound like Martin isn't much of a Sanchez fan, but the fourth-leading rusher in NFL history said he believes Sanchez can be the long-term answer for the Jets.

"I think Mark is a really talented quarterback," he said. "I think he has the ability to be the starting quarterback for a long time with the Jets. I think he's a guy who hasn't tapped into what he's really capable of.

"For his sake and for the team's sake, I hope it happens this year. He's already done well and there's a lot more in him ... I just think Mark can get the job done. I think that's why they gave him the new contract. Time will tell."

Martin, who described Tebow as "a good backup," doesn't anticipate a quarterback controversy -- even if the fans start screaming for Tebow. The locker room, he predicted, won't take sides.

"It's not like gangs, the bloods and the crips," he said, smiling.

Martin enjoyed quarterback stability during his seven seasons with the Jets, going from Vinny Testaverde to Chad Pennington. The only rough patch occurred in 1999, when Testaverde ruptured his Achilles tendon in the first game and they didn't have a competent backup. There went the season.

That's why, he said, he liked the Tebow trade.

"It could save the season," he said.

Martin also reminisced about his unlikely path to the NFL. As a kid growing up in a tough section of Pittsburgh, he never dreamed of playing in the NFL. He never liked football, not even as a player. He played because he had bigger ideas.

"Football, to me, was like my basic training for life," he said, adding, "At the end of the day, football saved my life. I don't know where I'd be -- I don't know if I'd be alive -- if I hadn't played football."

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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