Hall of Famer Martin Pats Best RB Ever
Monday, August 06, 2012
His Patriots’ career was just three years in length, yet he may be the greatest running back in the 52 year history of the franchise.
Saturday night in Canton, Ohio, Curtis Martin was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as the NFL’s 4th all-time leading rusher. Martin’s 14,101 career rushing yards rank behind only fellow greats Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders.
You probably already know about Martin’s emotional acceptance speech Saturday which didn’t leave for a dry eye in the house. He talked about his difficult upbringing in Pittsburgh where his now deceased alcoholic father used to abuse his mother by burning her hair and putting his cigarettes out on her legs.
He talked about how he never really liked the sport of football. He only played it because his mother insisted that he do something to occupy his time and stay out of trouble while she worked multiple jobs to support the family.
But, before he even took to the podium, as Bill Parcells presented Martin to the crowd in Canton, I couldn’t help but think back to his days with New England.
A third round draft choice out of the University of Pittsburgh in 1995, no one was quite sure what the Patriots had in Martin at the time. As a senior at Pitt, Martin played in just two games for the Panthers because of a severe ankle injury. Because of that, nobody really knew what the Pats were getting.
It didn’t take long for New England fans to find out. After showing flashes of brilliance during the preseason in 1995, Martin rushed for 102 yards on 19 carries including the game winning touchdown in the 4th quarter to lead the Patriots over the Cleveland Browns 17-14 in Foxboro in his first NFL regular season game.
17 years later, Martin’s bust is in Canton. And he was presented by none other than the man that drafted him into the league and coached him for the first five years of his pro career.
Of Martin’s 14,101 career rushing yards, less than a third of them (3,799) came in a Patriots uniform. But pound for pound, he was the best running back the Patriots franchise ever had.
The record books show that Sam “The Bam” Cunningham is the franchise’s all-time leading rusher with 5,453 yards but he was not in the same class as Martin.
In addition to his three 1000+ yard seasons in New England, Martin also ran for 32 touchdowns in his three years with the Patriots. But what was even more impressive about Martin was the type of person he was off the field.
Martin was one of the most humble human beings you will ever meet. A God-fearing Christian, he could not be more of a gentleman if he tried to be. In the world of sports and in life, he was and is about as good as it gets.
Yes, Martin would eventually leave the Patriots following the 1997 season and join the team’s hated rival – the New York Jets. He was a pawn in what was a chess game of a messy divorce between Bob Kraft and Bill Parcells.
Not that Martin didn’t benefit from the move. He cashed in as a free agent to the tune of $36 million over 6 years, a contract which included a “poison pill” making it difficult for the Patriots to match the Jets offer.
Instead, New England decided to let him go and accept the Jets’ first and third round draft picks in the 1998 NFL draft as compensation after the complained to the league that the offer sheet given to him by New York violated the terms of the league’s collective bargaining agreement.
The Patriots used those picks to select running back Robert Edwards out of Georgia and full back Chris Floyd out of Michigan. Clearly, history shows the Pats got the short end of the stick.
Had Martin played his entire career with the Patriots, there would be no doubt of his standing amongst the all-time Patriots greats. But even in his three short years in New England, he left his mark as one of the very best.