Football never a favorite with Curtis Martin
For a guy who didn't really want to play football as a kid, Curtis Martin sure has run a long way.
All the way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Martin enters the Canton, Ohio shrine on Saturday as the fourth-leading rusher in NFL history. His stats and the honors that have come with them, including the 1995 Offensive Rookie of the Year and the league's leading rusher in 2004, were never something he aspired to.
''Football was never a dream for me,'' Martin says. ''I just started playing football to stay out of trouble and stay alive. Football was something my mother forced me to do so I would stay out of trouble in the (Pittsburgh) neighborhood I was growing up in.
''There is a part of me that questions whether I would be living or into something I definitely shouldn't be involved in. I definitely would not have the ending that I am getting towards. Football saved my life.''
Martin saved his best for his seven years with the New York Jets after three strong seasons in New England. He came out of the University of Pittsburgh as a third-round draft pick even though he claims he never took college ball all that seriously.
That changed immediately with the Patriots, where a coach named Bill Parcells demanded the utmost from Martin. And the running back responded.
Martin rushed for 1,487 yards and 14 touchdowns as a rookie, then helped New England reach the Super Bowl with 1,152 yards on the ground and another 14 touchdowns - plus three scores among his 46 receptions. Those were the first of 10 successive seasons with at least 1,000 yards rushing, a feat only Barry Sanders also achieved.
''My career wouldn't have been half of what it was if it wasn't for Bill Parcells,'' Martin said. ''He helped me be a better running back, but also to be a better professional and be a better man. He is still a huge part of my life.''
So much so that Parcells will present Martin for induction.
Oddly, Parcells has been up for nomination to the hall several times and not been elected.
Parcells brought Martin from New England to New York in 1998 and, immediately, the Jets became contenders, making the AFC championship game. That was as far as they would go, and Parcells only coached one more season in New York.
Martin stayed, and in 2000 under one-year coach Al Groh, he had 1,204 yards rushing with nine TDs, and a career-best 70 catches for 508 yards and two more scores.
''I think the move had more of an impact on my life moreso than my career,'' Martin says. ''I think my commitment would have been the same, I would have had some success, but I don't know if I would have won Super Bowls with New England. I know my life was changed tremendously when I came to New York.''
Unquestionably his best season was his last full year, 2004: 1,697 yards on the ground to top the NFL, with 12 touchdowns, plus 41 receptions and two more TDs.
To that point, Martin had missed only one game as a Jet.
''I think the biggest misconception about me was I became durable when I came to the NFL,'' he says. ''I think I just became focused when I got to the NFL.
''When I was in college, I didn't care that much about football, it was not that important to me, so I didn't put the effort into it that it deserved. I didn't start doing it until I got into the NFL.''
Martin gained 735 yards in 12 games in 2005, basically the end of his career even though he wasn't officially retired until after the 2006 season. He was felled by a tackle by Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas that injured his right knee, and he never got back in the lineup.
He won't be returning to the league as a coach, Martin says.
''I don't like football enough to coach,'' says Martin, who has been interested in buying a team, and who also has looked into owning an MLS franchise. ''Coaching is more demanding than playing and playing was enough for me.
''I never played football because I loved it so much, it was a vehicle to help me do what I really love, which is to reach out and help people.''
Martin does that through a variety of enterprises, including the Curtis Martin Job Foundation, which he funded throughout his playing career. He provides both financial aid and hands-on support to single mothers, children's charities, individuals with disabilities and low income housing providers.
''I am probably much busier than when I was playing,'' Martin says. I am really enjoying my post-career life.''