Curtis Martin Sets The New Bar For Hall Of Fame Induction Speeches


In the first two minutes, Martin cracked on Kennedy for droning on too long ("[Cortez went" so long, God decided to turn out the lights"). He then recounted a hilarious story of the well-north-of-350 pound Willie Roaf wanting to go get a mani/pedi/facial on Saturday afternoon. It was clear that Martin, armed with a quick wit, an amazing perspective, and no notes, would be speaking from the heart.

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And then Martin stepped to the podium...
At that point, on humor and spontaneity, Martin had already won the day. He would proceed to run up the score for the next 25 minutes.

Like most football fans, I knew Curtis Martin on that cursory, Sunday afternoon-only level: How many points did he get my fantasy team? Did the Jets cover the spread? Curtis Martin is good, but he'll never be Emmitt Smith or Barry Sanders!

To me, Martin's claim to fame was his durability. He was one of the few "bell cow" running backs who was able to escape the clutches of the dreaded "fall into the abyss around the age of 28" rule that has curtailed so many great tailback careers. For ten straight years (1995-2004), Martin toted the rock 260 times or more (eight of those seasons, he carried it more than 300 times), and amazingly he had his most prolific year in the last of those ten seasons, leading the league in carries (371) and yards (1,697) in 2004 at the age of 31.

That's what I knew about Curtis Martin. Steady, productive, a machine.

Here's what I learned about Curtis Martin on Saturday night:

His becoming the fourth all-time leading rusher in NFL history may be the most ironic accomplishment in all of team sports when you consider that he has never really been a football fan....

I'll tell you this, I came into Canton this week, and everyone here who knows me, this section, everyone knows me. You know that I was never a football fan. I wasn't the type of guy to watch football. I could probably count on one hand how many football games I've watched from beginning to end in my lifetime.

....he hates to run (which has to be harrowing when the word "run" is in your job title)...

I'm up here because of how many yards I ran. Everyone who knows me also knows that I hate to run. I don't like to run at all. I box now to stay in shape just because I don't want to run anywhere.

....and most of all, he never expected his actual life expectancy to make it past the age of 21, let alone his football life expectancy to take him to the age of 31....

I always thought I would die before I was 21. So when I was 20 years old, I just said, you know what, I've got to go to the nearest church. I had never went to church. My mother never raised me telling me about God or anything. But I said I've got to go to the nearest church and tell this God, God, thank you, because I know I'm not faster than a bullet. I'm not Superman. But somehow I seem to have had more than nine lives

I remember, and this is one of the most surreal moments in my life. I remember sitting there after the preacher had preached his sermon, and I'm up in the balcony and everyone was getting up leaving, and I just sat there. I looked up at the ceiling and I said and at that time I was a street guy. So I looked up and talked to God like he was one of my boys in the street.

I said, "Listen, man, I don't know nothing about you or this Jesus cat that everybody talk about, but I'm going to make a deal with you. I heard about people making deals with the devil, but I don't want to do that. I'm going to make a deal with you. If you let me live past 21, dude, I promise that I'll just try to do my best and try to live right and try to do whatever you want me to do. I know you're a smart person, if you're God."

I learned that there were several points along Curtis Martin's journey where, if not by some divine intervention, we as football fans never would have been treated to his career, and more importantly, the lives of those outside of football whom Martin has impacted during and after his career, with his foundation and charitable works, never would have met Curtis Martin.

At some of those forks in the road which led Martin to his Hall of Fame career, he was steered by brief, but impactful words of advice, some in his teenage years...

And at the same time my gym teacher was the head football coach. His name is Mark Wittgartner, he's here. He comes up to me while we're in school, and he says, "Son, I want you to play for our football team." I said, well, "I don't really have an interest, Coach." He said, well, listen, if you don't do something with your life, from what I hear about you, you're going to end up dead or in jail pretty soon.

With him in one ear and my mother in the other ear, football became the default that I fell into. And Coach Mark Wittgartner, you have no idea what you were saying to me, but I believe what you said could have been the possible thing that saved my life. I think you were right.

....some in his adult years....

Parcells says, "Curtis, we want to know if you're interested in being a New England Patriot?" I said, "Yes, yes, sir." And we hang up the phone. As soon as we hang up the phone I turn around to everyone and I said, "Oh my gosh, I do not want to play football."

No, you're laughing, but this is the truth. I turned around and said, "I don't want to play football. I don't even know that I like football enough to try to make a career out of it." My pastor at the time was a guy by the name of Leroy Joseph, and I'm so glad he was there to talk some sense into me. He says, "Curtis, look at it this way, man." He said, "Maybe football is just something that God is giving you to do all those wonderful things that you say you want to do for other people."

I tell you, it was like a light bulb came on in my head. That became my connection with football. I don't know if he wouldn't have said that to me if football would have gotten out of me what it got out of me. I definitely wouldn't be standing here.

...and at other junctures in his life, the hand of God came down to block deadly traffic to allow Martin continuing down any earthly road at all, much less a Hall of Fame NFL career....

By the time I was 15, growing up in the environment that I was in, I had so many brushes with death. I remember one distinct time a guy had a gun to my head, a loaded gun to my head, pulled the trigger seven times. God's honest truth, the bullet didn't come out. He wasn't pointing the gun at me and pulled the trigger and a bullet came out. I was too young to even recognize that God was saving my life.

I knew in generalities about Curtis Martin's rocky upbringing, the death and danger that surrounded him as a youth, and about Martin's reconciliation with his late father during his adult years. I had no idea just how torturous -- literally torturous -- the details were...


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1 comments
jbqj49
jbqj49

Thank you, Mr. Pendergast, for including the actual words of Curtis Martin.  I was so enthralled the fact he used not one note passed over me until ESPN this morning.  His heart is great as is yours for giving us the opportunity to see it in print.  Enjoy your day, sir!

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