I knew the inevitable was coming. When you said last November that you wouldn’t try to play football at all in 2006 due to your damaged right knee, I surmised that we may have seen the end of a truly magnificent football career–one that I was privileged to witness. Now that you’ve made your retirement official, I’d like to thank you for leaving such a tremendous, solid legacy–one that I’ll always look back on with the utmost respect.
Thanks, “Curt,” for your amazing consistency. You equaled the great Barry Sanders’ record of 10 consecutive 1,000 yard seasons from the start of a career; hell, I’ll call YOU great, too. You rarely missed a game while with the Patriots and Jets; 300+ carries per season was the norm for you–a testament to your desire of always wanting to be in the best physical shape possible. Yeah, over 3,500 carries in your career–third all-time; you surely took your lunch pail to work. Thanks, Curtis, for silencing all those critics who were of the opinion that you were a bit too small for the NFL when you left the University of Pittsburgh; I guess they had no way of measuring “heart” when looking at the total package.
Curt, I really admired the way you prided yourself on being a versatile back. You caught 484 passes for over 3,300 yards–kind of overlooked due to your Hall of Fame rushing numbers (14,101 yards–fourth all-time). Nah, you weren’t afraid to run inside OR outside, either, and you took on defenders as well as anyone. You WERE the total package, Curtis, and rarely fumbled the ball–mind-boggling when one considers the amount of hits you took over your illustrious career. And man, you had the best year of your career in 2004 at the age of 31–a time when most running backs are likely hitting the golf course instead of bouncing off defensive linemen and rushing for 1,697 yards. You surely knew what it took to excel at an advanced age in the NFL; again, it all came back to your devotion, Curt.
Thanks for giving it your all, Curtis, in trying to overcome the bone-on-bone condition that ultimately caused you to hang up the spikes; it’s a given that few have ever worked harder in rehab than #28 in an attempt to get back on the football field. Hey, even the great ones can’t overcome certain obstacles. And thanks, Curt, for never displaying bitterness, sorrow, or the “why me?” mentality after being kicked in that knee by Zach Thomas back in 2005; I know, it just wasn’t in your make-up to focus on the negative.
I’m sure your teammates thank you too, Curtis; sure, you were the Jets’ four-time team MVP, but one of your main focuses was making the people around you better. Yeah, I know that sounds like a cliche, Curt, but just ask guys like current Jets safety Kerry Rhodes about your impact; he recently said in a radio interview that YOU PERSONALLY showed him what it takes to become a better player in the NFL and the devotion needed to succeed/thrive in the league. In fact, I bet if you were still active, it may have prevented first round pick Darrelle Revis from holding out during the current training camp; you see, you led by EXAMPLE. Your former coach Herman Edwards called you the “bell cow,” Curtis, due to you being the key player on your team for so long; yep, you’re truly irreplaceable.
Without minimizing your on-the-field excellence, Curt, I need to level with you. What’s made me respect you most throughout your career was the way you handled yourself AWAY from the gridiron. You made a genuine effort to be a standup guy and you WERE. Yes, on a current NFL stage where Michael Vick, Tank Johnson, and Pacman Jones garner headlines due to immense transgressions, you prided yourself on being a responsible citizen FIRST. I love the fact that being a role-model off the field MEANT something to you. No scandals, trash-talking, bad-mouthing EVER from #28; that kind of integrity must have been ingrained in you LONG before your very first 100-yard game. Yes, your retirement went almost unnoticed nationally, Curtis; I know you’re O.K. with that–being the modest man you are. And you served your community like few others have, and now you plan on partnering with Mayor Bloomberg’s office to reduce homelessness in NYC; I can say with confidence that Mr. Bloomberg has never had a “teammate” like you, Curt.
I know Jets fans thank you more than you’ll ever know, Curtis. WFAN host Joe Benigno–one of the biggest team supporters I’m aware of– recently relayed to his audience that you were “not only a great player, but a TOTAL class act.” Can’t argue, Joe–my sentiments exactly.
Finally, best of luck in the future, Curt. You’ve hinted that NFL team ownership may be in your plans along with continuing your selfless, humanitarian undertakings. One thing’s for sure: you can’t HELP but succeed, Mr. Martin–possessing so much integrity along with an unmatched work ethic. And when that day comes when you’re honored in Canton, I’ll think of the once-thought-of “small” running back from Pitt who truly came up BIG–doing things his way, the RIGHT way.
Thanks, Curtis Martin.