INDIANAPOLIS — There are few things the Patriots and Jets agree upon, but one for certain is that Curtis Martin belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Today, the fans of AFC East rivals celebrate in unison. Martin, the stylish running back who spent the first three seasons of his career before Bill Parcells brought him to the Jets, is among a six-person class elected to the Hall of Fame.
The others elected as the 2012 class are Jack Butler, Dermontti Dawson, Chris Doleman, Cortez Kennedy, and Willie Roaf.
“It hasn’t been that nerve-wracking,” said Martin, the NFL’s all-time fourth-leading rusher who was elected in his second year of eligibility. “I was one of those guys who didn’t get excited for a game until I was walking through the tunnel. But I will say that when I turned [the NFL Network’s election show on], as I tweeted, I felt like I was watching a scary movie. I started to feel nervous. And the way I feel about it is, I’m grateful. Grateful for all the players that I played with and coaches who coached me my entire career.”
Coincidentally, Parcells, who drafted Martin in the third round in 1995, was not elected.
The former Giants, Patriots, Jets and Cowboys coach was eliminated in the cut down to the five finalists, all of whom will be enshrined along with seniors committee nominee Butler this summer in Canton, Ohio.
“The bittersweet part is Parcells,” said Martin, who indicated he would ask his former coach and self-described mentor to be his presenter at the induction ceremony. “I think that without him, my career would have been 30 percent of what it was. He helped me be a professional, to be a professional athlete, but he also had a lot to do with teaching me how to be a man.”
Martin played just three seasons for the Patriots before Parcells, who had moved on to the Jets after a tumultuous departure from New England following the 1996 season. But he ran for more than 1,000 yards in each of those seasons, including 1,497 as a rookie, and scored 14 touchdowns, a number he matched in his second season. He ranks fourth in Patriots history in attempts (958), fourth in yards (3,799), and he’s tied with Tony Collins for fifth in touchdowns (32).
But in Patriots’ lore, ol’ No. 28 is the one who got away. Parcells brought him to the Jets with a poison-pill laden contract that would have burdened the Patriots to match. It was reported at the time that the Patriots had questions about his durability — he was plagued by a stomach injury in ’97 and missed the postseason.
Instead, Martin went on to become one of the most durable great running backs in league history, never missing a game from 1999-2004. He ran for 1,000 yards or more in each of his first 10 seasons — an accomplishment matched only by Barry Sanders — and he finished his 11-year career with 14,101 yards and 90 rushing touchdowns.
His election, of course, reminds Patriots fans of his first game in New England. After he ran for 102 yards on 19 carries and scored the winning touchdown in his NFL debut during the Patriots’ 17-14 victory over the Bill Belichick-coached Cleveland Browns to open the ’95 season, Martin was surrounded by reporters after the game when Parcells walked by. Looking at the scene, the coach now famously said, “Don’t go putting him in Canton just yet, fellas.”
Today, the day arrived. The irony is that Parcells won’t be joining him, just yet.