Hero is a word that should be used lightly in any circumstance. In order to become a hero a person has to go above and beyond the norm and exceed expectations. A hero does not need super powers, but when it comes to Curtis Martin you would think he had them. There are two sides to Curtis Martin, the man and the player. Although Curtis has outstanding statistics and is a Hall of Famer the man far outweighs the player. You need to break through a super hero’s walls to truly see the man inside. This weekend at the Hall of Fame Curtis Martin’s walls broke down and it was amazing to see the transformation firsthand. There are many Jets fans that live across the country or simply could not go to Canton to see Curtis get inducted. I had the special opportunity to go behind the scenes and wanted to share my experience with the fans to show what kind of a man Curtis Martin truly is.
The Hall of Fame weekend began at McKinley Senior High school where there were reporters, photographers, and writers from all over the country looking for the best story. The events started with a ribbon cutting at the Ralph Wilson Jr. Pro Football Research and Presentation Center. There was a brand new extension and all the NFL’s big names including Roger Goodell were in attendance. Everyone on stage had good speeches but one man stood out among the group, Roger Wilson Jr. His speech captivated the audience especially Curtis Martin. You could tell that Curtis was very into what Ralph Wilson Jr. had to say and was showing a lot of emotion throughout the entire speech. Everyone in the crowd knew that Ralph Wilson Jr. helped build the tradition behind the Hall of Fame and so he ended his speech perfectly with the words “hope you had as great as a time in the game as I have.”
The first time I saw Curtis Martin’s walls come down was at the interview session later that day. SNY, NFL Network, and the New York Post were just a few groups eager to hear Martin’s words. In between all these great people was myself with my tape recorder in hand ready to stick my nose in and get great answers. Curtis is a very emotional man and the stories he told us (which will be posted in the interview article later this week) were tremendous. Within the first five minutes of the interview he nearly had everyone around him in tears. His past brought tears to his eyes and the way he placed his emotions on his sleeve showed how much of a caring person he is. When Curtis was telling his stories of turmoil and despair he was staring into my eyes. Imagine your hero staring into your eyes and telling you their deepest and darkest stories. It is a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget. There was a connection between the two of us and he even stopped another reporter midsentence to revert back to my question because he wanted to use it in his speech. Right then and there I knew this is what I was supposed to be doing with my life and it verified all the hard work I put in. Curtis stayed for 45 minutes which was much longer than any other Hall of Famer in the group. Not only did he stay later, he also signed autographed even when persuaded not to.
After that emotional roller coaster the excitement for the night picked up with the Gold Jacket Ceremony Dinner in which each Hall of Famer received their new apparel. The arena was packed full of past and present NFL personalities such as Trent Green, Chris Berman, and Sean Payton among many others. There was an orchestra in the center of the room playing an introduction as Bill Parcells and Curtis Martin came out together. It was a perfect end to a career that began heavily with the same pair. Numerous Hall of Famers returned for the ceremony such as Gale Sayers, John Madden, Warren Moon, and Michael Irvin to see the gold jacket presentation. There is one thing that will make any Jets fan emotional no matter how tough their exterior is. The moment when the Hall of Fame gold jacket is placed upon a player’s back that you cheered for week in and week out. It is even better when Jets great Bill Parcells is the one putting it on his back.
Following the ceremony a moment occurred that I will never forget as long as I live. I was in a circle of people that included former Jets quarterback Vinny Testeverde and Jets General Manager Mike Tannenbaum. Everyone was talking as I stood there dumbfounded not exactly sure how I ended up in this dream shattering situation. Extremely hard handshakes and pictures made the event that much better. It was great to see that people better off than myself are still down to Earth and did not let the money go to their heads.
The day of the induction ceremony came very quickly and the time seemed to fly. I had the privilege of walking through the Hall of Fame with none other than Fireman Ed. Not long after this I was escorted to the press box where I was surrounded by media greats such as Steve Serby and Gary Myers. There were diehard fans in the stands that did not care about the humid weather they still were in their seats two hours early. Chris Berman was the master of ceremonies and started with a celebration towards Jets fans and a jeer towards Patriots fans. Front and center was Bill Parcells who was getting a lot of attention from Hall of Famers during commercial breaks.
The announcement was made listing the players being inducted into the Hall of Fame with Curtis Martin receiving the most applause by far. The speeches started with Willie Roaf followed by Jack Butler, Chris Doleman, Cortez Kennedy, Dermontti Dawson, and saving the best for last, Curtis Martin. Before every speech there was a video montage featuring the soon to be Hall of Famer and the person sponsoring their induction. When Bill Parcells was talking about Curtis Martin in the video there were chills going throughout the crowd. Bill describes Curtis as having “tremendous compassion for his fellow man, a poster child of what a player should be in the NFL.” After the video aired a J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets chant echoed throughout the whole arena started by Fireman Ed, Curtis asked to hear it one more time. It was even louder the second time around.
Curtis Martin is unlike any other football player that ever played the game in so many games. Instead of talking about football in his speech he talked about life and death. The words he delivered in his speech were the same ones he said to me while staring in my eyes. Hearing it a second time hit just as hard as the first time around. Curtis started his speech talking about how his father tortured his mother and the fact that he has on his own at an early age. He dealt with the death of his grandmother and aunt in brutal fashions which shaped him into a strong man. He had a loaded gun aimed at his head with the trigger being pulled seven times with no bullet coming out. The person holding the gun then aimed it away from Curtis and it fired. He was told that he needed to make something of his life or he would be in jail or dead by age 21. He made a deal with God and stills holds up his end of the bargain until this day.
Curtis started playing football to avoid time on the streets of Pittsburgh. Any extracurricular activity helped prevent the violence around him. He chose to play football, but the problem was he didn’t even really like football. He was a running back who hated to run and did not have passion for the sport at that time. He was told that he could get scholarships to wherever he wanted to go but in his words “two things he didn’t like were football and school.” Curtis made the good decision and attended Pittsburgh not for himself but rather for the people around him.
Football shaped Curtis Martin as a man and it was the first time he ever committed to something and worked hard at it. The man that made him work the hardest had to be Bill Parcells who he quoted numerous times in his speech. A quote that really stuck out is when Parcells told Curtis “You should never come out of the huddle because you don’t know who is going in the huddle.” This made Martin play better than anyone on the field and refuse to give up playing time. He said every year there was a player bigger, faster, and stronger than him but still he outplayed them. Not only did he outplay them he strived to be better each year based on more words of advice from Parcells which stated “There is a big difference between routine and commitment.” Anyone can run the football but it takes a special person to give their heart and soul everyday on the field. Curtis did not care that he was so shaken up that he ended up in the Raiders huddle one game he would never come out of games.
The most interesting part of the speech that was football related referred to when he actually became a fan of the game. He openly said he could count on his fingers how many games he actually saw live, but it was shocking to hear that he became a fan after Ralph Wilson Jr.’s speech the previous day. It was evident that Curtis was engulfed by the speech when looking at him in person but I never thought it meant that much to him. The fact that I was there the moment Curtis Martin became a football fan is an amazing feeling.
Curtis Martin ended his heartfelt speech with a message about his eulogy. He does not want to be remembered for playing football and all his statistics but rather the man he was in life. The crowd could tell that the person standing before them was not just a Hall of Fame running back but rather a man that was sent here to play the game of football. He was a visionary who put everyone else first and never asked for anything in return. It was now finally his turn to receive what he deserved as 12,100 people rose from their seats with a standing ovation.
You can follow myself Rich Wilhelm on Twitter @koda522 the man who made this all possible Jake Steinberg @Steiny31 and his website SNY'S thejetsblog.com. Visit our Twitter @nyjoverthepond and visit our website again at www.nyjetsoverthepond.com