July 26, 2011
On July 26, 2007 Curtis Martin, star running back of the New York Jets, confirmed what had first been acknowledged in January, and 19 months after he had last taken the field – that he had played his last game because of a severe right knee injury suffered during the 2005 season. The 34-year-old Martin retired as the fourth-ranked rusher in NFL history.
“I don't have any regrets,” Martin said. “I feel like I'm leaving this game exactly how I would want to. I know that I'm stubborn when it comes to football and I know that it would have to take something like this – and gratefully it's not too bad to where it's going to hinder the rest of my life where I'd need a wheelchair or cane.”
“At the end of the day, things turned out better than what I had even intended from the beginning,” Martin added.
Martin came from a rough part of Pittsburgh but made it to the University of Pittsburgh where he became a star running back. He was the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1995 with the Patriots, having gained 1487 rushing yards, and played three seasons in New England before moving on to the Jets in 1998 as a restricted free agent, reuniting with his first pro head coach, Bill Parcells (who was willing to lose two draft choices to obtain him).
The 5’11”, 205-pound running back was a key to New England’s AFC Championship team in 1996 and, in his first year with New York, was a significant factor in the club going 12-4 and advancing to the AFC title game.
A classy yet tough player who was also humble and inclined to shun the spotlight, he was often overlooked over the course of his 11-season career. Team-oriented, hard-working in practice, and liked by coaches and fans, he became one of the most popular players in Jets history. Martin was also durable and regularly played while hurt. In the 2000 season-opening game, with badly damaged ligaments (he said it felt as though the top half of his right leg had separated from the bottom) he wore a brace and rushed for 110 yards and two TDs against the Packers. The durability proved to be something of a surprise considering that injuries during his college career had hurt his draft status (the Patriots took him in the third-round in ‘95).
The lack of flashiness in Martin’s personality carried over to his performance at running back, where his play was better defined by consistency (and consistent excellence) rather than making explosive runs and generating highlight footage. He was the thinking-man’s power runner, rarely making mistakes while playing with great determination. Not particularly fast by NFL standards, Martin had excellent running instincts.
His last healthy season, 2004, was also his best as he led the NFL with 1697 yards rushing and tied Barry Sanders with 10 thousand-yard seasons from the start of his career. That string came to an end with the injury during the ’05 season that held him to twelve games, in which he compiled 735 yards on 220 carries to close out his career.
Martin played 11 seasons and ended up with 14,101 rushing yards on 3518 attempts for a 4.0 average and 90 touchdowns. He also caught 484 passes for 3329 yards and ten more TDs (for a total of 100), with a high of 70 receptions for 508 yards in 2000. He was a consensus first-team All-Pro once, received All-Pro and/or All-AFC consideration following four other seasons, and was selected to the Pro Bowl five times.