Martin has run for 14,101 yards in his career which places him fourth all-time. 10,302 of those yards came in a Jets uniform, which makes him the most productive running back in franchise history. Martin also ran for 90 touchdowns in his career and in 2004, became the oldest player ever to win a single season rushing title at the age of 31.
In a telephone media conference, Martin reflected back on his career, his debt to Coach Bill Parcells and where his life would be without football.
It has been about six months since Martin found out he was being enshrined in Canton, but it still doesn’t seem real to the Pittsburgh native. “It’s just starting to hit me and I have a problem really understand this,” Martin admitted. It’s something that was so far outside of my dreams and aspirations. It probably won’t hit me until I get to Canton.”
Ironically enough, Martin was not a big football fan growing up and only played the game at his mother’s insistence. “Football was never a dream for me. I ended up playing football just to stay out of trouble and stay alive,” Martin explained. “I grew up in a bad neighborhood and it was always something my mother forced me to do just so I could stay out of the neighborhood that I grew up in…There is a part of me that questions if I would be living or involved in something I shouldn’t have been involved with [without football]…That’s why I say even though I wasn’t a fan of the game and didn’t want to play, that football saved my life.”
Martin feels it was his competitive nature that helped him to excel despite the fact that he was not in love with the game. “I prided myself on being the best at whatever I needed to do. I’m that type of guy, I’m very competitive even if I don’t like to do something, it’s just I’m determined to be the best at it,” Martin said. “I don’t like second place, I don’t like playing second string. It’s just the way I’m wired.”
In 1995, Martin was drafted by the New England Patriots and began a string of 10 consecutive NFL seasons gaining 1,000 yards or more. His first NFL coach, Bill Parcells, had and continues to have, a huge influence on Martin’s life.
“Bill Parcells not only had a huge impact on my career but he had a huge impact on my life,” Martin said. “My career wouldn’t have been half of what it was if it wasn’t for Bill Parcells. I think he not only taught me how to be a running back, but he taught me how to be a professional and not just how to be a professional, but to be a man. He was the first man I looked up to and he’s still a huge part of my life.”
One thing Parcells helped Martin with was holding on to the football. In his rookie training camp, Parcells made sure Martin knew how important it was not to fumble the football, something the running back later became known for.
“I remember being a rookie and we were in training camp and I fumbled the ball a couple of times,” Martin recalled. “Bill Parcells made me carry the ball for maybe like a week straight everywhere I went. I wasn’t allowed to be seen without the ball. When I was eating lunch, I had the ball in one hand and when I was eating dinner, when I was in meetings, I had the ball in one hand. He told the entire team to knock it out of my hands whenever they saw me and I was penalized if they were able to knock the ball out of my hands, even if we weren’t on the field, even if we were in the meeting room. So I think the attention that is put on me taking care of the ball made me really focus and that was a huge part of my game. I took pride in not fumbling because I felt like giving the ball up was letting my team down.”
After three seasons in New England, Martin followed his mentor to New York and signed with the Jets. “The only reason I came to New York was because of Bill Parcells.”
Martin sees some similarities between Parcells and current Jets Coach Rex Ryan. “I think that Parcells and Rex are two guys who are very similar with different personalities. They demand respect and that is similar. I just think they have a different way of expressing themselves. Parcells is a guy who keeps everything close to the vest while Rex Ryan is very outspoken and I think both of their styles are very effective.”
Martin also had high praise for fellow Pitt Panther and Pennsylvania native Darrelle Revis. “Revis is probably one of the most talented guys in the entire NFL,” Martin said. “To me, he gets my vote for most valuable defensive player in the NFL. That’s a guy who is so talented that the only other person who I would compare to him is Deion Sanders and I actually think he’s a better tackler than Deion was.”
Now that he has earned the highest individual honor in professional football, Martin was thinking about his place in the history of the game. “I think my statistics put me in a place that I don’t necessarily rate myself. I definitely don’t think I am the fourth best running back in the history of the NFL. I think I have the fourth most yards and that’s it. I think there are several running backs who are much more talented and gifted than I am. I don’t say that modestly, but I really think so.”
In the end though, Martin will be taking his place this weekend among the all-time greats of the game, an honor Jets fans know he richly deserves.