Skip to main content

An Understated, Remarkable Career


Curtis charting a course past a Panther in '05

Curtis Martin's illustrious NFL career was, in a word, understated.

It was understated in the in style in which he played the game, piling up yards at a historic rate, but without flash or fanfare.

And it was understated in the way he conducted himself off the field, soft-spoken, low-key, with the intention of deflecting attention away from his own achievements.

So when Martin officially announces his retirement today, it's no wonder that his departure from the game is much less ballyhooed than the three men above him on the NFL's all-time rushing list, Barry Sanders, Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith.

For a man who celebrated milestones by handing the football back to the referee and getting back into the huddle for the next play, it was the desired type of exit from the game of football.

That is all it was for him in the first place. Football was just a game, not a passion. It was a means to make life easier for him and his mother, Rochella.

This is what drove Martin to become one of the NFL's signature workhorse backs.

In fact, among the top 20 running backs in the history of the NFL, Martin is first on the list in average carries per season at a shade under 320 attempts a year.

Milestones never meant much to Martin.

"I didn't celebrate 10,000 yards, so I'm not going to celebrate this," said Martin after passing Freeman McNeil for the Jets' all-time rushing title on Sept. 19, 2004, against the Chargers in San Diego.

It's always been about what the team does. That's what matters to me,'' Martin said during the week before the game.All these individual things, I don't even keep up with them. I appreciate them, but they're things I can look back and read in books after I'm done playing.''

But he did have an immediate appreciation for the records that were a testament to his consistency.

The 2004 campaign was a culmination of Martin's efforts to remain an elite back into his 30s. On Nov. 21, 2004 against the Cleveland Browns, Martin joined Barry Sanders as the only players to begin their NFL careers with 10 consecutive 1,000 yard seasons.

"Even now with nine years, I'm only the second person to ever accomplish that," Martin said after the game. ``I think to do special things it takes special effort. There's something different about you. There's something I appreciate about that.''

Martin would go on to win the league's rushing title, edging Seattle's Shaun Alexander by one yard with 1,697 yards on the season. At 31, Martin became the oldest NFL rushing champion.

It was the first and only time in his career that he would lead the NFL in rushing yards.

"This was special," Martin told reporters. "This is probably the individual accomplishment in my career that I'm most proud of."

With a strong 2004 campaign, Martin climbed up the NFL's all time rushing list, displacing legends at his position one by one.

First it was Thurman Thomas in Week 4 at Miami. Then came Franco Harris in Week 5 at home against Buffalo. Marcus Allen, Jim Brown, Tony Dorsett and Eric Dickerson would join the crowd in Martin's rearview mirror before the season came to a close.

Only Sanders, Payton, and Smith remained.

But an injury to his right knee sustained at Miami in Game 2 of the 2005 season would put a halt to Martin's climb to immortality, and ultimately his career.

Martin finished with 14,101 yards on the ground, good enough for fourth on the all-time list.

Perhaps Brown summed up Martin's understated persona and quiet rise to greatness shortly after he was passed in the record books by the Jets' greatest back.

"The guys who carry themselves with dignity get overlooked," Brown said.

With his career in the NFL now officially finished, Martin's accomplishments in the league have finally been appreciated as nothing short of remarkable.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content