Updated, Aug. 4, 5:10 p.m. ET
Curtis Martin was always a player to marshal his incredible skills, harness his emotions and carry the Jets on his back for a while. This afternoon at the Pro Football Hall of Fame news conference, Member of the Hall's Class of 2012, wanted people to remember him not for what he did on the field but for the character and integrity he has as a man.
And equally important, Curtis let his emotions go just a little.
"Before today, I had a concept of the way I wanted to approach my speech tomorrow, but I always know that if I try to write something down and follow it, it's disastrous. But today kind of rewrote my entire speech in my head. I don't know exactly what will come out, just the experiences I've had here.
"I'm not saying it because we're in the Hall of Fame, but football has taken on, I won't say a different definition, but it has impacted me. The emotional aspect of it wasn't there before. And today it all hit me."
Martin dined with Bill Parcells, his Patriots and Jets coach and his presenter at Saturday night's enshrinement ceremony in Fawcett Stadium.
"I was just thanking him, telling him, 'Coach, I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you,' " he recalled. "And he said, 'Well, "Boy Wonder," when you have something that you know someone needs, and they make you know that they really want it, it makes it easy to give it to them. That's what you did for me. You made me give you what I had.' "
More emotions came out when Martin joined all the Hall of Famers in Canton, Ohio, today, the current six-member class plus all the previous Hall of Famers, including Joe Namath, who could make it into this little big town in northeast Ohio to join in the celebration. They lunched together and took in the Bust Room at the Hall of Fame, where all those previous enshrinees are immortalized in bronze.
So Much Greatness in One Room
"I remember John Madden talking about how those heads in the Bust Room talk to each other," he said. "Well, John was actually at my table and I was eating with him in that room and I really did have the feeling that all those heads were really just speaking to me. Everyone who was there and just their comments and what this fraternity, what this group of guys means to them. It just rubs off on you.
"I've never been in a space where there was that much greatness in one area," Martin continued. "Most of us, in order to be in that room, you weren't just a good football player. You had some type of strong will, some type of determination. There was a lot of intangible qualities that got you there in combination with your physical ability.
To capture some of the feeling of those qualities, Martin referred to Cleveland Browns great Jim Brown, his fairly frequent chess partner these days.
"When we're playing chess, even though it's a very methodical, strategic game, you can feel the competitiveness just pouring out of his pores," Curtis said. "And sitting in that room today was like being with a million Jim Browns. Just feeling that intensity was something else."
Martin reviewed some of his personal detours toward the Hall, about how "I was pretty much a knucklehead when I was younger" growing up on Pittsburgh's mean streets, how he thought that without football he would have ended up "dead or in jail, those are my first two guesses," how he found religion and made a promise with God that if he could live to the age of 21, "I'd try my best to live right."
The Tragedy That Drove His Career
He then personally reflected on a tragedy that he has talked about before but never before in such detail before a media gathering: the murder of his grandmother, Eleanor, during a home robbery when he was 9.
"I remember in court, when they had the people who murdered her in there, they said that before they killed her, my grandmother was walking, following them around the house, just begging them not to kill her," he said, tears welling in his eyes, his voice cracking with more of that emotion. "And the murderer said to her, 'Listen, I have to kill you before I go, so leave me alone.'
"When I think about the fear that must have been in my grandmother's heart the whole time they were robbing her, it's almost like ... I tell you, that was something that drove me my whole career. That's what kept me fearless. I said, you know what, my grandmother dealt with greater fear than what I'm dealing with, and I'm kind of grateful to deal with this level of fear in comparison to what my grandmother had to deal with."
Martin has been able to heal some of those old wounds and carry his family and friends as well as his teammates along with him over the years on his storied ride, to becoming a third-round pick by Parcells' Patriots in 1995, playing in a Super Bowl after the '96 season, then a hallowed position for eight seasons with the Jets that will earn him another honor when his No. 28 jersey will be retired on Sept. 9 at the Jets' season opener against the Bills. He reeled off 10 consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons from the start of his career, scored 100 touchdowns, and has risen to the No. 4 spot on the NFL's all-time rushing list.
A Different Kind of After-Party
All of this might merit one heck of a wingding following Martin receiving his bust tomorrow night. But as he said, he is taking a different approach, another chapter of his career that will be filled with great emotion.
"I came here when Emmitt Smith was inducted, and I went to his after-party. After-parties are great, if that's what you like, but I'm not a big party guy, loud music, so I just said I didn't want to do that," he said, adding that his Hall of Fame contacts suggested that he might regret not having some kind of celebration to seal the deal.
"So I said if you guys allow me to turn the whole Hall of Fame into my place, I want to carry my bust from the ceremony, walk in there with it with all my family and friends around, maybe say a speech. Then I want them to follow me up when I set the bust on my shelf myself. I wasn't going to do anything and I just came up with this like two weeks ago, and they've done everything to make this happen for me."
Martin's "after-gathering" has grown, he said, to 220-plus. And when he brings them through the hallowed halls to his place in immortality, he'll be bringing a lot more fans along with him. Thanks again, Curtis, for a phenomenal career, all the memories, and all the emotions.
At the Dinner
As emcee Trey Wingo of ESPN reminded the full house at tonight's Enshrinees Gold Jacket Dinner at the Canton Memorial Civic Center auditorium, each year the enshrinees get three items as Hall of Fame keepsakes — their busts in bronze, presented at Saturday night's enshrinement ceremony, a HOF ring given to them at a home game during the season, and a Haggar gold jacket.
Martin was well-received by the crowd as he batted No. 4 in the six-man lineup. And Parcells, his presenter Saturday night, also was his clothier tonight as he helped Martin into his jacket before cheers from the crowd, not to mention a few J-E-T-S cheers.
Owner Woody Johnson, president Neil Glat and general manager Mike Tannenbaum headed up a strong contingent from the Jets organization at this weekend's festivities, which will end with Parcells' presentation of Martin and Martin's speech at Fawcett Stadium on Saturday night.