For those who knew Curtis Martin as a player, there was always a blend of engaging attitudes, the awe of a young adult wondering if he had what it took to play in the NFL and the confidence and humility of a mature man who knew he could play this game at its highest level.
Both sides of Martin came through as he spent more than a half hour on a conference call with reporters this afternoon to discuss his bid to become a first-ballot inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.
"This is something that has affected me totally differently than any other individual accomplishment," Martin said. "I didn't necessarily see this as an individual accomplishment. It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of other people to get to this point. This is more of a collective effort.
"I didn't know I would care about it as much. I'm excited about it. For me just to be mentioned in the last 15, there's only a few guys who are in this elite group of people. I think it speaks to a career of commitment and dedication beyond average. It's something I'm really excited about."
And it is something that has Jets fans pumped up for an otherwise downer of a weekend that will be crowned by the Steelers and Packers and not the Green & White playing in Super Bowl XLV on Sunday. But as always, the year's Hall of Fame class will be selected the day before the big game.
There is no guarantee that Martin will be introduced as a Hall of Famer around 6 p.m. Saturday night, and he said he's ready if the 44-member selection committee doesn't vote him into the Class of 2011. But whether he is inducted this week or at another February on the NFL calendar, he has earned a special place in the hearts of Jets fans, and they in his.
"Before I came to the Jets, they were just seen as one of the worst teams in the NFL, in my opinion, to be frank about it," Martin leveled with the reporters. "I never heard of the Jets winning. Joe Namath was so far beyond my time. That was back when football first started. I just didn't think much of the Jets organization. Then when Bill Parcells went there, in my mind, that was going to be a better organization simply because Parcells was there.
"Ever since, I never recall the Jets having a 1-15 or 2-14 season. Ever since, the organization was turned around. And of course now it's my favorite team."
And Parcells is his favorite coach. Martin confirmed that if he makes it to Canton, Ohio, and the annual induction ceremonies in late July, Parcells, the Jets' coach from 1997-99 and the executive who orchestrated bringing Martin from the Patriots to the Jets as a restricted free agent in '98, will be Martin's presenter that day.
As for the green-and-white-clad fans, they grew to love the man who made No. 28 an icon. They came to appreciate his determined, professional style as he set many franchise rushing and yards-from-scrimmage records and climbed the ladder to come to rest with the fourth-most rushing yards in NFL history. They smiled with pride when he finished with 1,697 rushing yards in his finest season, 2004, to win his only rushing title. They teared up when they realized, as he did, that his knee would betray him in 2005 and end his career the next season. They roared their approval when he was honored at the old Meadowlands stadium in 2007 and when he was inducted into the Jets' first Ring of Honor class at New Meadowlands Stadium last August.
"The most memorable thing for some reason was losing that game in Denver for the  AFC Championship — that stands out more than anything to me as far as on the field. You leave a situation like that feeling like it was such a lost opportunity. I felt like that was really our year, that was the year for me to get a ring and for the Jets to win their second Super Bowl. That was almost heartbreaking as far as the game goes.
"Off the field what I remember most was the way the fans treated me, the way the media treated me, when I retired, the way they honored me at the stadium. I don't know, I just felt such an appreciation for what the fans and the media had meant to me in New York, and I also felt the appreciation from the fans of what I meant to them."
And to think that Martin was a reluctant participant in football, coaxed into the sport by his mom, Rochella, to keep him out of trouble in his "horrible neighborhood" in Pittsburgh, and that he came out of Pitt to the Patriots as a third-round Parcells pick thinking, "The NFL, that's something on TV. The Hall of Fame is like a whole 'nother world. That was something I never really imagined would happen to me."
It hasn't happened yet, and Martin faces some tough competition for the "tailback vote" when the selection committee heads "into the room" to reduce the field of 15 finalists plus two seniors committee candidates down to 10, then to six, then to this year's class members. Marshall Faulk has the visibility on ESPN now and the credentials when he played for the Colts and Rams. Jerome Bettis became a Steelers folk hero. Both won Super Bowls. Martin played in one but didn't win it.
But Curtis has a number of outstanding credentials of his own to compete for that berth. His prodigious charitable endeavors are not presented as part of his Hall résumé, but his locker-room presence, his sure-handedness, his ability to play in considerable pain when required, his blocking, receiving and change of direction — all detailed in the brochure that is featured on this week's* newyorkjets.com* "splash page" — give him an excellent chance to be among this year's honorees.
But Martin never worried about those accolades when he was playing and he said thoughts of disappointment and disrespect won't enter into the equation when he's at home Saturday night awaiting word of whether or not he'll be asked to hop on a plane and get down to North Texas to be honored before and during the Super Bowl on Sunday.
"It's such an honor for me to able to accomplish what I accomplished in the NFL," Martin said. "Nothing will take that away from me, the joy of playing, the years that I accomplished what I accomplished. Nothing will take that away.
"The Hall of Fame is more of an acknowledgement of what you accomplished. I just think it's a tremendous honor. So if I get in, I'll be elated. If I don't, I don't think there's anything wrong with the voting system or anything like that. It's just the way it happens. Take it as it comes. The Hall of Fame is special, and if it doesn't happen this year, hopefully some other year."
We're biased but we don't think hope has anything to do with it. Curtis Martin and the Hall of Fame are made for each other. They're sure to get together, perhaps in a matter of days.
Visit theCurtis Martin for Hall of Famepage* *