They will talk about Curtis Martin around these parts for years to come. But this week is special because No. 28 is now heading down the home stretch of his yearlong victory lap around Jets Nation and the NFL. And at this particular finish line is, well, No. 28.
Martin's iconic uniform number is being retired by owner Woody Johnson and the New York Jets at a halftime ceremony during their season opener against the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium. It is one more well-deserved stop for the always thoughtful, often intense, forever humble tailback from the mean streets of Pittsburgh, who from February through August breathed the rarefied air of becoming enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"New York has been the best time of my life," Martin said about the retirement of his number by the Jets. "I've appreciated both organizations that I've played for, but I've been at the Jets longer than I was at New England, three times as long. So between the city, the fans, the media and the team, the impact that it's had on my life, and now to be honored and with Woody and the Jets deciding to retire my number, next to the Hall of Fame, I don't know what honor would be bigger than that."
It's one of the ultimate Green & White honors for one of the ultimate Jets. Martin provided a stadiumful of memories for his fans, many of which we've documented on newyorkjets.com over the past several years as Martin went from retirement into the Jets' initial Ring of Honor class in 2010, then into the Hall and now here.
■ On Dec. 3, 2000, Martin rushed for a then-club-record 203 yards on 30 carries in the Jets' 27-17 triumph over the Colts.
■ On Dec. 14, 2003, Curtis seemed to be the only player who kept his feet in the ice and the snow as he racked up 174 rushing yards and 54 more receiving for a career-high 228 yards from scrimmage in the 6-0 chilling of his hometown Steelers.
■ On the opening day of the 2004 season he strode for 196 yards on 29 carries and scored two touchdowns as the Jets caged the visiting Bengals, 31-24.
■ On the final day of the '04 regular season he did everything he could to lift the Jets into the playoffs, rushing for 153 yards in the 32-29 OT loss at St. Louis. Despite the loss, the Jets still made it into the postseason, and later that afternoon Martin learned he had become the oldest player to win the NFL rushing title when his 1,697 yards edged Seattle's Shaun Alexander by 1 yard.
The records fell, milestones were passed and games were won along the way. But Martin is the first to remind everyone that these great performances and high achievements were more than about one man.
"I don't see this as totally an individual goal," he said before his HOF enshrinement. "I feel like it's my teammates that have gotten in. I think ownership had something to do with it — Woody Johnson, Mr. Hess, Mr. Kraft. Ultimately, they were the guys who decided to keep me on the team. So at the same time that it's an individual accomplishment, it's hard for me to view it that way because I know how big a part everybody played in this for me."
All his teammates, many who will be in the stands on Sunday, along with the sold-out stadium will tell Martin that it's all about him as he has his jersey "hoisted to the rafters" to become only the fourth Jet to have his number retired, joining Joe Namath's 12, Don Maynard's 13 and Joe Klecko's 73, not to mention Super Bowl coach Weeb Ewbank's jacket (and to be joined in late October by Dennis Byrd's 90).
Martin was asked about being ready to hear the response from the fans in Canton, Ohio, when he would soon be enshrined in pro football's pantheon. His response equally applies to the applause he will hear again on Sunday at the finish line of his 2012 victory lap.
"That's one thing I haven't thought about yet, because I think that's just a natural thing. It's almost like saying when you're going out to a game, are you prepared to hear the fans cheer. It's something that's just, like, it's there, and so you never quite think about it," he said. "But I don't know what it's going to be like. ... I think it'll humble me, yeah."
Martin's humility, determination and character have always driven him, always defined him, that were always the things he wanted his admirers to see first, before the numbers, the plays and the records. He called it "the Curtis Martin stamp."
On Sunday, No. 28 will be stamped not only on his jersey but on a stadium and on a team as the Jets open their 2012 season by honoring their favorite Martin one more time.
Why That Number?
Martin once more explained, back in February on the day after he learned he would be inducted into the Hall of Fame and the day of Super Bowl XLVI, how he ended up wearing the number as a pro football player that he would make famous and would be retired in his honor on Sunday.
"Before getting drafted, I was talking to my pastor, Leroy Joseph," he recalled. "I told him I wasn't really sure about playing pro football. He said, 'Maybe football is a vehicle for you to reach out to people the way you say you want to do.' Then one day I was speaking to him my rookie year in New England. I think I was wearing No. 39 at the time. He asked me what number I had. The Patriots said I'd be able to get 28 or 26 after a while. He said 'Deuteronomy 28!'
"It's a scripture that I would read a lot throughout my career. It says if you obey God, here's how your life will be blessed, and how you'll be blessed coming in and blessed going out."
To see a PDF of the first eight verses of Deuteronomy 28 that so inspired Martin, you can click here.