The one man in the inaugural class of the Jets' Ring of Honor with the most direct link to the current club is Curtis Martin. It was back in 1998 when GM Mike Tannenbaum, then the director of player contracts under Bill Parcells, cleverly constructed a long-term deal with the restricted free agent in such a way that the New England Patriots had little choice but to watch the talented young runner sign on with a division rival.
"Parcells told me he believed in me, and at the right time he would show me how much he believed in me," Martin told newyorkjets.com this week. "And when I came to the New York Jets, the way Leon Hess and Parcells made it so easy, the negotiations and everything, they laid out the red carpet for me and they just made me really feel like I was important to them and they were willing to do anything to get me there."
Martin inked a long-term deal with the Green & White after averaging 1,266 rushing yards and totaling 37 touchdowns in three seasons with the Pats.
In his first season with the Green & White, he rushed for 1,287 yards and eight TDs and caught 43 balls during regular-season play as the Jets claimed the AFC East and advanced to the AFC Championship Game. Martin was sensational in the divisional round win over Jacksonville, rushing 36 times for 124 yards, scoring on a pair of 1-yard carries and catching six passes for an additional 58 yards.
"That game out in Denver [a 23-10 defeat], that's another one of the highlights of my life even though we lost," he said of the title game in which he scored the Jets' only TD to give the road team a 10-point advantage early in the second half. "It was just the fact of us making it that far, of the Jets being known for not having good teams and going far in the playoffs."
He would appear in the postseason three more times with the Jets, but never would advance beyond the divisional round again. The 5'11, 210-pound Martin, a Pittsburgh native who attended Pitt, was a workhorse in the truest sense. He set franchise rushing marks for yards (10,302) and TDs (58), and he sits fourth on the NFL's all-time rush list with 14,101 yards.
"I'm probably appreciative and humbled by the career that I had more than anything else. Something else for me is I've never been one to go after the goals, like I never envisioned the Pro Bowl or being fourth on the all-time list, Rookie of the Year or any of that," said the five-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro first-teamer. "I just made a commitment to hard work and outworking everyone. I've always felt that would take care of itself because all I can do is give my best and I'm pleased with the way giving my best has turned out for me."
Always a willing blocker, Martin also displayed soft hands along the way in catching 367 balls for the Jets and that number ranks seventh in franchise annals. For his career, he amassed 3,329 yards on his 484 grabs.
In 2007 the Jets MVP award was renamed the Curtis Martin Team MVP after the man who received the honor from his teammates a record four times. He was the model of consistency, equaling the NFL mark for most 1,000-yard seasons from the start of a career (10) — seven of those coming with New York's AFC representative.
Perhaps the finest accomplishment of Martin's career came in his final healthy season as the then 31-year-old runner claimed an improbable NFL rushing title with 1,697 yards in 2004.
"I always said to myself that I wanted my last year to be my best year. I always said that I wanted to finish stronger than I started and in my 10th year, to have my best year that I've ever had by far, that meant so much to me," he said. "It wasn't necessarily the numbers as much as it was the fact that I was able to perform at a very high level close to the end of my career."
And all this came from a softspoken man who viewed football as a way to reach out to others.
"I kept it a secret that football just wasn't my first love or my passion and it wasn't until I was able to see how I was able to use football to do really positive things in my life and with other people's lives. That really gave me the passion to work as hard as I possibly could," he said. "Of course I'm a team player and always thought of my team more so than myself. My number one goal was to help my team win games and hopefully win a Super Bowl one day, but behind everything is drive to impact other peoples' lives through my foundation, through my charity. If it weren't for Curtis Martin the football player, these things wouldn't exist."
The retired ballcarrier, who was equipped with excellent vision, now eyes NFL ownership.
"I'm running different businesses and I'm involved in different business ventures. I'm still pursuing ownership within the NFL. I've come very close to a couple of teams and had the deal on the table, yet I just didn't think, at the end of the day, that they were the right situations for me," he said. "So I just said that's almost like being a running back. You have to be patient and you wait for that hole to open up and when that right hole opens up, you hit the hole."
A perfect fit for the Jets, Martin runs into the Ring of Honor on Monday Night. Still just a young man at 37, Martin, who will also be eligible for the NFL Hall of Fame next year, says the Jets' honor is gratifying.
"It gives me a sense of accomplishment and it's something I'm really proud of," he said. "I know it's something I'll be able to look back on and appreciate, especially being part of the first class nominated to go on the Ring of Honor."
And with that the cellphone cut out, but Martin wasn't finished. He dialed back and said he had one more thing that he wanted to say to the fans of Jets Nation.
"They have been so good to me," he said, "and my only hope is I've been as good to them as they've been to me and that I've been a good role model for their children."