By Kevin Saleeba
It was first and 10 on the Patriots own 28 yard line. Drew Bledsoe took the first snap of the 1995 NFL season and he planted the ball in the arms and belly of rookie running back Curtis Martin.
Martin scampered to the left against the Cleveland Browns, but then suddenly cut back to the right through a hole in the line. He broke two tackles and gained 30 yards before being pushed out of bounds. It was Martin's first ever carry in the NFL.
Right from the start, Martin displayed a cutting ability and a running style that would become his trademark and what would prove to be a Hall of Fame career. On Saturday, Martin joined six other NFL legends that were elected to the Hall of Fame and will be formally enshrined in Canton's Fawcett Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 4.
During that same game against the Browns, with the Patriots trailing 14-9 in the fourth quarter and the ball on the one-yard line of Cleveland, Martin got the ball with the clock ticking 25 seconds, 24 seconds, 23 seconds and then he hurled himself forward in the air but was hit and stopped by linebacker Pepper Johnson just before the goal-line. Martin kept working his legs though and he lunged forward again and reached the ball over the goal-line for the game winning touchdown. Martin then sprinted back up the field pumping his right fist several times in the air with the youthful enthusiasm of a rookie making his first NFL touchdown. It was a great start to his Patriots career.
After the game, Patriots coach Bill Parcells was asked about his new star running back. With a wry smile, Parcells said at the time "let's not put him in Canton yet."
|New England Patriots RB Curtis Martin Sept, 1, 1997 (Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)|
In just three years with the Patriots, he amazed fans with spectacular elusive moves and break away runs few running backs in New England have been able to duplicate before or since. He currently ranks fourth on the franchise's all-time rushing list.
Martin was drafted by the Patriots in 1995, as a third round draft pick (74th overall). He won the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award after rushing for a then franchise record 1,487 yards and averaging 4.0 yards per carry with 14 touchdowns. He also caught 30 passes for 261 yards and a touchdown and was named to the Pro Bowl at season's end.
He then followed that up with another Pro Bowl season in 1996, rushing for 1,152 yards, averaging 3.6 yards per carry and scoring another 14 rushing touchdowns. He also had 46 receptions for 333 yards and three touchdowns. During the playoffs that season, he rushed for a franchise record 166 yards and 3 touchdowns in his first career playoff game against the Steelers. The Patriots went on to Super Bowl XXXI, where Martin rushed for 42 yards, caught 3 passes for 28 yards, and scored a touchdown in the game against Green Bay. Martin was again named to the Pro Bowl squad at the end of the season.
In Martin's final year with the Patriots, he ran for 1,160 rushing yards, 4 rushing touchdowns, and caught 41 receptions for 296 yards and one score.
Unfortunately for New England fans, they watched Martin, a restricted free agent, sign an offer sheet with the New York Jets for $36 million over six years. The Patriots foolishly did not match the Jets' offer and received first and third round draft picks as compensation. Thus, Martin went to the Jets and was reunited with his former Patriots coach Parcells and he also went on to becoming the fourth all-time leading NFL rusher in history. He's now just a fond, fleeting memory in New England's football history.
Martin finished fourth on the all-time Patriots rushing list with 3,799 yards. He's ranked 16th on the club's all-time scoring list (226 total points); he's sixth in rushing attempts (958); fifth with 32 rushing touchdowns; and he was tied for third with a 4.0 average yards per rush.
Martin was nominated for the Hall of Fame last season but did not make it in until this season. During a conference call last season, he reflected on his time in New England. "I'm a very loyal person. I was totally open to staying in New England. I wanted to stay in New England," Martin said.
"It's funny, because of all the teams that I may have had the opportunity to go to, the Jets were one in particular that I didn't want to go to … I've always respected the Kraft family and I always respected the Patriots organization," Martin said. "The Patriots organization was the best foundation that I could have had as an NFL player. Looking back on it, there is no other team I would have rather spent those first three years with."
Over his 11 seasons, including the three in New England, Martin gained 14,101 yards on 3,518 carries and scored 90 rushing touchdowns in his career. He rushed for 100 or more yards in a game 57 times. He also caught 484 passes for 3,329 yards and 10 touchdowns and his 17,421 combined net yards placed him 10th all-time at the time of his retirement.
Martin did scamper his way out of New England, but Parcells would agree it's time for him to head to Canton.
Kevin Saleeba is a frequent contributor and columnist to Patriots Insider. A former beat writer for local media, Kevin has extensive knowledge of the team and experience covering the Patriots. Share your thoughts on this article at: Kevin's Facebook Page.
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