By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — If you’ve never been a proponent of the name on the back of the jersey being more important than the one on the front, you absolutely should make an exception this weekend.
With Curtis Martin’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, the Jets and all of their fans are for once completely justified in basking in a spotlight. There are no questions to be asked or doubts to be raised. A deserving man will be getting his due and there’s little the ghosts of the past can do to wreck the moment.
Just how big an occasion is this? Well consider this: no Jet has been inducted into the Hall since Don Maynard in 1987, which came on the heels of Joe Namath’s induction two years earlier and nine years after Weeb Ewbank, the franchise’s only championship coach, got in.
You’d need a DeLorean and a full tank of plutonium to actually remember any of this.
In actuality, Martin will be the fifth Jet to get in if you count John Riggins, who really became a Hall of Famer after joining and shining with the Redskins for nine seasons.
In a way, Martin’s career arc was a lot like Riggins’ in that he didn’t start with the franchise in which he ended up making his true name, but he sure did finish. The difference being, of course, the Patriots went on to win three Super Bowls without Martin, while the Jets, after losing Riggins, well, became the Jets, the team that perennially has the right idea but rarely the tools to get it done.
Martin was, as far as the Jets are concerned, the rare exception, a player that always did what needed to be done and a lot that many thought could not be done, considering the name on the front of his jersey.
During those times of nostalgia, when I try to look back on all the highlights of my 35 years of watching and following this team, I can honestly say Martin was the only player that I knew was a lock for something special more often than not. Now, while it’s true the Jets have had players that had moments or stretches of memorable play, names like Joe Klecko, Lance Mehl, Wesley Walker, Al Toon and Keyshawn Johnson come immediately to mind, only Klecko was consistently as dominant at his craft as Martin was, but that’s certainly a column for another time and place.
Jets fans are just not allowed, by some act of God or whatever, to enjoy a plethora of individual stars. Think about it: hundreds of men have played for this franchise, but just one coach and one player, who became a star elsewhere, will make up 40 percent of their players in Canton on Monday morning.
Rightly or not, not one Jets defensive player is in the Hall of Fame.
And look at the Jets under Rex Ryan. Since 2009 they’ve had very good players, but the surest of the Hall bets, LaDainian Tomlinson and Jason Taylor, played all of a combined three seasons here. Darrelle Revis will be immortalized in Canton some day, perhaps even Nick Mangold as well, but both are a long way off and still have plenty of work to do.
Knowing all of this makes it even easier to appreciate all that Martin accomplished during his 11-year career, including the last eight with the Jets. The man rushed for at least 1,094 yards in every season he played, save for his last, 2005, when injuries limited him to just 12 games and 735 yards. To think that he won the NFL’s rushing title the season before, with nearly 1,700 yards at age 31, is astonishing.
I could go on and on about Martin’s statistics — his 14,101 rushing yards (4th all-time), his 90 career touchdowns (12th all-time), the fact that he missed just eight games in 11 seasons, his workhorse prowess (eight seasons with at least 316 carries), his near 500 career receptions — but that would only be telling half his story.
The true measure of Martin really has as much to do with who he is as a man as what he was as a football player. Here is an ambassador for all that is right about sports. Here is a gentleman and sportsman, a player who never said a foul word about anyone, a man that treated the media fairly, especially in times of turmoil, and embraced all the love the fans bestowed upon him with the type of grace and dignity that should force many of today’s athletes to feel ashamed. This is a human being that cares as much about where he came from as where he ended up going, as many of his charitable decisions you know about — and many you don’t — have illustrated over the years.
He was and remains class personified.
I wonder what Martin sees when he looks at the Rex Ryan new-age Jets, a team that has twice gotten within one win of a Super Bowl appearance. Does he see some version of himself in any of these players? I sure don’t.
One of the great injustices of Tomlinson’s superlative career was the fact that he never won a championship. Well, despite “L.T.” completing his resume for Hall induction with the Jets, all New York-area fans, whether they root for the other team or not, should look at Martin as the one guy who truly got the shaft. If ever there was a player, if you take into consideration the complete package, that deserved to hold Vince Lombardi’s hallowed trophy, it was Martin, regardless of the uniform he wore (he scored a TD for the Pats in their Super Bowl XXXI loss to the Packers). If you ask him about his time with the Jets, I’d bet he’d say in retrospect that the day in Denver at the end of the 1998 season was as tough emotionally as any he ever experienced. For a half, the Jets had the big game in their sights. Martin had another shot at a ring.
But as we all know, sports are often unfair. The wrong team often wins and the right team is often left with its nose pushed up against the glass. Martin’s induction into the Hall may just be the football gods’ way of saying “We didn’t forget you, Curtis.” It may be life’s way of saying good things truly do happen to good people. Either way, justice has been served in this case.
And Jets fans, young and old, new and ancient, get to enjoy it. They have lived through more tough times than good times, but if a championship trophy is never again lifted and they get to the end and look back at what was their lives as supporters of this often maddening franchise, they can say they got to see one of the best players at his position in NFL history do his thing.
And they’ll get to say, for once, that while watching No. 28 slice and dice, and shake and bake, it was easy being green.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
Please share your fondest Curtis Martin memories in the comments section below …