Martin still big fan of Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The weather wasn't much better the last time former New England Patriots running back Curtis Martin stepped onto the Gillette Stadium field, on Dec. 4, 2005.

Then with the New York Jets, Martin rushed for a dismal 29 yards on 15 carries in wintry conditions for what turned out to be the final game of his career.

Months after being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Martin returned to New England as an honorary captain for tonight's game between the Patriots and the San Francisco 49ers. He will be joined by former cornerback Mike Haynes (1976-82) and linebacker Andre Tippett (1982-93), two of the other four players to represent the Patriots in the Hall of Fame, as part of this week's celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Hall.

"I don't even recognize it," Martin said of the Patriots' facilities. "I think they've done an amazing job. I lived in the (former) End Zone motel for a year. That was my home basically. To come back and see all this, it's like a whole different world. I think that's the vision and leadership of Mr. Kraft."

Martin's career began in 1995, when as a third-round draft pick of the Patriots, he rushed for 1,487 yards and was named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Three years later, Martin was gone, signed away as a restricted free agent by then-second year Jets coach Bill Parcells, reigniting tensions between the two clubs that began when Parcells left the Patriots for New York one year earlier.

"At the end of the day, I think things work out the way they're supposed to," Martin said before Sunday night's game. "As much as I would have liked to have experienced a long career with the Patriots, it just wasn't in the cards for me. But the Patriots have done well and I feel like I have done pretty well."

Parcells was a finalist for election into the Hall of Fame last February, but did not make the final cut. However, he presented Martin at his induction in August and could soon become the sixth former Patriots player or coach in the Hall of Fame.

While it remains to be seen what reception Patriots owner Robert Kraft and the organization would have for Parcells, Martin reiterated on Sunday night that there are no hard feelings between him and his former owner.

"I can remember days riding down the street in his car with him, and him speaking to me and giving me words of advice," Martin said. "It's almost like you can see and feel his competitiveness. I think Mr. Kraft is one of the best owners in the league, (which has translated to) having one of the best coaching staffs and organizations in the league, one of the best quarterbacks in the league, one of the best teams in the league. That's the trickle-down effect."

While 15 years stand between Martin and his three-year career in New England, his reception on Sunday night will be worth monitoring. After propelling the Patriots to their first Super Bowl win in 2001, kicker Adam Vinatieri, like Martin, departed for a close rival and was booed by fans most recently when the Indianapolis Colts played in New England last month.

Either way, Martin wants Patriots fans to know that he is rooting for their team.

"I envy (the Patriots' success) but I wish them well," Martin said. "Those are the only two teams that I'm fan of, the Patriots and the Jets. I want them to be as good as they can be."