Sixteen years before Darrelle Revis, there was Curtis Martin.
The Hall of Fame running back was the first high-profile player to switch sides in the New York Jets-New England Patriots rivalry, so he knows all about the passion and vitriol of The Border War. Martin remembers hearing more cheers than boos when he returned to Foxborough for the first time, but he doesn’t expect New Yorkers to be as gracious when Revis returns to MetLife Stadium.
His advice to Revis: Buckle up.
“The game has changed, the fanfare has changed,” Martin told ESPNNewYork.com. “I expect it to be a little more hostile, not as welcoming. [He laughed.] I think he should wear his helmet when he comes out of the tunnel.”
Revis didn't go from the Jets to Patriots – there was a quick stop with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers –- but the fans won’t remember his one year in Pewter purgatory when they see him in Patriots colors. Martin can empathize with the anguish of Jets fans.
“I totally understand the feeling,” Martin said. “It just makes it that much tougher to beat those guys.”
Martin said his initial reaction to Revis signing with the Patriots was, “Wow.” He still considers Revis the best cornerback in the league, and he called it a brilliant move by the Patriots. Martin, an avid chess player, used a chess analogy to describe the impact Revis will have with the AFC East champions.
“The Patriots already have that strong piece in Tom Brady. He’s like the queen, that very powerful person,” Martin said. “Putting Darrelle Revis up there is like having an extra queen in the game. That’s a powerful move for the Patriots.”
The Jets were criticized for not showing interest in Revis, especially since they released Antonio Cromartie. They have a gaping hole at cornerback, yet they didn't respond to an inquiry by Revis’ agent.
Martin said he didn't expect the Jets to pursue a Revis reunion, seeing as how they already jettisoned him once. Asked if he wanted them to make a play for Revis, he gave a yes-and-no answer.
“You put Darrelle on any team, and you've definitely made your team more powerful,” he said. “I would always like to see the Jets with the best players, so, yeah, of course. That being said, there was a reason why he was let go, so I wouldn't necessarily expect them to do that.”
Some considered Martin a traitor in 1998, when he signed a six-year, $36 million offer sheet with the Jets. The Patriots had an opportunity to match, but they declined because the contract was structured in such a way that it could've blown up their salary cap. After three terrific years in New England, he bolted for the Jets.
“Initially, when I first came out of the tunnel, I heard some people say, ‘Traitor,’ but for the most part, people were cheering for me,” said Martin, recalling his first trip back to New England. “I thought that was pretty incredible. It showed their appreciation for what I was there. It actually made me feel good.”
It would be an upset if Revis gets the same treatment.