CORTLAND, N.Y. -- Around 10 p.m. Saturday, Curtis Martin will deliver his Hall of Fame acceptance speech. I have no idea what he will say, but I know it will be heartfelt and poignant, and I bet it won't be one of those "me, me, me" speeches you hear so often at the Hall.
I covered Martin from the day he became a Jet (March 1998) to the moment he retired (July 2007), chronicling every single game. I have a ton of memories, but my favorite occurred off the field. It didn't include Curtis, but it said everything about him.
MartinIn 2004, I went to his hometown, Pittsburgh, to write a feature about him. I was interviewing his mother, Rochella, in the clothing boutique she owned in one of the city's grittiest neighborhoods. The interview was interrupted a couple of times because two men came into the store, approached Rochella at the front desk and spoke quietly to her. They weren't looking to buy clothes, that's for sure.
She listened for a couple of minutes, nodded and scribbled on a pad. After the second guy left, I asked her about it. She said it happens all the time, strangers coming off the street, sharing their tales of woe and asking Curtis for money to pay bills, etc. She'd give the list to Curtis to review, and he'd pick out the neediest people and send donations. One time, she said, Curtis paid for a stranger's funeral, a young girl he read about in the paper whose family couldn't afford one.
You can talk about the yards and the touchdowns. This is how I remember him. The league could use a few Curtis Martins right about now.
Here are a few thoughts from Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and agent Eugene Parker, all of whom are quoted in a story about Martin's landmark jump from the Patriots to Jets:
• Tannenbaum on the first time he met Martin: "I really didn't know him. I never met him before, but it took only about 30 seconds to realize this guy is special. ... It was easy to criticize the move because, on paper, it made no sense -- the $36 million and (the) two draft choices going to New England. But it was worth it. That lesson still resonates with me. When you're building a team, it's the ultimate people business. When opportunities to get special people come along, those are things you have to take a hard look at."
• Kraft on Martin's early days in New England: "It didn't take long to see he'd be a special player. He started his first game. I know (Bill) Parcells didn't like putting too many rookies in the first game. We opened against the Browns and I think he scored the winning touchdown. We knew right away we had someone special. ... He was our kind of guy in that he was never boastful or self-promoting. He was just kind of a quiet, unassuming guy that executed and produced."
• Parker: "Curtis was a good football player, but he was a greater person. He was one of those guys where you (think), 'This guy is going to win.' No matter what, you knew he was going to win. He's a great guy and it almost overshadows how good a player he was."