<
>

Martin, Parcells could carpool to Canton

INDIANAPOLIS -- Seventeen years later, Curtis Martin still hears the booming voice and still sees the threatening blue eyes. It's his earliest memory of Bill Parcells. Warm and fuzzy, it's not.

This was the New England Patriots' rookie camp, spring of 1995. Martin was a third-round pick from Pitt, Parcells the larger-than-life lord of the Patriots' burgeoning empire. The coach wanted to know what he had, so he hit his tenderfoots with the Full Parcells -- a conditioning test that consisted of a 300-yard shuttle and a two-hour practice.

"That's the image I have of him, with a whistle in his mouth and looking at me and saying, 'You gonna quit?'" Martin recalled the other day in an interview with ESPNNewYork.com. "Every time I went back to the huddle, he said, 'You ready to quit now?' Everyone kept dropping out, a bunch of players.

"I looked at him and said, 'Coach, I don't care if I have to crawl to take this handoff, I'm not going to quit.' Literally, that's the first visual I have of Parcells."

Parcells fell for the kid and soon he was calling him, "Boy Wonder." They spent only four seasons together -- two in New England, two with the New York Jets -- but they formed a forever relationship. This week, they're on the brink of immortality, as both are among the 15 modern-era finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Class of 2012 will be selected Saturday.

It would be poetic justice if Martin and Parcells are inducted the same year. Even though they never won a Super Bowl together, they changed the fortunes of two organizations.

With Parcells and Martin in New England, the Patriots captured the AFC Championship in 1996, looking like a potential dynasty. When they jumped to the New York Jets -- Parcells in '97, Martin in '98 -- the balance of power in the AFC East tilted in that direction.

You think that was a coincidence?

Martin, who made the final 10 last year as a first-time candidate, should be a no-brainer this time. After all, he's the fourth-leading rusher in NFL history. Parcells, a first-year nominee, won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants, rebuilt the Patriots from scratch and brought them to a Super Bowl, and nearly did the same with the Jets.

Parcells belongs, too, because from the mid-1980s to 2006 with the Dallas Cowboys, he was one of the best in the game. He's the only coach in history to lead four different teams to the playoffs and his influence is felt throughout the league. Super Bowl coaches Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin are from the Parcells tree.

If Parcells and Martin make the Hall, and the New York Giants take care of the Patriots, it will be one of the greatest weekends in the history of New York football.

"I'm biased, but there are only a few coaches that stand out in the history of the game," Martin said. "You think of the Lombardis and coaches like that. Bill should be mentioned in the same breath."

Martin said the disappointment of not making it last year was softened by knowing Parcells would be eligible in 2012. That isn't revisionist spin; he made that point last February, on the night he was edged out by Deion Sanders, Marshall Faulk and five others.

"I actually didn't even mind if I got in or not last year simply because, if I was being honest with myself, last year I didn't feel like I should've bested any of those guys that went in," Martin said. "It wasn't that I was happy I didn't get in, but I was looking forward to the possibility of Parcells.

"I would've sacrificed in a second, in a heartbeat, to have the opportunity to go in with Parcells this year, so I think there's a little more excitement for me this year because of the opportunity to go in with Bill. There couldn't be a better ending for me," he said.

"He was my first coach, my mentor," Martin continued. "As far as I'm concerned, most of what I learned professionally -- I'd say 90 percent -- I learned from him. He's the reason why I'm here."

Martin's chief competition could be Jerome Bettis, the only other running back among the finalists. Other repeat finalists include Tim Brown, Cris Carter, Dermontti Dawson and Willie Roaf. Parcells is the only coach.

The 44-member selection committee will meet all day Saturday, with the results announced at 5:30 p.m. on the NFL Network. No more than five modern-era candidates can be selected in a given year, a quirky rule that means Martin and Parcells, in a sense, are competing against each other.

If Martin gets in, he'd like Parcells to be his presenter. They've remained close over the years, and their relationship has evolved from coach-player to something much more than that.

"Now we talk more like father and son," Martin said. "We discuss personal things. There will be times when we're on the phone and we hang up, and I'll say, 'All right, love you, man.' And he'll say, 'Love you too, Boy Wonder.'"

The mushy stuff doesn't sound like the gruff coach who made a career of intimidating players, running off the ones who couldn't handle it. Martin said it never bothered him because he figured there was a logical reason behind Parcells' sometimes abrasive style.

The idea was to win.

And he won. They won a lot together.