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Martin out for 2006, unsure he'll ever play again

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Curtis Martin tried to outrun the inevitable.

After months of rehabilitation and countless hours working to
get back on the field for the New York Jets, reality finally caught
up to the NFL's No. 4 career rusher.

"It
hasn't been possible up to this point, so I'm not looking forward
to saying I'll definitely be back next year. It's a long stretch,
I'll put it that way. And that's the most honest answer I can give
you."
--Jets running back Curtis Martin

"I think this is as good as my knee gets, where it is right
now," Martin said Wednesday at a news conference.

The Jets placed the 33-year-old Martin on the reserve
physically-unable-to perform list with a bone-on-bone condition in
his right knee, ending his season before it ever got started and
jeopardizing his career.

"I usually deal with things the way they are now, and with the
information that I know about my future, it doesn't look like it's
too bright as far as me having a further career," Martin said.
"And if that happens, great."

It took a few months for Martin, always classy and often
overshadowed as a player, to reach the point where he could accept
the idea his brilliant career might be over.

"I don't know if it's even possible," Martin said of playing
again. "It hasn't been possible up to this point, so I'm not
looking forward to saying I'll definitely be back next year. It's a
long stretch, I'll put it that way. And that's the most honest
answer I can give you."

This wasn't an official retirement announcement, but it sure
sounded and looked like one, with cameras flashing every few
seconds and at least two dozen reporters packed into the small
media room.

"I'm officially not playing this year," Martin said.
"Retirement -- that may be the inevitable result. I just haven't
gotten there yet."

Martin, wearing a brown baker boy hat, royal blue V-neck shirt
and dark blue jeans, kept his composure throughout the nearly
half-hour news conference. He referred to his career in the past
tense a few times, and his outlook on playing again was far from
promising. Martin also thanked the team, the fans and even the
media in an apparent sign of closure.

"To think that a guy might not be able to play again is
devastating," said Derrick Blaylock, who was signed last year to
back up Martin. "Aside from football, this is a guy's future. If
he's not going to be able to play, that means a lot."

Martin spoke with coach Eric Mangini on Tuesday night, and said
he didn't think he'd be ready to practice next week -- the team's
deadline for a decision on his availability.

"I sat in Eric's office and I said, 'Eric, you know what? I
just need one last conversation with the doctors.' I said, 'I even
know. I know what they're going to say and I know what the outcome
is,' but for some reason I just wanted that last conversation."

Martin, who said he's in game shape and at his playing weight,
never got that final conversation, instead talking with general
manager Mike Tannenbaum and deciding Wednesday was the day to end
months of speculation.

"I feel bad for him, and I just hope he comes back next year,"
linebacker Jonathan Vilma said.

Martin tore cartilage in the knee in Week 2 against Miami last
season, and aggravated it two games later against Baltimore. He
played through the pain, but ended his season after Week 12.

"I don't think that it ever took a turn for the worse," he
said. "I think it's always been what it has been."

Martin said the knee became a "bone-on-bone" situation when
the damaged cartilage was removed during surgery in December. He
was slow to recover and was placed on the
physically-unable-to-perform list before training camp so he could
rehabilitate the knee.

"This is something beyond my threshold of pain," said Martin,
who often played through injuries throughout his first 11 seasons,
but said it would be "totally stupid" for him to try to play
through this one.

"Do I think I can tolerate the pain and go out there and score
a touchdown? Probably. That's just what I believe," he said. "But
do I think that that's going to possibly hinder me from scoring a
touchdown with my kids or running down the field with my kids?
Yes."

The five-time Pro Bowl player was eligible to come off the PUP
list Oct. 16, but the team announced he'd remain on it until after
the game at Cleveland last Sunday. On Monday, Mangini said he spoke
with Martin, Tannenbaum and the Jets' medical staff last week. They
chose to hold off until next week on whether Martin would rejoin
the team and practice.

Mangini reiterated that on Tuesday, but said things changed
after talking with Martin on Tuesday night.

"I think his heart was saying one thing and, unfortunately, the
injury was saying something else," Mangini said.

Martin wasn't sure if he'd have any more operations on the knee.

"I'm right on the borderline of having to get more done, but
there's a possibility that if I stop right now that I may not have
to go through those procedures," he said.

Martin spent his first three seasons with New England, and came
to the Jets as a restricted free agent in 1998. His best year was
his last healthy season in 2004, when he led the league in rushing
with 1,697 yards and tied Barry Sanders' record with 10 straight
1,000-yard seasons to start a career.

"He's been the face of the franchise, and everybody here in the
city loves him," receiver Laveranues Coles said. "He's New York's
guy."

The Giants' Tiki Barber recently announced plans to retire after this season, meaning next year might be the first without either running back playing in New York since 1996.

"I have great respect for Curtis," Barber said. "My
definition of greatness is doing things consistently great. And he
did it for a lot of years. He has always been very respectful to
the league and the game. It's a great method for people to want to
emulate."