He took the game up only after being pushed into it by his mother pleading with him to do some type of after-school activity. She wanted him to escape his neighborhood and life in inner-city Pittsburgh. That morphed into him being offered scholarships by multiple schools.
"That didn't add up," Martin joked. "That's two things I don't like, school and football."
He added that he was a running back who didn't like to run and still doesn't. But by age 20, having survived his home life and having done "a bunch of things I wasn't proud of" along the way, Martin said he spoke to God. Martin had always expected to die by age 21.
Instead, he promised that if he made it to 21, he would give his life over to his faith and "do whatever you want me to do."
In this case, that was football. For a man with little passion for the game, Martin played as hard as anyone. Former coaches and teammates have spoken over the years about Martin's toughness and willingness to play through pain as he gained at least 1,000 yards in each of his first 10 seasons.
That toughness was nurtured (perhaps coerced) by legendary coach Bill Parcells, who presented Martin for induction. Martin recounted several Parcells stories and "Parcells-isms" as he put it. One of those was when Parcells, after getting a call from an ailing Martin, said, "You should never come out of the huddle because you never know who is going in the huddle." That was Parcells' way of telling Martin that everyone was replaceable.
Martin admitted that his jealousy of any teammate who played running back drove him to outwork them and anyone else on the team. For a man who had little passion for the game, Martin threw himself into it.
This weekend, he started to grasp the love of the game when he listened to other Hall of Famers talk about their experiences.
And he came to a conclusion that might answer the fears of a lot of other people who are thinking about the game.
"I was asked by a reporter earlier this week if I would allow my child to play football," Martin said. "I don't know, I would probably be reluctant. But if my kid can learn what I learned from this game, I'd let him play. I think it's worth the risk."