Born To Run
By John Melillo
Jets Staff Writer
September 16th, 2004
With 196 yards against the Bengals last week, RB Curtis Martin ended his September slump in a big way. (Jets Photo)
With 196 yards against the Bengals last week, RB Curtis Martin ended his September slump in a big way. (Jets Photo)
HEMPSTEAD, NY - What makes a player special? Ask all 32 NFL general managers and you could conceivably receive 32 different responses. While teams spent countless hours searching the country for those elite players each year, New York Jets head coach Herm Edwards is perplexed on why those teams don’t look to New York for their answer.

“The first day I took this job, that's the first thing I noticed. I watched 28,” Edwards said in reference to RB Curtis Martin’s jersey number. “And when I watched him practice, I said, there's a reason why this guy is special.”

Martin’s tremendous ability has often been overlooked as he enters his 10th season in the league. Martin has been a symbol of consistency throughout his career, rushing for over 1,000 yards in his first nine seasons. Unlike previous years, Martin exploded out of the gates to start the season, churning out 196 yards in the season opener. Now, the 31-year old running back is just nine yards shy of the all-time team record currently held by RB Freeman McNeil (8,074). With another 1,000-yard season this year, Martin can also tie former Detroit Lions RB Barry Sanders for the NFL record with most consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Martin, a consummate team player, was unaware of the possible achievements. “I didn’t even realize it until someone mentioned it to me,” Martin said of the team rushing record. “It will be a good thing. I respect Freeman (McNeil); he gives me a lot of advice. It will be a milestone, it will be an accomplishment, but I am not really focused on it.”

Instead, Martin’s goals are set on reaching new team heights in 2004.

“It has always been what the team does,” the classy Martin said. “That is what matters to me. All these individual things, I don’t even keep up with them.”

But the former Pittsburgh product does acknowledge the performance and attitude of his teammates, something that gives him high hopes for this season.

“I think the attitude is better than it was last year,” Martin said. “Our whole team mentality, the chemistry is better than it was last year, the leadership is much better than it was last year.”

One reason for the improved chemistry can be the extra work Martin has received behind the team’s offensive line during the preseason.

“I think that is what I was missing last year. I didn’t have that togetherness. They came together quickly,” Martin said of his linemen. “I didn’t have that split-second reads that I am doing now. That makes all the difference. For a running back, it is a matter of seconds and inches. Once you miss those inches, those holes close fast. I am not knocking the line last year; they did a pretty good job. But this year, they are just better, period.”

It didn’t hurt that the team bolstered the position with the late arrival of former first-round draft pick OG Pete Kendall, who was released unexpectedly by the Arizona Cardinals this summer.

“(Kendall) is that other level of toughness- that nasty attitude,” he said. “They got to be nasty and Pete has that.”

Needless to say, Martin’s team-first attitude and classy demeanor has clearly impacted both players and coaches around the league.

“The players want Curtis Martin to be successful,” Edwards said. “Not only our players, but any player that knows Curtis Martin wants him to be a successful guy because of what type of person he is.”

And when Martin leaves the field for the final time, Edwards hopes his star running back finally gets the recognition he rightly deserves.

“We will all sit here maybe 10, 15 years from now and we'll all talk about him,” Edwards said. “We will watch Curtis Martin run and watch him get inducted into the Hall of Fame, too, as far as I'm concerned. We're watching a heck of a football player.”

When the time comes, for sure the eyes of Canton will not overlook No. 28.