The Pro Football Hall of Fame induction weekend isn't much of a treat. The color palette is too mustardy. The proceedings bore even their attendees: Last year, John Elway texted during it. The game that follows it inevitably features a short series from the first-stringers before they yield to sloppy backups.
But every so often, an inductee will tell a great story. We've been conditioned in recent years to doubt these stories. Football can't save anyone anymore. It's all head injuries and exploitation—at the college and professional level—and there's often worse, like what happened at Penn State. Perhaps that conventional wisdom, that football produces more evil than it vanquishes, is true. But if you heard Curtis Martin talk on Saturday night (or if you watched him above), you wouldn't feel that way. Football's great sometimes.
Here's a very long snippet of Martin's speech:
Most of these guys have lived for the game of football and eat, breath, sleep football. I was someone who was somewhat forced to play football. I can remember draft day like it was yesterday. My family and I were sitting around and were watching the draft. The phone rings and it's Bill Parcells. I answer the phone and say "Hello," and Parcells says, "Curtis, we want to know if you're interested in being a New England Patriot?" I said, "Yes, yes, sir." And we hang up the phone. As soon as we hang up the phone I turn around to everyone and I said, "Oh my gosh, I do not want to play football."
No, you're laughing, but this is the truth. I turned around and said, "I don't want to play football. I don't even know that I like football enough to try to make a career out of it." My pastor at the time was a guy by the name of Leroy Joseph, and I'm so glad he was there to talk some sense into me. He says, "Curtis, look at it this way, man." He said, "Maybe football is just something that God is giving you to do all those wonderful things that you say you want to do for other people." I tell you, it was like a light bulb came on in my head.
That became my connection with football. I don't know if he wouldn't have said that to me if football would have gotten out of me what it got out of me. I definitely wouldn't be standing here. And ever since he said that, I knew the only way I was going to be successful at this game called football is if I played for a purpose that was bigger than the game itself because I knew that the love for the game just wasn't in my heart.
Let me tell you about how I got started playing. So I grew up in a pretty bad neighborhood. But the household that I lived in was even worse. I had a father who I love him dearly and he's passed and gone on, but he was my guy before he died. But when I was 5 years old, I remember watching him torture my mother, I mean, literally. I don't necessarily have notes, so I'm going to bare my soul and just bear with me.
But I remember watching him torture you. He had my mother locked in the bathroom. Had her sitting on the edge of the tub, and he turned on all the hot water and stopped the tub up so that the hot water would eventually flow on her legs. He dared her to move. As the hot water flowed up and started going on her legs and going on her feet and she would flinch a little bit, he would rush into the bathroom, take her hair and burn it with a lighter. He would come back out, watch her some more, she'd move again, and he would go in there with a cigarette and put cigarette burns all over her legs which she still bares to this day. I've seen him beat her up like she was a man. I've seen him throw her down the steps. I've witnessed this woman go to they got a bet on whether I'm going to cry or not. So I'm going to hold it in.
I've watched my mother get punched in the face, have a black eye and then go to work with make up on just to support our family. I've watched this. She did everything to raise me and in hindsight when you're a kid and your mother's tough on you, you don't necessarily understand why. I used to think it was because my dad was so tough on her that it would just naturally make her tough on me.
I heard a saying one time that says, "Hurt people, hurt people." And my mother was dealing with so much hurt and pain, and I know that she had to take some of that out somewhere. Mom, I'm so grateful that I was there for you to even take some of that pain out on, because you deserved it.
By the time I was 5, my dad was gone. My mother, because we couldn't afford it, she would work two and three jobs. She tied a shoe string around my neck with a key and taught me how to come in the house. I'd come from kindergarten and first grade almost for two years and stay in the house by myself till like 9:30, 10:00 at night, and my mother said it broke her heart every single day walking up those steps. We lived in sort of a low income housing project type environment, and I would always be sitting in that front window because I was scared.
So I was so petrified of being in the house by myself. I didn't even watch "Scooby Doo". I was that scared. The ghosts on "Scooby Doo" scared the heck out of me.
But my mother made a way for me to start staying in between her and my grandmother. When I was 9, my mother, she walks into my grandmother's bedroom and found her murdered. Found her murdered with a knife in her chest, and her neck was broken and everything, eyes wide open, blood everywhere.
And for me as a little kid, all the other family, they come in and you hear the whispers from adults as a little kid, and they affect you a certain way. I just heard everyone saying, "If that happened to me, I would go crazy. I would lose my mind." For me, crazy was kind of like what my dad was. So in my mind, as a 9 year old, my mother told me the only thing that got her through that was I came up to her and grabbed her hand and said, "Mom, are you going crazy?" And she looked down at me and said, "No. Why do you ask me that?" And I just said, "Well, that's good because if you go crazy, nobody's going to be here to take care of me." I'm so grateful to my mother. That is the strongest individual that I've ever known, and I appreciate her so much.
If all those things and the story gets better. But just for right now, just entertain me. If that wasn't enough on my mother. When I was 13, her sister, who was like my other mother got killed and died an even worse or more painful death than my grandmother did. Even through that, my mother stayed strong and raised me.
By the time I was 15, growing up in the environment that I was in, I had so many brushes with death. I remember one distinct time a guy had a gun to my head, a loaded gun to my head, pulled the trigger seven times. God's honest truth, the bullet didn't come out. He wasn't pointing the gun at me and pulled the trigger and a bullet came out. I was too young to even recognize that God was saving my life.[...]
And at the same time my gym teacher was the head football coach. His name is Mark Wittgartner, he's here. He comes up to me while we're in school, and he says, "Son, I want you to play for our football team." I said, well, "I don't really have an interest, Coach."
He said, well, listen, if you don't do something with your life, from what I hear about you, you're going to end up dead or in jail pretty soon.
With him in one ear and my mother in the other ear, football became the default that I fell into. And Coach Mark Wittgartner, you have no idea what you were saying to me, but I believe what you said could have been the possible thing that saved my life. I think you were right.
He also told me, "Curtis, if you play, I think you'll get a scholarship. I think you're that good. You'll get a scholarship to anywhere you want to go in the country." But to me, I didn't really care, it didn't make sense. But it was like, "No, now that's two thing that's I don't like, football and school." I wasn't really for that, but to appease my mother, I played football.
I ended up doing well in football. My senior year I broke about every rushing record. And just like Coach Mark Wittgartner said, every school in the country recruited me. And I had to go to college, reluctantly. And because Pitt was right down the street, I chose Pitt by default.
I'm so grateful to Coach Sal Sunseri and Coach Paul Hackett, because my freshman year, they were the ones who kind of kept me straight. Just to fast forward to me going into the NFL, well, even before that, by the time I was a junior, my life was so bad that I literally thought—this is something everyone knows—I always thought I would die before I was 21.
At my eulogy, I don't want my daughter or whoever it may be giving my eulogy to talk about how many yards I gained or touchdowns I scored. I want my daughter to be able to talk about the man that Curtis Martin was. How when she was growing up, she looked for a man who was like her father. That he was a man of integrity, a man of strong character, and a God fearing man. That's what I want.
Then at the end of the day, she could say, oh yeah, and he was a pretty good football player. Thank you all.