NEW YORK (BVM) – Curtis Martin had an impressive 11-year run in the NFL that proved he was a truly special running back. Coming out of the University of Pittsburgh, Martin made an immediate impact as the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year with the New England Patriots in 1995, and had one of the best seasons of his career in his 10th year in the pros with the New York Jets.
Since his NFL career ended, Martin has had his talent and legacy honored but continues to use his platform to give back.
Curtis Martin’s early life
Martin’s life growing up is one that has been well chronicled for its difficult circumstances. Growing up, Martin’s father left his family, leaving his mother, Rochella Dixon, to have to work multiple jobs to support the family. Growing up in the inner city of Pittsburgh, Martin was often surrounded by violence.
Eventually, he went on to attend Taylor Allderdice High School where he actually did not play football until his senior year at the urging of his mother. Playing primarily running back and linebacker, Martin quickly turned into a star.
The future NFL running back ran for 1,705 yards and 20 touchdowns in his lone season of high school football which caught the eye of former Pittsburgh Panthers head coach Paul Hackett among others. Ultimately, Martin decided to stay home for college and play football at Pitt.
Curtis Martin’s college career
Martin’s career at Pitt was strong, but it was plagued by a senior season injury that didn’t quite allow him to show his full potential. As a freshman in 1991, the running back contributed immediately with 735 total scrimmage yards and two touchdowns. He would continue to improve as a sophomore, rushing for 730 yards and five touchdowns while adding another 317 yards and a touchdown receiving.
The best year of Martin’s Pitt career came in 1993 as he ran for 1,075 yards and seven touchdowns while again showing he was a receiving threat out of the backfield, adding 249 yards and a score.
Going into his senior season, Martin was viewed as one of the most talented backs in the country and proved so during the opening week of 1994 as he had a 251-yard performance against Texas. However, in the second week of the season against Ohio, Martin suffered an ankle injury that kept him out for the remainder of 1994. Despite having the opportunity to redshirt and come back for one more year, Martin entered his name into the NFL draft.
Curtis Martin’s New England Patriots career
In the third round of the 1995 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots selected Martin with the 74th overall pick. Had he played at Pitt, there may have been potential for Martin to become a first-round selection in 1996 with a healthy and productive final college season. However, he walked into a good situation in New England, as the Patriots gave him an immediate opportunity following the loss of several running backs to free agency.
On his first NFL carry, Martin went for 30 yards, finishing with a 100-yard rushing day in the opening game of his NFL career. He was the first Patriots player to accomplish that feat and would run for 100 yards or more eight additional times throughout the year.
The 1995 season was a special one overall as Martin started 15 games, carrying the ball 368 times for an AFC-leading 1,487 yards and 14 touchdowns. Again adding production in the receiving game with 30 catches for 261 yards and another score, Martin earned the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
He would display his tremendous talent yet again in 1996 with 17 total touchdowns and another 1,000-yard rushing season as the Patriots made it all the way to Super Bowl XXXI where they would eventually fall to the Green Bay Packers.
Coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl appearances, Martin would play in just 13 games in 1997. While he still rushed for over 1,000 yards, he scored just four rushing touchdowns. Becoming a restricted free agent, his time in New England would come to an end.
Curtis Martin’s New York Jets career
During the 1998 offseason, Martin signed a six-year, $36 million contract to reunite with former coach Bill Parcells in New York. In his time with the Jets, Martin’s Hall of Fame career took off. In his first season with his new team, Martin ran for 1,287 yards as he helped the Jets to the playoffs and earned his third Pro Bowl nod.
Seeing heavy workloads of well over 300 carries, Martin would become a true staple of the Jets’ offense as he ran for 1,200 yards or more in each of the next three seasons, racking up 26 total touchdowns during that span and earning his fourth Pro Bowl honor by 2001.
One of his worst seasons as a Jet came in 2002 when Martin still managed to run for over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns. But he returned to form in 2003 with over 1,300 rushing yards, setting the stage for what was a dominant 2004 season.
In his 10th season in the NFL, the 31-year-old Martin led the league in rushing for the first time with 1,697 yards, scoring 14 total touchdowns as a lethal threat in the Jets’ offense alongside quarterback Chad Pennington. The Pitt product would earn first-team All-Pro honors, and joined Barry Sanders as the only other running back in the league to have 1,000 yards in each of his first 10 seasons. Years later, it was revealed Martin did all of this despite a torn MCL.
However, 2004 would be one of the last hurrahs of Martin’s illustrious career. In 2005, the Jets star entered the season with the most rushing yards among all active running backs. But early in the season, he suffered a knee injury that would limit what he could do on the field, and eventually led him to miss multiple games by the end of the year, snapping a streak of 119 consecutive starts. Martin finished the campaign with 735 yards, missing out on joining Emmitt Smith as the only backs to rush for 1,000 yards in 11 straight years.
Martin was poised to return in 2006, but complications with his knee following surgery led him to miss the entire season. In 2007, Martin officially retired, hanging up his cleats with 100 total touchdowns and 14,101 rushing yards, which still stands today as the sixth-most all time in the NFL. His 17,430 total career yards were 10th best in the league at the time of his retirement.
Curtis Martin’s achievements and earnings
In 2010, Martin was enshrined into the Jets Ring of Honor, and had his jersey retired by the franchise in 2012. That same year, he earned the ultimate honor of his NFL career as he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In 2020, the 49-year-old was also inducted into the University of Pittsburgh Hall of Fame.
"Pittsburgh will always be home."
Hall of Fame person and player.
All-time great Curtis Martin shares how his experiences shaped him.
— Pitt Football (@Pitt_FB) May 1, 2020
Curtis Martin’s family and post-NFL life
Martin has made Long Island his home in retirement. He has been married to his wife, Caroline, for over a decade. The couple has two kids, Ava and Kai.
Martin has always been one to help others and give back. In 2010, it was revealed that he didn’t have the same passion for football as most of his peers. Even after being drafted by the Patriots, he claimed he didn’t even want to play football. However, thanks to a discussion with his pastor at the time, he saw the sport as an opportunity to use his platform to give back.
The former NFL running back went on to discuss this further during his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement.
“When I’m in situations like this, especially when I’m being honored for something that I’ve achieved in football, it always makes me feel a little awkward and out of place because I’ve just never really been able to identify with the love and the passion that a lot of my colleagues and a lot of the other alumni of the Hall of Fame have,” Martin said.
“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.’”
However, Martin’s true connection from playing football became the ability to give back. He reportedly gave at least 12% of each of his paychecks to charity. He has also helped feed the homeless, assisted single mothers, helped individuals with housing needs and sent doctors to third-world countries for those in need through Surgicorps, all primarily through the Curtis Martin Job Foundation.
In addition, he has helped advise other athletes and celebrities and has been a guest speaker at numerous social and business events.
In 2019, Martin was honored for his philanthropic work as he received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.
About to get my doctorate degree from Mt. Sinai! pic.twitter.com/7x0i2NgLIB
— Curtis Martin (@curtismartin) May 9, 2019
He has also given back to his alma maters in Allderdice and Pitt and is a Walter Camp Man of the Year winner, given annually to the “man of the year” in college football.
Curtis Martin gives back to where it all began for him: his high school.
"Getting to the Hall of Fame started right here." 🙏
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 25, 2019
One of Martin’s most recent endeavors has also come as a member of the board of directors for the Hall of Fame Resort & Entertainment Co., a sports, entertainment and media franchise located in Canton, Ohio that was established in 2020.
While Martin gave fans plenty of joy during his time on the field, what he has done off the field continues to be an inspiration, and has impacted many lives for the better.