Curtis Martin finished as the 4th leading rusher in NFL history. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)
SAN FRANCISCO — If Curtis Martin weren’t so loyal to Bill Parcells, he wouldn’t just be a Hall of Fame running back. He’d likely be a Super Bowl champion.
This week at Super Bowl 50, Martin took time to reflect on his days in New England with WEEI.com and recalled the days in the late 90s when he had a chance to stay in New England but chose instead to follow Bill Parcells to the Jets after the 1997 season.
Martin’s first year was in New England in 1995, when he was selected in the third round out of Pittsburgh by Bill Parcells. The first year in New England was great for Martin, finishing as the AFC’s leading rusher with 1,487 yards and 14 touchdowns. But the team was just 6-10 under Parcells. The next season, he continued his dominance with 1,152 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns as the Patriots made it to the Super Bowl before losing to the Packers. That ’96 season, Martin met Bill Belichick, who joined Parcells’ staff as an assistant.
“I remember all the guys that he coached telling me that he was a genius,” Martin said. “He was on the other side of the ball but I always knew that Belichick was going to do something great. But I didn’t know he would be as great as he is, though.”
Martin played just one season for Pete Carroll before leaving as a restricted free agent to join Parcells. Belichick, with the likes of Antowain Smith and Corey Dillon as lead backs, led the Patriots to three Super Bowl titles while Martin was playing for the Jets in the early 2000s.
“I don’t know that it changed. I just think that it continued to evolve,” Martin said of his playing style. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I was so against leaving the Patriots because I was loyal to the team. I was willing to take even less money [to stay in New England]. But the fact that it was Parcells made it very appealing to me.
“I’m the type of guy who I’m going to be able to function with whatever coach because I’m a coachable guy. I just think that’s our job. That’s what we get paid to do. But Parcells, he knew how to get out of me what I don’t if any other coach would be able to get out of me.”
“That’s something that I’ve always been proud of because before I came there [the Patriots] along with the Jets were the two teams I never wanted to play for. But Bill Parcells restored some pride to the organization. I just think ever since then, the franchise has just increased from year to year.”
Martin looked at Parcells as a father figure who could get the most out of his extraordinary abilities.
“I think it was more his style and structure that he gave to the team and what he demanded from the players,” Martin said. “He helped players and bring the best out of them. I think it’s just his coaching style that actually caused us to begin to win and establish some pride [among other teams] in the NFL.”
As for the difference between Carroll and Parcells?
“It was kind of night and day,” Martin said. “Bill was a rough coach to be coached by. Pete was a guy that was I like, ‘Oh wow, cool. I enjoy this.’ With Parcells, you didn’t necessarily enjoy it but you believed in his outcome so you stuck to it.”
The numbers indicate Martin made the right move to the Jets. He finished as the franchise’s all-time leader in rushes, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. He finished with 14,101 rushing yards and 90 touchdowns. Only Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders have more rushing yards in NFL history. He was inducted into Canton in 2012.
But Martin said Friday that he was in the game today, he likely wouldn’t have put up such amazing numbers.
“I would hate the way it is now, just personally, because I was the type of guy who wanted to touch the ball a minimum of 15 to 20 times a game,” Martin said. “After 15 carries, that’s when you’re really just getting into your flow. Yeah, it would have been different but we’re professionals. I’m sure I would’ve adjusted and they’re adjusting now.”
As great as he was, Martin actually sees a back for the Steelers who has more natural ability than he had.
“One of the running backs that I think kind of simulates my style or embodies what I was about is Le’Veon Bell, except he’s better at doing what I used to do.
“I put it this way: If I had his ability when I was playing, his God-given ability, I would have been a first-ballot hall of famer and I would have probably broken many more records.”
Martin, like many running backs, battled injuries toward the end of his career, including a degenerative right knee bone-on-bone injury.
“No, I just think that’s part of the game,” Martin said. “I like having had to overcome certain injuries because you learn how to dig deep and that same determination and perseverance that helps me throughout life. It helps me in business. It helps me in everything I do.”
It’s not the knees he’s concerned about now as much as the upper part of the body, namely the head. Like Ted Johnson, he is actively involved with brain injury awareness through his company Brain Network Activation.
“Just the businesses that I own or part-owner of. I’m here on behalf of one of them, BNA, which is Brain Network Activation,” Martin said. “This is just something I believe in. I think it’s a game-changer because it’s able to literally measure the injury to the brain, not just give you subjective tests that measures the symptoms. That’s what would happen when I would get a concussion, they would tell me to remember words or count backwards or things like that. This actually measures the injury and that is what I believe we need because it will help us be more responsible as players because I was the type of guy who wasn’t going to come out of the game unless my skull was cracked. So, this helps us be more responsible.
“I think it’s changing. I think the NFL has done such a good job at bringing awareness and eduction to the long-term damage and the importance of brain health that people are starting to see injuries to the head the same way they see an ACL tear or an MCL or a broken leg, which I think is great for the game.”