|The Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio|
In the decades to come, Curtis Martin is probably not going to be one of those names that leap to mind when you talk about the game’s greatest running backs. Though he accomplished a great deal in his career, he did so very quietly, without much fanfare. Martin was a natural runner and football player, which is something you can say of many athletes to play his position. What makes Martin’s talent more incredible, though, is the fact that he didn’t play football until his senior year of high school. His mother urged him to play so that he would have an activity to keep him out of the crime and violence of his Pittsburgh neighborhood. Incidentally, in his one high school season (during which he also played linebacker, special teams and, occasionally, quarterback), Curtis ran for 1,705 yards for 20 touchdowns.
Martin attended the University of Pittsburgh, where he never really had a chance to satisfy the high expectations about his abilities because of a string of injuries that kept him from establishing an on-field presence. Instead of redshirting at Pittsburgh to play one more season after his senior year, Martin elected to go ahead and enter the NFL Draft in 1995. Despite his inconsistent college career, he was selected by the New England Patriots in the third round. It didn’t take long for the Pats to see a return on their investment: in the ensuing season, Martin rushed for over 100 yards in nine games and would end his rookie year with 1,487 yards and 14 touchdowns, the most in the AFC that season. He won Offensive Rookie of the Year and earned a Pro Bowl selection.
After the 1997 season, Martin joined the New York Jets as a restricted free agent, with a six-year contract of $36 million. In contrast to his injury-plagued college career, Curtis was the model of reliability, missing only one game in his first seven seasons with the Jets. He also earned Pro Bowl honors three more times with the Jets. He narrowly missed becoming the first running back with eleven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons; a knee injury kept him on the sidelines for the last three games of the 2005 season. However, he does have the distinction of being the oldest player to lead the league in rushing for a single season. Martin’s 14,101 career rushing yards ranks fourth in NFL history. Here’s a highlight video of Martin showcasing some of his signature moves:
Curtis Martin’s coach for most of his career was coaching great and Super Bowl winner Bill Parcells (right), who was head coach of the New England Patriots from 1993 through 1996 and of the New York Jets from 1997 through 1999. Like Martin, Parcells was eligible for Hall of Fame enshrinement this year, but was not selected. Many people consider Bill’s exclusion from the 2012 HOF Class a snub. As for Martin, he's disappointed that his mentor isn't entering the Hall with him, telling reporters: "There's God and there's Parcells as far as the meaning they've had on my career. If I did dream about anything, it would've been going into the Hall of Fame with the guy I feel is responsible for my career." Parcells will be with him on Saturday, though, as he has accepted Martin’s request to be his presenter in the enshrinement ceremony on Saturday. Keep the tissues handy!
Cortez Kennedy played defensive tackle at the University of Miami and was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks as the third overall selection in the 1990 NFL Draft. Kennedy spent his entire eleven-season career in Seattle. Although the Seahawks were never championship contenders during those years (they never won more than nine games in a season during that span), Kennedy was one of the team’s consistent bright spots. Having recorded 14 sacks in the 1992 season, he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. His list of career accolades is long: eight Pro Bowl selections, three first-team All-Pro selections, member of NFL 1990s All-Decade Team, member of the Seahawks’ Ring of Honor, and named best athlete (not limited to football players) to wear the number 96 by SI.com. And now enshrinement into the Hall of Fame.
While being named to the Hall of Fame is certainly the greatest honor the football community can bestow upon a player, it might not seem as big of a deal to Cortez, who has a stretch of U.S. Highway 61 near his hometown of Osceola, Arkansas named after him. He’ll certainly accept the honor, though, and his presenter at the ceremony will be Dixie Fraley Keller. Dixie is the widow of his agent, Robert Fraley, who died in 1999 in the plane crash that claimed the life of golfer Payne Stewart. Kennedy credits Fraley for teaching him how to be a professional off the football field.
Like Curtis Martin, Dermontti Dawson didn’t really start to focus on football until late in high school—as a junior. For college, he stayed close to home, attending the University of Kentucky, where he played at center and guard. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second round of the 1988 draft and became starting center (#63, below) in his second year with the team, after future Hall of Fame center Mike Webster left.
As I mentioned in Naptime Huddle’s discussion of offensive line “Stars and Legends,” it’s difficult to pinpoint what makes an offensive lineman one of the best, much less Hall of Fame material. I did, however, point out some of the “intangibles” that Hall of Fame voters might consider in casting their ballots: longevity, consistency and the opinions of other players and coaches. Dermontti was the model of longevity and consistency: over his twelve-season career, he played in 170 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in Steelers history.
When it came to the opinion of his peers, Dawson gets the checkmark again. He quickly earned the nickname “Dirt” in reference to the way he would try to grind defenders into the turf. Dermontti was known for being one of the first centers who was agile enough to pull on running plays, helping to create holes for the runner instead of just driving back the defenders. He was named to the Pro Bowl every year from 1992 to 1998 and, along with Cortez Kennedy, was named to the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team. Steve Parker, Dawson’s high school football coach, will be his presenter at the enshrinement ceremony.*
Come back tomorrow for profiles on the remaining member of the Class of 2012!
*Dawson is actually one of the former players who have sued the NFL over head trauma sustained during their careers—the concussion lawsuit. It will be interesting to see if he mentions the suit in his speech on Saturday.