As much as Jets fans appreciated Curtis Martin the football player, it seems they have come to appreciate him even more as Curtis Martin the man. That was evident after Martin's moving Hall of Fame speech in August, and the running back's legacy was cemented forever at halftime of Sunday's season opener against Buffalo when he became the fourth Jet to have his jersey retired.
Before the game, Martin said having his No. 28 take its place alongside quarterback Joe Namath, wide receiver Don Maynard and defensive lineman Joe Klecko was "almost even bigger than the Hall of Fame because it's the hometown, it's the crowd that I played in front of for all these years, and I'm just excited."
Martin was presented his Hall of Fame ring and Namath and Maynard then unveiled Martin's framed jersey.
In the course of an 11-season NFL career, the last eight of which were spent with the Jets, Martin amassed 14,101 rushing yards, the fourth-highest total in NFL history when he retired after the 2005 season.
Reflecting on his early days in New England under coach Bill Parcells, who later coached him with the Jets, Martin said he always asked the coach how he was doing. Parcells told him the game would tell him.
"Last month, the game told me I was a Hall of Famer," Martin said, "and now you all are telling me no Jet should ever, for all eternity, wear No. 28 again. I'm so humbled. Standing here, one of the most fulfilling things in life is knowing I worked hard and you [fans] appreciated it . . . I want you all to know a part of who I am today is because of you."
At his Hall of Fame enshrinement last month, Martin told his improbable story in a moving 25-minute speech delivered from the heart without notes. He bared his soul, telling of his frequent brushes with death in his dangerous Pittsburgh neighborhood and the abuse he saw his mother suffer from a husband who abandoned them -- but who later reconciled with the family through Martin's nurturing and forgiveness.
Martin said the reaction to his remarkable speech has been overwhelming and immensely gratifying. Summing up his message, he said: "I've tried to really create my life around doing what's right. A lot of people say the good guy never wins, and I feel like I'm proof that, if you do things the right way and you work hard enough, the good guy can win."