Emotional Curtis Martin leads class of 2012 into Hall of Fame
CANTON, Ohio -- Former Jets and Patriots running back Curtis Martin delivered an emotional speech upon being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday night, talking about a difficult childhood in which his late father abused his mother for several years and of how the scars from the murders of his grandmother and aunt nearly destroyed his family.
Martin teared up as he talked about his childhood experiences while growing up in Pittsburgh. He paid tribute to his mother, Rochella, who wept openly after hearing him tell the crowd and a nationwide television audience of her struggles.
Martin later said those childhood problems eventually helped him become the Hall of Fame running back he is today.
"When I was 5 years old, I remember him torturing my mother," Martin said. Martin recalled times when his father, Curtis Martin Sr., would scald her with hot water from the bathtub and display other abusive behavior.
"He'd put cigarette burns on her legs, which she bears today," Martin said. "I've seen him beat her up, throw her down the steps. I've watched my mother get punched in the face, go to work with a black eye with makeup on and work two jobs just to support her family."
Martin then told of the day when his mother found her own mother in her bedroom, murdered with a "knife in her chest, eyes wide open, blood everywhere."
When Martin was 13, his mother's sister was killed. And when Martin was 15, someone put a loaded gun to his head and pulled the trigger seven times.
"The bullet never came out," he said.
But when the gun was pointed away from Martin and the assailant fired again, a bullet did come out.
"I was too young to even recognize that God was saving my life," he said.
Martin eventually played football as a senior in high school after his mother begged him to find something to keep him off the streets of their crime-ridden neighborhood. And Saturday night, he looked back and expressed his heartfelt gratitude for what they had gone through.
"If something happens to you," Martin remembers her telling him back then, "they might as well kill me, too, because you're the only thing I'm living for."
Martin recalled a time during his junior season at Pittsburgh, where he was a star running back, when he sat in a church to seek guidance for his life.
"I remember sitting in the balcony, I looked up at the ceiling, and I said, 'Listen, man, I don't know nothing about you or this Jesus cat that everybody talks about. But I'm going to make a deal with you. If you let me live past 21, I promise I'll try to do my best and live right and do what you want me to do. I know you're a smart guy."
Martin looked his audience at Fawcett Stadium, just yards away from the Hall of Fame, and said, "I'm 39 years old, and God has definitely held up his end of the bargain. I'm going to spend the rest of my life trying to hold up my end of the bargain."
Martin went on to say that his greatest accomplishment wasn't all the yards he gained -- 14,101 in all, the fourth-highest total in NFL history -- but helping his mother deal with her anger and eventually forgive her ex-husband, who died two years ago.
"My greatest achievement in my life was helping my mother and nurturing my mother from the beaten and angry person she was to have a healthy mind-set and to forgive my father for everything he did to her," Martin said. "By the time he died, she was cooking for him and taking food to him."
Martin was presented by former head coach Bill Parcells, who was with the Patriots when Martin was drafted in the third round. Parcells signed Martin as a restricted free agent with the Jets in 1998.
Parcells called Martin "the poster child for what the NFL is supposed to be. You come into the league, maximize your ability, save your money, make a smooth transition to society and pass those things along to other people."