First of all, I just want to thank you all. It’s been a long night, and thank you for your patience and your support for everybody up here on this stage. I also want to thank Cortez Kennedy for speaking so long that God decided to turn the lights out. Also, you know something, I learned so much this weekend. Something I didn’t know, excuse me for a second. This has nothing to do with the Hall of Fame.
But Willie Roaf, can you stand up for one second? You see how big this man is? So we come in on Thursday, and we’re all sitting around, and this big dude, right here, imagine this guy is so big. He said, “Hey, y’all, let’s go get some mani and pedis and go get a facial.” I said, “What, man, what?” All right, all right, all right. I’m sorry, Roaf, I said I was going to pick on you about that.
Well, listen, this has just been unbelievable for me. I’ll tell you this, I came into Canton this week, and everyone here who knows me, this section, everyone knows me. You know that I was never a football fan. I wasn’t the type of guy to watch football. I could probably count on one hand how many football games I’ve watched from beginning to end in my lifetime.
Also, another thing about me is I played running back. I’m up here because of how many yards I ran. Everyone who knows me also knows that I hate to run. I don’t like to run at all. I box now to stay in shape just because I don’t want to run anywhere.
But this has been an incredible road for me. 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.
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.”
No, you’re laughing, but this is the truth. I turned around and said, “I don’t want to play football. I don’t even know that I like football enough to try to make a career out of it.” My pastor at the time was a guy by the name of Leroy Joseph, and I’m so glad he was there to talk some sense into me. He says, “Curtis, look at it this way, man.” He said, “Maybe football is just something that God is giving you to do all those wonderful things that you say you want to do for other people.” I tell you, it was like a light bulb came on in my head.
That became my connection with football. I don’t know if he wouldn’t have said that to me if football would have gotten out of me what it got out of me. I definitely wouldn’t be standing here. And ever since he said that, I knew the only way I was going to be successful at this game called football is if I played for a purpose that was bigger than the game itself because I knew that the love for the game just wasn’t in my heart.
Let me say this: This weekend, and I’ll tell you this, and this is God’s honest truth, I came up here. I had a chance to spend time with the older guys and the guys who have been inducted. I had a chance to listen to their experience. On Friday morning, we went and listened to Ralph Wilson speak. Just the passion that he had for this game, being one of the founders, one of the founding fathers of this game, there was something that rubbed off on me, and literally yesterday I felt like it was my first day as a fan of the game of football.
Let me tell you about how I got started playing. So I grew up in a pretty bad neighborhood. But the household that I lived in was even worse. I had a father who I love him dearly and he’s passed and gone on, but he was my guy before he died. But when I was 5 years old, I remember watching him torture my mother, I mean, literally. I don’t necessarily have notes, so I’m going to bare my soul and just bear with me.
But I remember watching him torture you. He had my mother locked in the bathroom. Had her sitting on the edge of the tub, and he turned on all the hot water and stopped the tub up so that the hot water would eventually flow on her legs. He dared her to move. As the hot water flowed up and started going on her legs and going on her feet and she would flinch a little bit, he would rush into the bathroom, take her hair and burn it with a lighter. He would come back out, watch her some more, she’d move again, and he would go in there with a cigarette and put cigarette burns all over her legs which she still bares to this day. I’ve seen him beat her up like she was a man. I’ve seen him throw her down the steps. I’ve witnessed this woman go to they got a bet on whether I’m going to cry or not. So I’m going to hold it in.
I’ve watched my mother get punched in the face, have a black eye and then go to work with make up on just to support our family. I’ve watched this. She did everything to raise me and in hindsight when you’re a kid and your mother’s tough on you, you don’t necessarily understand why. I used to think it was because my dad was so tough on her that it would just naturally make her tough on me.
I heard a saying one time that says, “Hurt people, hurt people.” And my mother was dealing with so much hurt and pain, and I know that she had to take some of that out somewhere. Mom, I’m so grateful that I was there for you to even take some of that pain out on, because you deserved it.
By the time I was 5, my dad was gone. My mother, because we couldn’t afford it, she would work two and three jobs. She tied a shoe string around my neck with a key and taught me how to come in the house. I’d come from kindergarten and first grade almost for two years and stay in the house by myself till like 9:30, 10:00 at night, and my mother said it broke her heart every single day walking up those steps. We lived in sort of a low income housing project type environment, and I would always be sitting in that front window because I was scared.
So I was so petrified of being in the house by myself. I didn’t even watch “Scooby Doo”. I was that scared. The ghosts on “Scooby Doo” scared the heck out of me.
But my mother made a way for me to start staying in between her and my grandmother. When I was 9, my mother, she walks into my grandmother’s bedroom and found her murdered. Found her murdered with a knife in her chest, and her neck was broken and everything, eyes wide open, blood everywhere.
And for me as a little kid, all the other family, they come in and you hear the whispers from adults as a little kid, and they affect you a certain way. I just heard everyone saying, “If that happened to me, I would go crazy. I would lose my mind.” For me, crazy was kind of like what my dad was. So in my mind, as a 9 year old, my mother told me the only thing that got her through that was I came up to her and grabbed her hand and said, “Mom, are you going crazy?” And she looked down at me and said, “No. Why do you ask me that?” And I just said, “Well, that’s good because if you go crazy, nobody’s going to be here to take care of me.” I’m so grateful to my mother. That is the strongest individual that I’ve ever known, and I appreciate her so much.
If all those things and the story gets better. But just for right now, just entertain me. If that wasn’t enough on my mother. When I was 13, her sister, who was like my other mother got killed and died an even worse or more painful death than my grandmother did. Even through that, my mother stayed strong and raised me.
By the time I was 15, growing up in the environment that I was in, I had so many brushes with death. I remember one distinct time a guy had a gun to my head, a loaded gun to my head, pulled the trigger seven times. God’s honest truth, the bullet didn’t come out. He wasn’t pointing the gun at me and pulled the trigger and a bullet came out. I was too young to even recognize that God was saving my life.
You get to by the time I’m in high school. By this time I’m a full-fledged product of my environment. I’ve done a lot of things that I’m not proud of. But my mother comes to me and she says, “Curt, listen. Your grandmother’s gone. My sister’s gone. You’ve had so many brushes with death yourself, I’m just going to tell you this, Curt, I want you to do something after school. It doesn’t matter what it is. It could be football, baseball, basketball, join the glee club, join the band, whatever it may be. Just do something so you’re not in this neighborhood 24 hours a day, just take up two extra hours of your time.” She said, “Because if something happens to you, they might as well kill me too, because you’re the only thing that I’m living for.”
Mom, I thank you so much for the sacrifices that you’ve made for me. I wasn’t persuaded on football. I thought I was a better baseball player, so I thought I would end up playing baseball. But it was too hot in the summer, so I was like “No, no baseball.” Basketball I was just like, “Well, I’m only at most probably going to grow to be 6 foot. I’m not that great to be a 6 foot point guard in the NBA.”
And at the same time my gym teacher was the head football coach. His name is Mark Wittgartner, he’s here. He comes up to me while we’re in school, and he says, “Son, I want you to play for our football team.” I said, well, “I don’t really have an interest, Coach.”
He said, well, listen, if you don’t do something with your life, from what I hear about you, you’re going to end up dead or in jail pretty soon.
With him in one ear and my mother in the other ear, football became the default that I fell into. And Coach Mark Wittgartner, you have no idea what you were saying to me, but I believe what you said could have been the possible thing that saved my life. I think you were right.
He also told me, “Curtis, if you play, I think you’ll get a scholarship. I think you’re that good. You’ll get a scholarship to anywhere you want to go in the country.” But to me, I didn’t really care, it didn’t make sense. But it was like, “No, now that’s two thing that’s I don’t like, football and school.” I wasn’t really for that, but to appease my mother, I played football.
I ended up doing well in football. My senior year I broke about every rushing record. And just like Coach Mark Wittgartner said, every school in the country recruited me. And I had to go to college, reluctantly. And because Pitt was right down the street, I chose Pitt by default.
I’m so grateful to Coach Sal Sunseri and Coach Paul Hackett, because my freshman year, they were the ones who kind of kept me straight. Just to fast forward to me going into the NFL, well, even before that, by the time I was a junior, my life was so bad that I literally thought this is something everyone knows I always thought I would die before I was 21.
So when I was 20 years old, I just said, you know what, I’ve got to go to the nearest church. I had never went to church. My mother never raised me telling me about God or anything. But I said I’ve got to go to the nearest church and tell this God, God, thank you, because I know I’m not faster than a bullet. I’m not Superman. But somehow I seem to have had more than nine lives.
I remember, and this is one of the most surreal moments in my life. I remember sitting there after the preacher had preached his sermon, and I’m up in the balcony and everyone was getting up leaving, and I just sat there. I looked up at the ceiling and I said and at that time I was a street guy.
So I looked up and talked to God like he was one of my boys in the street. I said, “Listen, man, I don’t know nothing about you or this Jesus cat that everybody talk about, but I’m going to make a deal with you. I heard about people making deals with the devil, but I don’t want to do that. I’m going to make a deal with you. If you let me live past 21, dude, I promise that I’ll just try to do my best and try to live right and try to do whatever you want me to do. I know you’re a smart person, if you’re God.”
So there has to be a bigger purpose for my life than what I’m experiencing. There’s got to be more to life than this. I tell you what. I’m 39 years old now, and God has definitely upheld his end of the bargain, and I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to do mine, uphold my end of the bargain.
Back to football. Let me just tell you some Parcells-isms, I like to call them. Because I tell you this, this guy has taught me, and another thing, even though I didn’t initially like playing football or anything, as I played, I began to understand that football was shaping me as a man. It was like I was learning about life through football. It was the first time in my life that I ever committed to something and stuck to it. It was the first time that I worked hard to really give my all toward something because I didn’t want to squander the opportunity that I had.
But Parcells, there are so many Parcells stories and I’m not going to tell them all because I’m going to try to be brief. Well, that’s a foregone conclusion.
I’ll never forget. I was injured one day, and it was really bad. Coach Parcells was like my consigliore, isn’t that what they call it in the mob? So I would always call him when I was making big decisions. So I call him, I said, Coach, my knee is really killing me. I don’t know that I can play with it.
He said, “Curtis, well, listen, I’m a big fan of you taking care of your body first.” But he said I’ve always believed one thing, Curtis. I said, “what’s that, Coach?” You know that voice Parcells has. “You should never come out of the huddle because you never know who is going in the huddle.” And that was something that stuck with me.
Again, that’s one of the lessons that the NFL taught me. You’re always replaceable. There is someone always right on your heels. And every year, I tell you, there was someone. I’m not being modest, there was someone on that team had that had more ability, was quicker, stronger, faster and I just outworked everyone.
Another Parcells story because you’ve got to understand this guy was the first male that I had as a positive role model. I looked up to him and hung on to every word he said. One day we’re in practice and he calls me off the field. So I go over to the sideline and said, “hey, what’s up, Coach?” He’s like he called me Boy Wonder. He said, “Boy Wonder, have you been working hard?” I said, “yeah, of course, Coach. I mean, you know, that’s just what I do. I want to outwork everybody in the building, not just the players, I mean, the janitors, front office people, everybody. I said, but why would you ask me that?” He said, “I just want to make sure you’re not fooling yourself.” I said, “What does that one mean?”
He said, “Boy Wonder, as long as you live, never forget this. There is a big difference between routine and commitment.” He said some people just do the same routine over and over again in life. He said some people even get better at that same routine over and over in life. But there are few people who commit to the next level. And I tell you, that left an impression on me that even though I knew I had worked hard, it made me work harder. And I applied that principle to every facet of my life. Mentally, emotionally, spiritually, financially, however it may have been, I’m always trying to commit to the next level. Thank you, Coach Parcells.
One last football story. I promise. It’s a funny one. I remember that whole not coming out of the huddle thing. I was jealous of any other running back that stepped foot in that huddle. I didn’t want anyone else going in there. We’re playing the Raiders one day. My fullbacks knew the rule was if you see me lying on the ground because I usually pop right back up after I get hurt. If you see me laying on the ground I’m probably dazed or knocked out or something. Come pick me up and shake me.
So we’re playing the Raiders and I get hit down field. I pop up, but I realize everything is black. I’m like, oh, my gosh. I’m kind of knocked out. So I’m trying to hold on to people. I finally make my way back to the huddle. I’m standing in the huddle for a while, and I just have my hands on my hip. The guy turns around and he says, what are you doing? And I like looked again. I was in the Raiders huddle. I thought that I was just I thought that it was just black because I hadn’t come to yet. But I was in the Raiders huddle.
At the end of the day, football has taught me so much. I’ll forever be grateful to this game. I wish I could go back and play my career with the perspective of football that I have now.
I was asked by a reporter earlier this week, I was asked if I would allow my child to play football. I said, well, football’s getting bigger, stronger, faster and tougher, I don’t know. I would probably be reluctant. But if my kid can learn what I learned from this game, I’d let him play. I think it’s worth the risk.
At the end of the day, I’ve achieved a lot of things, and I’ve done a lot of wonderful things in life that I’m so grateful for. But I tell you my greatest achievement in my life was helping my mother and nurturing my mother from the bitter, angry, beaten, hurt person that she was, nurturing her to be a healthy to have a healthy mindset, and to forgive my father for everything that he did to her. That’s my greatest accomplishment.
By the time he died, she was cooking him food every day and taking it to him. And she is so happy right now, and I’m so grateful for her.
But out of all the things that I’ve achieved, it’s not necessarily what you achieve in life that matters most, but it’s who you become in the process of those achievements that really matters.
In closing, there are just a couple people that I would like to also thank. Again, Dary Stone. This is a guy who has been like my father figure. He’s been the person who has taken the place of just about everyone else, every male role model in my life. You’ve been the best person for me to look up to. I honor and respect you. The reason I’m the man I am today is because of what you taught me, Dary, thank you.
I’d also like to thank my beautiful, beautiful wife. I just got married a couple years ago. We have a little 7-month old named Ava, and honey, I’d just like to thank you. Can I just have one thing? Can I have all of my ex-teammates, whether you were in Pitt, New England, or the Jets. Can I have you stand up for one second? You guys, I just want you to know that you guys are like the brothers I never had. Many of you have carried me. You’ve taught me so much. In our classroom it was always fun because I never really understood the X’s and O’s of football, so people always made fun of me.
But you guys, I really appreciate you all, and I appreciate every coach and everyone who has had anything to do with my playing career. Thank you.
I would also like to thank the owners that I played for. Mr. Kraft, the Hesses, and Mr. Woody Johnson. Mr. Kraft, you’ve been great to me. You guys used to invite me over to your house to eat, and I really appreciate that. Mr. Johnson, you still continue to help me in my life after football, and all the business things that I’m doing. I really appreciate you both.
If I could, I really wish that I could ask God to stand up right now, because I tell you this, I’m not living, I’m not breathing, my life is nothing without God. And I’m probably one of the most humbled. I’m so grateful and so appreciative for what God has done in my life.
Last but not least, I’d just like to thank all the fans. When I realized that football was a vehicle, I used it to impact people’s lives and do positive things. But I also used football as a vehicle to reach fans and speak to fans and get to know you all because a lot of what you all do, you just don’t know how much it means to us on the field. So thank you all.
At my eulogy, I don’t want my daughter or whoever it may be giving my eulogy to talk about how many yards I gained or touchdowns I scored. I want my daughter to be able to talk about the man that Curtis Martin was. How when she was growing up, she looked for a man who was like her father. That he was a man of integrity, a man of strong character, and a God fearing man. That’s what I want.
Then at the end of the day, she could say, oh yeah, and he was a pretty good football player. Thank you all.