Curtis Martin will enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend as one of the six being inducted into the 2012 class. There’s no denying Martin, who never won a Super Bowl, is worthy of the illustrious honor and permanent place in the annals of NFL success.
Martin, who was shut down from injuries after 11 solid NFL seasons, could have entered discussions to be one of the greatest running backs of all time.
Yes, there have been some truly dominant running backs that have played the game. Yes, Curtis Martin never won a Super Bowl.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at his accomplishments.
Martin burst onto the scene in 1995 by winning rookie of the year honors. For the next decade he rushed for over 1,000 yards per season. Barry Sanders is the only other rusher to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first 10 seasons in the NFL.
When all was said and done, he collected 90 rushing and 10 receiving touchdowns over the course of his 11-year career. He amassed over 14,000 yards on the ground and over 3,000 through the air, making him a legitimate dual-threat back.
In 2004, his second-to-last season, he rushed for a career best 1,697 yards and scored on 14 total touchdowns. He wasn’t on a decline, even after his tenth season.
2005 came and Martin was on the brink of setting an NFL rushing record. If he broke the 1,000 yard mark again he would have become the ONLY running back in NFL history to accomplish that feat in the first 11 years of his career. He finished with 735 yards after missing the final three games of the season with a career ending knee injury. Obviously, he could have easily reached the century mark had he been able to finish the season.
Martin, 32 at the time of the injury, retired after spending 2006 on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. At 31 years old he became the oldest player to win a rushing title. From the looks of things, he could have easily played three more years of productive football had the injury not shut him down.
With Martin’s accolades in mind, take a look at some of the greatest running backs of all time in order to put his performance into context.
Payton collected two NFL MVP awards and won Super Bowl XX with the 1985 Chicago Bears. He amassed 110 touchdowns in 13 seasons in the league. The former Bears back is second all time in rushing yards after being surpassed by Emmitt Smith in 2004.
In 15 seasons, Smith racked up 164 touchdowns while winning three Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys in the 1990s. He is all-time leading rusher with 18,355 yards.
In only nine seasons in the NFL, Brown crossed the end zone 106 times for the then dominant Cleveland Browns. His efforts led to Pro Bowl selections in each of his nine seasons and eight First-Team All-Pro picks. He only amassed 12,312 yards due to the length of his career, good enough for ninth all time.
If you define greatness by the amount of Super Bowl victories a player accumulates you might not recognize Martin’s significant accomplishments. However, the running back is fourth all time in rushing yards, trailing only Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders. Because of Martin’s marathon career and endurance, Smith’s record of 18,355 yards may have been attainable for Martin had he been able to play as many seasons as Smith did.
He consistently provided his team with a dynamic rushing threat that teams had to game-plan for.
In 1996, his sophomore season in the NFL, Martin had a chance for Super Bowl glory. However, Green Bay had some Hall of Famers of their own on their side. Martin’s 18-yard scamper for a touchdown brought the game within reach until Desmond Howard’s legendary 99-yard kickoff return sealed their fate.
Even without the awards and Super Bowl championships of his peers, he’s still now enshrined forever in the Hall of Fame as one of the best to ever play the game. His fourth-ranked career rushing total looks to be secure for a while as no other active players are even currently in the top 30 of the list. As the NFL continues to employ multiple-back systems and increasing emphasis placed in the passing game, you have to wonder if it will ever be surpassed.
Martin certainly had the potential to be much, much more had some things gone differently.
What do you think? Does Martin deserve to be mentioned in discussions as one of the greatest running backs of all time?