Ex-Jets RB Curtis Martin Says He Won 2004 NFL Rushing Title with Torn MCL

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistMay 20, 2020

FILE - In this Jan. 15, 2005, file phot, New York Jets running back Curtis Martin carries the ball against the San Diego Chargers during an NFL football game in San Diego. Martin was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on  Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi, File)
LENNY IGNELZI/Associated Press

Curtis Martin had a superb season for the New York Jets in 2004, rushing for an NFL-leading 1,697 yards to go along with 12 touchdowns. And the Hall of Famer apparently did it all with a torn MCL.   

"My MCL had almost a Grade 3 tear in it," he told Tim Benz of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on his Breakfast with Benz podcast (h/t Bryan DeArdo of CBS Sports). "It was so loose. I played with it from I believe the sixth or seventh game throughout the rest of the season. At the time, the doctors were telling me that I needed to sit out and let it rest and I may need surgery." 

Martin said he reached out to his former coach Bill Parcells for advice, telling him he could bear the pain but was worried that his knee felt unstable and he might do worse damage to it:

"He said, 'Well, you know Boy Wonder, I always think that you should take care of your body, take care of yourself. I think that's your priority and that's what you should do because you never know how it will affect you long term. But on the other hand, you never really wanna come out of the huddle because you never know who who's going into the huddle.' And that just stuck with me forever. He had told me something similar to that when I was a rookie, and so it's always been my passion that no one else should ever get in that huddle."

Not only did Martin play, but he also led the NFL in carries that year (371). To put that in perspective, only three running backs since 2004 have had more carries in a season: Michael Turner in 2008 (376), DeMarco Murray in 2014 (392) and Larry Johnson in 2006 (416). 

In the age of teams turning to committees at running back, those numbers are staggering. No player since Murray has had 350 or more carries in a season. Since 2015, only four players (Ezekiel Elliott three times, Derrick Henry in 2019, Le'Veon Bell in 2017 and Adrian Peterson in 2015) have exceeded 300 carries in a season. 

Martin would play just one more season after 2004, finishing his career with 3,518 carries (fourth in NFL history), 14,101 rushing yards (sixth) and 90 rushing touchdowns (13th). Putting the five-time Pro Bowler, 1995 Rookie of the Year and 2004 first-team All-Pro selection into the Hall of Fame was an easy decision. 

And his 2004 season—the only time in his career he led the league in rushing—has only added to his legend.