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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

New England Sports 366, #28: Curtis Martin

Martin played only three seasons in Foxboro. Yet he's fourth all-time in franchise rushing yards, and very well might be the best running back in team history. Cunningham? Nance? Dillon? It's an argument, but I'll take #28. He arrived in New England in the third round of the 1995 NFL draft, an injury-plagued Pitt Panther. He seized the starting job and rushed for over 100 yards in his debut against the Browns, the first Patriot back to top that number in his first game. He'd go over 100 yards in eight more games that year, en route to leading the AFC with nearly 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was the missing piece along with Bledsoe and Glenn that should have kicked off the Patriots dynasty several years earlier.

Martin was the first franchise back I can remember for the Pats (no, Leonard Russell doesn't count). My most vivid memory of him is from that legendary foggy playoff game against Pittsburgh in January 1997, when he scored three times with 166 yards. Martin survived a dangerous childhood in Pittsburgh, turning reluctantly to football at the behest of his mother as a way to avoid trouble. Devoutly Christian, he would often praise his tacklers' good hits and tell them "God bless you". He wore #28 at his pastor's suggestion, and his pre-game ritual was to read Deuteronomy 28, a paean to the blessings that come from obedience.

Martin went to the Jets in a controversial free-agent signing after the 1997 season. He'd lead the Jets to a couple of AFC title games, and put up over 14,000 yards and become a no-brainer inductee to the Hall of Fame. He's also a lock for the Hall of What Might Have Been. Imagine peak Martin in the backfield behind Brady. Those first three Super Bowls might have been five or six.

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