Curtis Martin is the fourth leading rusher in the NFL. His career was more than deserving of his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, selected in his second year of eligibility.
But Martin himself admits that while he thought he would be inducted into the Hall of Fame that it would happen after former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis got his day in Canton, Ohio.
"I thought he was going to make it in before I did," said Martin. "I think his credentials are Hall of Fame worthy. I thought with his notoriety, his whole body of work, I thought he would be in the Hall of Fame already."
Bettis will find out on Saturday night if he will be a member of the Hall of Fame's Class of 2015, and Martin shared why he thinks it's long overdue.
Curtis Martin on Jerome Bettis:
What made Jerome Bettis a special running back?"I think what made Jerome special is he is the first guy I saw in the NFL, or really in football, who has the size he has and the feet he has. Usually you don't see a guy that big move that quick. He was almost like a freak of nature to me. Jerome Bettis was not your normal running back. He was bigger than a fullback, but he ran. He was as quick as I was and I weighed 200 pounds. That is what I think set him apart."
What was it like to see that burst of speed from him?
"I just thought of him, and I remember we (University of Pittsburgh) played against him in college when he played for Notre Dame, I was just amazed this guy was doing what he was doing. I had never seen anyone that big move the way he did."
When you played against him, and others of that caliber, did you challenge yourself to step it up going against the best?
"I am the type of guy that I don't make my game about someone else's game, but the competitive nature in you just to make it to that level. Whenever I played against Jerome Bettis, Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Marshall Faulk or Thurman Thomas, any time I was against those guys, it made me want to have my best game just competing against them, outdoing them."
Former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter described Jerome as a linebacker playing running back. Did you see that?
"Number one he was bigger than most linebackers, which was a good thing. I agree with that 100 percent. He was a hard-nosed linebacker who played running back and could definitely make you miss. I think that was the thing that separated him. Once I got into the NFL I started seeing some of the bigger guys, but most of them were fullbacks. There weren't too many guys even close to his size that could make you miss the way he could make you miss."
You and Jerome both played at a time when stopping the run was the main focus for a defense. Did that make it even tougher to have success?**
"I speak to so many defensive players who tell me that in their game plan they said if we stop this guy, we will win the game, talking about myself. That's the way it was with Jerome and all of these backs in the NFL's Top 10 rushers. I guarantee you in every defensive meeting room that was the conversation.
"Back then it was totally different. I think Jerome would have played 20 years if he was playing now the way the game is played. I just think it's totally different now. It's a more pass oriented league. You don't see eight or nine men in the box the way they used to pile them up to stop that era of running backs. It's not that we should get more credit, but I definitely think it should be taken into consideration."
What was it like to see him last 13 seasons, especially with the way he played the game?
"It doesn't matter what size or what your attributes are, if you can last 13 years as a running back it's amazing. One of the things about Jerome it wasn't like he sat on the bench those 13 years. He was always a premiere player and most of the time a starter. For him to be able to carry the load that long, and do it so well, the guy has to get in the Hall of Fame. He really should be in the Hall of Fame in my opinion."
When you look at other running backs in the Hall of Fame, does his body of work compare to what their body of work was?
"I think he has had as good a career as all the great running backs in the Hall of Fame. He is sixth in rushing, sixth. I don't think there is anyone in the Top 10 that is eligible that isn't in the Hall of Fame. I don't know if people understand how difficult it is to crack the Top 10 list of running backs of all-time. That is an extremely difficult thing to do. I definitely think he should be in the Hall of Fame. I really, really hope he gets in this year."
If you were in the room with the Hall of Fame voters, what message would you deliver to them to tell them Jerome Bettis should be in the Hall of Fame this year?"Me being a running back, one of the things I would try to explain to them is how difficult it is to be a consistent running back from year to year. How difficult it is to be dependable year to year. How difficult at running back it is to stay healthy. The work that you have to do just to stay on the field. The injuries you have to play with. You take more hits than just about anyone on the field. For Jerome's full body of work, for him to do what he has done, for him to do it the way that he did. For him to be somewhat of a pioneer in my opinion, as far as a big guy who moved the way that he did. I don't know that we really have ever seen it. The only person that I can think of that is even close to Jerome is Earl Campbell.
"I would tell them to look at his full body of work, where he is at right now, number six on the all-time rushing list. I don't know how he is not in the Hall of Fame. I thought the guy would be in the Hall of Fame before I was."