As it often does, the Pro Football Hall of Fame saved the best for last.
Running back Curtis Martin, fourth on the all-time rushing list, entered Canton the right way, with a stirring, heartfelt, notes-free speech that was inspiring, moving, and entertaining.
Martin explained that he wasn’t a football fan. After then-Patriots coach Bill Parcells called Martin to advise the former Pitt Panther that he’d been selected in the third round of the 1995 draft, Martin said, “Oh my gosh, I don’t want to play football.”
Martin said that his pastor at the time put the situation in perspective. “Curtis, look at it this way,” LeRoy Joseph told Martin. “Maybe football is just something God is giving you to do all those wonderful things that you say you want to do for other people.”
The man who went on to play for the Patriots and Jets explained that he decided in that moment he would embrace the game. Martin also said that, on Friday of this week, he finally became a fan of football after hearing 93-year-old Bills owner Ralph Wilson speak passionately about the sport — and after spending time with current and former Hall of Famers.
Only a portion of his words related to football. Martin shared details about his difficult upbringing, from examples of physical and mental abuse inflicted by his late father on Martin’s mother to an instance in which a man held a gun to Martin’s head, pulling the trigger seven times without the bullet coming out. And when the man pulled the trigger when the gun wasn’t pointed at Martin’s head, the bullet emerged.
Martin eventually made a deal with God, pledging to live the right way and do whatever God wants from Martin if Martin makes it past 21 years of age. Now 39, Martin said, “God has upheld his end of the bargain and I’m gonna spend the rest of my life trying to uphold my end of the bargain.”
Martin upheld his end of the bargain on Saturday night, with the kind of candor that can persuade others in difficult situations to not give up — or to resolve to find a way to make things better.