Curtis Martin’s rushing title in 2004 was already one of the most impressive accomplishments on the resume of the Hall of Fame running back.
It got a whole lot more impressive on Tuesday when Martin revealed what was happening in his knee while racking up 1,697 rushing yards. In a podcast with Tim Benz of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Martin said that he played most of the season with a torn MCL.
Martin’s comments, via CBS Sports:
"My MCL had almost a grade 3 tear in it," Martin told Tim Benz of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "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."
By then the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Parcells reportedly cautioned Martin about the long-term health risks, but also the short-term risks of allowing his spot atop the New York depth chart to open:
"I said, 'Coach, look, this thing is really bothering me. It feels wobbly, like I don't even feel stable on it. What do you think I should do?' I said, 'I think I can bear the pain, it's not the pain, it's just whether or not it's best for me.'
"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 effect you longterm. 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."
The rest is history. Martin chose to keep playing and finished the season with 1,697 rushing yards, 245 receiving yards and 14 total touchdowns for a 10-6 Jets team. He led the NFL in carries with 371.
It was the first time a running back had led the NFL in rushing after his 30th birthday since the merger. Adrian Peterson has since matched the feat in 2015.
Sadly, Martin would encounter more knee problems the next season in 2005 and see a drop-off in his play with a career-worst 735 rushing yards on 3.3 yards per carry. He then missed the 2006 season with injuries and announced his retirement in July 2007.
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