THE MEADOWLANDS, N.J. -- Over left guard for six yards. Past the right end for eight yards. Over left guard for no gain. Over left guard for eight yards. Those were the first-quarter achievements of New York Jets running back Curtis Martin on Nov. 14, in the 100th-straight game he has started.
Big deal, you might yawn. But those short runs add up: Martin is No. 6 on the list of the National Football League's all-time leading rushers, with almost 13,000 yards. His streak began in 1998, and the second-quarter performance I saw was typical: Over right guard for one yard. Up the middle for two yards. Over right tackle for one yard. Over left guard for one yard. Over right guard for four yards. Over right tackle for eight yards. Over left tackle for seven yards. Over left guard for nine yards.
Boring, you might say. But by the end of this year, his 10th season, he is likely to be in fourth or fifth place all-time, because of runs that rarely make double digits. He continued his meat-and-potatoes work in the third-quarter: three yards over left guard, two yards over left tackle, two yards over left tackle, three yards over left guard, two yards around left end.
Wearisome -- or a model of perseverance? Martin is not the fairytale hero who kills a dragon. He's not the movie hero who saves the world from annihilation by asteroid. He's a tough player who gave the Jets a touchdown and a 7-0 lead by banging off a lineman, ricocheting off a linebacker and bouncing into the end zone. Total yards credited to his account: one.
Martin's childhood did not teach him perseverance. As he told Linda Watkins for her book, "God Just Showed Up," "When I was growing up, I didn't expect to live past the age of 21. Any day, any second, I thought I'd be dead because violence was part of my life. ... When I turned nine, my grandmother's murder reminded me I lived in a violent world. ... A knife was stuck in her chest. ... I was almost killed many times."
The discipline of sports helped to change him: "Football has taught me a lot. I've learned to work hard, be diligent and have strong faith." (Jets coach Herman Edwards simply says, "Curtis Martin understands how to work.")
That makes sense. These days, because of the interests of my youngest son, we watch the NFL Channel more than any other, and story after story has the same emphasis: It's vital to work hard and have the will to succeed.