- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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FORT WORTH, Texas -- Curtis Martin belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he belongs now, not in a year or two. Only 65 of the 270 current Hall of Famers made it in their first year of eligibility, and if Martin is excluded from that select fraternity, it will be wrong, bad wrong.
"Running back is a production position, and his production is indisputable," Bill Parcells said Monday from his home in South Florida. "He should be going in on roller skates."
Parcells is Martin's forever coach, and he admittedly is prejudiced on this matter, but "The Tuna" is right. Martin is the fourth-leading rusher in NFL history, behind Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders.
He's not the fourth-leading rusher of the decade or fourth in the Super Bowl era. His total -- 14,101 yards -- is the fourth-best ever.
Ever covers a lot of running backs. That alone should be enough for a bronze bust in Canton. Consider:
Three others in the top 10 -- Eric Dickerson, Tony Dorsett and Jim Brown -- were elected on their first try. Jerome Bettis and Marshall Faulk, like Martin, are first-timers on this year's ballot. The other back in the top 10, LaDainian Tomlinson, still is active.
So it should be a no-brainer for Martin. The 44-member committee will vote Saturday in Dallas, with the inductees set to be announced at 7 p.m. ET.
The alleged knock on Martin is that he wasn't a breakaway threat, that he didn't produce a lot of highlight-film runs. When that was mentioned to Parcells, he laughed.
"It doesn't make a difference what it looks like," said Parcells, who drafted Martin for the New England Patriots in 1995 and later coached him again with the New York Jets. "What matters is the production, and his production was better than all but three guys in history."
Martin's greatness was his consistency. He and Sanders are the only players in history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in each of their first 10 seasons. Sunday after Sunday, month after month, season after season, Martin was there, churning out his yardage.
From 1995 to 2004, when he won the NFL rushing crown at the age of 32 (still the oldest), Martin missed only four games. He played hurt. There were times, he said, when it hurt so much that he felt tears welling in his eyes before each snap. One season, he played with a torn muscle in his buttocks. It hurts just writing that.
"It's about sustained excellence," Parcells said. "That goes for any Hall of Fame player in any sport. ... Some of the ones that were terrific for a while didn't stand the test of time. Curtis went 10 years at a high level; that's two times the life span of the average running back.
"You look at Terrell Davis; he was a really great player. You look at [Hall of Famer] Gale Sayers, another great player. They were tremendous, but they didn't do it for 10 years."
Martin, one of 15 finalists, faces some tough competition. Faulk and Deion Sanders, both in their first year of eligibility, are considered locks. They should be. Willie Roaf is another first-timer. Other finalists include Cris Carter, Andre Reed, Tim Brown, Shannon Sharpe and Dermontti Dawson. Up to five modern-era candidates can be selected each year.
Martin wasn't just a numbers guy; he was a quiet leader, revered among teammates and opponents. Can anybody dig up a negative comment that was said about him? Go ahead -- try to Google something. You won't find anything.
He was a class act. He once said he made it a point to collect the used towels in the locker room once a week, his way of staying grounded. Can you name another star who has done that? There were a couple of times when he took himself out of the game in goal-line situations, just so his onetime backup, LaMont Jordan, could score the touchdown.
Parcells still remembers the first scouting report he received on Martin. It came from Maurice Carthon, the Patriots' running backs coach, who traveled to Martin's school, Pitt, on a reconnaissance mission.
"I'll never forget what Mo said," Parcells said. "He said, 'This is our guy, but you're going to be suspicious. He's too good to be true.'"
Parcells called Martin his "Boy Wonder." Now it's time to call him a Hall of Famer.
2hOhm Youngmisuk and Rich Cimini