Curtis Martin never played for the Pittsburgh Steelers. In fact, his favorite football memory is eliminating them from the playoffs. But his is a Pittsburgh native, born and raised, and a graduate from the Pittsburgh Panthers program. A five-time Pro Bowler, a three-time All-Pro, and a Hall of Famer, he is certainly one of the greats, with over 14,000 rushing yards and 90 touchdowns to his name.
He has some advice for one former Pitt third-round running back to another, in current Steelers starter James Conner. Martin went through a series of injuries during his collegiate career, though he got over that issue in the NFL. Conner’s injury history has drawn a lot of criticism against him.
“One thing that I’ve learned about the criticism is that you can never really control it”, Martin told Tim Benz. “One of the practices that I’ve implemented in my life is learning how to not allow what I can’t control to affect me. That would definitely be my one piece of advice, because a lot of people say, ‘I don’t care what people say’, or ‘I don’t care what people think’, but most of the time, we’re lying. I’ve found it out myself in caring what people think sometimes”.
“I think there’s a healthiness to understanding how people think, but I think it becomes detrimental to yourself when you allow it to influence your own mindset, and the way and how you do things”, he added. “So I would definitely say, learn to block the noise out. That is what’s most important. And then, on the other hand, do what’s best for your body. Keep in mind, you always want to be out there on the field when you’re a professional athlete”.
Though he only missed eight games in his career—four in his final season—he wasn’t always healthy. in fact, he had a serious knee injury in 2004, his penultimate season, when he led the league with 1697 rushing yards at the age of 31.
“I had a really bad knee injury. My MCL, it was almost a grade-three tear, so it was so loose, and I played with it from I believe the sixth or seventh game throughout the rest of the season”, he told Benz. “But at that time, when the doctors were telling me that I needed to sit out and let it rest and I may need surgery, I’ll never forget, I called Parcells, and I said, ‘look, this thing is really bothering me, it feels wobbly, I don’t even feel stable on it’. I said, ‘what do you think I should do?’”
“He said, ‘well, you know Boy Wonder, I always think that you should take care of your body, take care of yourself’”, he recalled. “’I think that’s your priority, and that’s what you should do, because you never know how it’ll affect you long-term’. He said, ‘but on the other hand, you never really want to come out of the huddle because you never know who’s going in the huddle’. And that just stuck with me forever”.
As for Conner, the Steelers actually have a somewhat intriguing stable of running backs right now behind him, including Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland, Jaylen Samuels, and Kerrith Whyte. Perhaps only Snell out of that group would profile as a workhorse-capable guy. But two guys can just as easily replace you in the huddle as one.