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Steelers NFL Notebook: '02 painful memory for Jets' Martin

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

By The Associated Press

There he stood in the backfield, same as always. Third game of the season, at Miami, ready to run.

Jets running back Curtis Martin runs for 8 yards last season against Denver. (Bill Kostroun, Associated Press)

Run? Curtis Martin could barely walk without pain shooting through his left ankle. But he simply had to play.

So he ignored his ankle, wiped away the tears that welled from the pain and kept playing. He started every game, rushing for more than 1,000 yards in the most valiant effort of his career.

"Last year was the most pain, the most hurt that I've probably had in my entire career," Martin said yesterday as Jets' training camp opened. "There's no way I feel that bad going into this season."

Martin, 30, is finally healthy after an off-season of rest. Entering his ninth season, he is confident he can keep up his blistering pace and run for 1,000 yards again. He and Barry Sanders are the only players to do it in their first eight seasons.

Martin, an Allderdice graduate, has done it with a lot less notice than Sanders, despite playing in the nation's media capital. But he ranks 15th all time in rushing with 10,361 yards. Emmitt Smith, Jerome Bettis and Marshall Faulk are the only active players with more.

But because he did not run for as many yards as he usually does, many consider last season a disappointment. Martin considers it a success because he played through the injuries.

His ankle was sprained in the first half of the season opener at Buffalo and wound up with 6 yards. He had 5 yards the next week against New England.

Then came the Miami game.

The pain was so intense, Martin said it felt like shards of glass were in his ankle.

"I was in so much pain, I laughed," Martin said. "I thought, 'I can't believe this is actually happening.' It was one of those mental pictures you never forget."

Through four games, Martin had 98 yards. His other ankle was injured in Week 7 against Cleveland. Doctors told him he should have missed 8 to 10 weeks. Yet he played every game, going through extensive treatment daily before and after practices and games.

He finished with a career-low 1,094 yards but still got into four digits.

"A lot of days I didn't feel like I could be out there," Martin said. "In that sense, it was an accomplishment."

Offensive coordinator Paul Hackett is expecting another superb season from Martin. "We're talking about one of the most extraordinary people I've been around. What you see is the determination to bounce back from what was a mediocre year for him."

Martin is not worried about age and said it is realistic to expect him to continue rushing for more than 1,000 yards.

"I always set pretty high goals," Martin said. "I have high standards."

Nose tackle to report to camp

Nose tackle Ellis Johnson has told the Atlanta Falcons that he will report to training camp Friday after abruptly leaving a mandatory minicamp 12 days ago to return to his family.

Training camp begins Friday in Greenville, S.C., and players have until midnight Thursday to check in. Ray Anderson, the Falcons' chief administrator, said, "I have spoken with his agent, and it appears Ellis has reconsidered."

Johnson, whose contract runs through 2005, returned to his farm outside Indianapolis before workouts began at team headquarters July 10. Neither he nor his agent, David Levine, has returned phone calls to The Associated Press.

"It's been an organizational effort to assure him that we would like him to be a Falcon and that he would be welcome back on Thursday," Anderson said. "I'm optimistic that he will do as he has said and report to camp ready to go and get after it."

Johnson, 29, was a first-round draft pick of the Colts in 1995 but was released at his own request Aug. 28 after his style appeared ill-suited to the defenses of Coach Tony Dungy. Atlanta signed him to a three-year, $4.3 million deal three days later.

Signings

Defensive tackle Ty Warren, New England's first draft pick, signed with the Patriots. The signing assures that Warren, who played at Texas A&M, will be in training camp when it begins Wednesday. He was the 13th overall pick in the draft. ... The Tennessee Titans signed second-round draft pick Tyrone Calico of Middle Tennessee State and third-round selection Chris Brown of Colorado to multiyear deals.

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