[Editor's Note: Over the next week or so, we'll be introducing a few new contributing writers to the team at Pats Pulpit for the 2012 season. We're really excited to bring Adam Fox into the fold. Adam, as you may know, has been a valued member of the Pulpit community since 2010. In addition to joining the Pats Pulpit team as a contributing writer, you can also catch Adam's work for the Weekly Alibi, in which he recently penned a piece on Broncos wide receiver Demaryus Thomas. - Greg]
We have lofty ambitions when we're growing up. In between our stories told to relatives at family functions of how we're going to be astronauts, professional athletes and time travelers, all at the same time, it's no wonder this vivacity gets tamed eventually by the daily grind of adulthood. There are always plenty of valuable lessons to learn here, though, even against the backdrop of our imaginative wanderlust as kids.
There were once address books you could buy at just about any bookstore that contained 200-plus pages filled with the publicity contacts of every well-regarded player in just about every professional sport. This was before the rise of the Internet where this information would be much easier to obtain and perhaps a little bit more encoded. Being the avid Patriots fan, I asked and asked for the football address book each Christmas until my parents finally gave in. Quickly scanning through it for all of my favorite players—and probably skipping the all-time greats who had the misfortune of not playing for the New England Patriots in the mid-'90s—I quickly locked on to Curtis Martin.
I made a trip to the post office and secured a massive box of envelopes and a seemingly endless sheet of stamps. I was determined to receive signatures from every esteemed player in the National Football League, and I half-expected them to fly out to personally sign the item and run a few drills in my backyard with me, too. I wrote to every Hall of Fame-bound and future-castoff player alike, so long as I held their corresponding trading card. In each package, I'd include a brief hand-written note, a self-addressed stamped envelope, the trading card I wanted signed, $2.26 in change I discovered under couch cushions, and my shoddy 10-year-old penmanship. Most of these cards I never saw again. A few I returned unsigned with an accompanying facsimile autographed photo from the likes of Dan Marino and Steve Young. But I never dreamed in a hundred years I'd get the one I wanted the most.
In my mailbox, I was disheartened to see a very familiar looking envelope inside. That was my handwriting, alright, something undoubtedly returned in between my autograph correspondence and an impossible Nickelodeon sweepstakes. But the envelope was bulging and freshly postmarked, and there it was--my Curtis Martin card, with the most beautiful signature these eyes have ever seen. No mass-produced note beginning with "Dear Friend," no 8 x 10 facsimile autograph, but my card, returned to my collection, hand-scribbled by my favorite player. I was ecstatic.
For every Terry Glenn, Ben Coates and Drew Bledsoe I held in my heart, Curtis Martin consumed my entire body. You could not watch a Patriots game during his brief career with the team without hearing his name handfuls of times throughout the telecast. Finishing his rookie season with 1,487 yards and 14 touchdowns, Martin garnered Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and a trip to the Pro Bowl—and I was hooked. I loved the way he ran, I adored his nose for the endzone, I admired his competitiveness, I cheered for his tenacity. I even had an unofficial nickname of "Martin" as teachers scanned the back of my #28 jersey trying to get me off of a table or another child.
Sacrilege as it may be to mention the team he departed for after just two seasons in New England, Martin was a class act in every facet of his career. Giving one of the most harrowing and tear-jerking speeches I've ever heard on Sunday as he was officially inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, we were reminded how much the lives of these players we cheer for each Sunday extend beyond the game. Relating tales of extensive abuse from his father and how he never really cared for football that much in the first place, it was a special moment to see the tears in Martin's eyes as he became permanently enshrined as one of the best ever. It further emphasized how neat and it really is for a player of his caliber to take just a few minutes and completely make a young fan's day—or in some cases, an entire childhood.