FOXBOROUGH — As Curtis Martin was on his way to Gillette Stadium on Sunday, he looked out for the End Zone Motel. It was where he lived for a year during his time with the Patriots, a time that seems long ago based on the changes that have come to the stadium and the area since then. The motel, he was told, remains — but under a different name.
Martin isn’t surprised by the changes. He thought, based on knowing team owner Robert Kraft, that they might be in store for the franchise, eventually.
It seemed to please Martin, although he wouldn’t have minded being a part of it. Getting those Super Bowl rings. Or playing with Tom Brady.
“That’s a hard thought to escape,” the Hall of Fame running back said. “I can only imagine having three or four — I don’t know how many rings they have now, I’ve lost track — but that would have been great.
“At the end of the day, I think things work out the way they’re supposed to. As much as I would have liked to have experienced a long career with the New England Patriots, it just wasn’t in the cards for me.”
Martin, along with Andre Tippett and Mike Haynes, was honored before Sunday night’s game against the 49ers. They served as honorary captains as part of the NFL’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Hall of Fame. Martin was inducted in the most recent Hall class.
Haynes, meanwhile, has spent his time recently coaching his 13-year-old son’s Pop Warner team. He, too, sees changes, though not in the stadium or the area. He sees the changes on the field, with the Patriots and the rest of the NFL.
“Completely different. They’ll pass on every down,” said the former cornerback, who played for the Patriots from 1976-82. “They’ll pass to get 2 yards. They’ll pass to get 3 yards. I think that’s what makes it a lot more exciting for the fans. It would have made it a lot more exciting for me, too. I would have loved to have been playing. Heck, yeah. It would have been a lot of fun.”
Martin said he had been hoping to make it to Foxborough for a game this season, and welcomed the invitation.
It is a far different Patriots organization than the one he left after the 1997 season to play for the Jets. But it’s one he could envision even then.
“Something that I recognized when I first came was the type of leader and type of man that Mr. Kraft was,” Martin said. “I could remember days riding down the street in his car with him and him speaking to me and giving me words of advice. You could see and feel his competitiveness. And I really believe in the trickle-down effect, and I think that it was just a matter of time.”
Martin got significant praise for his Hall of Fame speech, a supremely personal account of his journey in a game he never really liked, in order to get away from a potentially violent life, along with the abuse he watched his mother suffer.
It wasn’t planned, Martin said. In fact, he disregarded the notes typed up on his iPhone, saying to Bill Parcells as the pair unveiled his bust, “Coach, I’m just going to go for it.”
And he did.
“I felt like this was the most important speech of my life, and I just really wanted the people to get to know me,” Martin said. “So I just said I’m just going to talk, and hopefully it comes out right.”
And that, along with some of the other events of the Hall of Fame weekend, has changed Martin’s perspective on some things.
“I get it now,” he said. “I get why football excites people and the reason why they are fans now.”
Part of that was the Ray Nitschke luncheon he attended, listening as luminaries took him through the do’s and don’ts of being a Hall of Famer. Martin sat with Lynn Swann, Mean Joe Greene, John Madden, and Franco Harris.
“All these guys, they were all mentoring me,” Martin said. “That moment right there, I became a football fan.”Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.