With his playing days behind him, Martin sets sights on owning NFL team

NEW YORK (AP) -Curtis Martin's playing career was marked by class, toughness and overall excellence, an impressive combination that the newly retired running back thinks will make him the perfect NFL owner.

The league's No. 4 rusher announced his long-anticipated retirement Thursday - a day before the New York Jets started training camp practices - and revealed he has his sights set on owning a football team.

"Football has the greatest fan base of any sport," Martin said at a small, 45-minute news conference at the team's Manhattan offices. "With fan base comes influence, and with influence comes responsibility. My whole career has been about maintaining that responsibility as a player.

"I believe in using football as a vehicle to reach out and do some good in society within the team and to individual lives. Ownership is a larger way of continuing what I have already started."

Martin, 34, was hoping to announce specific plans for his life after carrying the football, but hasn't finalized anything yet. He said an announcement is imminent, but declined to reveal which teams he had spoken to or if the Jets were one of them.

"It's something that I'm very excited about, and it looks good," he said, smiling.

Martin never sought the spotlight during his career, a rarity among today's professional star athletes. He was often labeled as underrated or underappreciated, but that perception never bothered Martin.

"Ever since you have seen me as a player, I've been looking at myself as an owner," he said. "Most people see me as a low-profile player, and I've always seen myself as a high-profile owner."

Martin said he's had plans to be an NFL owner since early in his professional career.

"I believe I've gotten a chance to understand the game from the ground up," said Martin, decked out in a sharp black suit, white shirt and purple tie. "It's something that very few owners are able to do, simply because they're not privy to the intimacy of the locker rooms or the brotherhood of the players. I believe that I can bring something new, and something that I think could be better for the NFL overall."

Martin was extremely active in charity work throughout his career, and he announced Thursday that he has partnered with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to start an initiative to decrease homelessness in the city by two-thirds by 2009.

"We've taken some great steps and we're going to make this happen," he said.

On the field, Martin made plenty happen during his 11 active seasons. He finished with 14,101 yards rushing, ranking behind only Emmitt Smith (18,355), Walter Payton (16,726) and Barry Sanders (15,269). His 3,518 carries are third on the NFL's career list, and his 90 rushing touchdowns rank him tied for 12th with Eric Dickerson. Martin, a five-time Pro Bowl selection, was also a versatile offensive weapon throughout his career, catching 484 passes for 3,329 yards and 10 touchdowns.

"At the end of the day, things turned out better than what I had even intended from the beginning," said Martin, whose retirement papers were submitted to the league office Thursday.

Martin, a physical running back who never shied from big hits, acknowledged in January that he had probably played his last game because of a bone-on-bone right knee injury suffered during the 2005 season. He made the decision official - after months of rehabbing and deliberating - 19 months after his last game.

"I don't see this as a sad time," Martin said. "Someone was just asking me if there's any moment in particular that sticks out as the best moment of my career, and I told them, 'Right now."'

Martin tore cartilage in his right knee in Week 2 against Miami in 2005, and aggravated the injury two games later against Baltimore. He played through the pain - typical of the toughness he displayed throughout his career - but ended his season after the Jets' 12th game. New York put him on injured reserve last November, ending Martin's season - and ultimately, his career.

"I don't have any regrets," Martin said. "I feel like I'm leaving this game exactly how I would want to. I know that I'm stubborn when it comes to football and I know that it would have to take something like this - and gratefully it's not too bad to where it's going to hinder the rest of my life where I'd need a wheelchair or cane."

Martin came to the Jets after three seasons with New England, and became one of the most popular players - possibly second only to Joe Namath - in team history.

"The Jets have been my family for 10 years," Martin said. "No matter where I am, or how far I am gone or how long I am gone, the Jets will always be a family to me."

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