By Tim Graham
CANTON, Ohio -- Most fans likely would be shocked at the number of professional football players who don't have a genuine passion for the sport. The best players and toughest competitors aren't automatically fans.
Curtis Martin considered himself among those detached players -- until he heard Ralph Wilson's speech today at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"I've been around the game, but I was never a fan of the game," Martin said. "I think Ralph Wilson's speech was the beginning of me being a fan."
Martin played 11 seasons with the New England Patriots and New York Jets, rushing for 14,101 yards and scoring 100 touchdowns. He was the 1995 offensive rookie of the year. He was selected to four Pro Bowls.
And to think, Martin probably wasn't as obsessed about the game as people who read this blog.
But Martin can't deny the NFL history flowing all around him now. He'll be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday night. He's on the Hall grounds and attended this morning's dedication of the Ralph Wilson Jr. Pro Football Research and Preservation Center.
Martin said something clicked.
"I've spoken earlier about how my emotional connection to football really hadn't been given birth," Martin said, "and I think today with Ralph Wilson's speech it was the first time I really felt this emotional, passionate connection with the game of football.
"You could just feel his passion for what he was a part of and the impact he made on this game. To hear him talk, I don't know exactly what it was, but it was just him."
Afterward, Martin waited in a receiving line with other Hall of Famers to greet Wilson. A nearby Bills employee was taken by how animated Martin seemed when talking with Wilson.
Martin later said he wanted to share his moment with Wilson and thank him for past kindness. Martin has been interested in pursuing ownership of an NFL team and once called Wilson for advice.
"I always feel that it's best to gather the best minds and get the best wisdom that you can," Martin said. "He was one of the owners that I called to try to pick his brain. I appreciated his time because he was in the hospital, and he took the time to call me back."
When they spoke a few years ago, it was business.
And then Wilson somehow showed Martin that football is more than that.