Cowboys Zack Martin + A 'Special Link'

As Fish likes to say, 'There are 1,000 links in a championship chain.' In other words, it takes more than just one guy. But in my 1-on-1 with Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, he expresses faith that the Cowboys have 'the strongest link' in Zack Martin, the Anti-Manziel.

It might have been Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones who most notably violates Fish's oft-stated view that there is no "final piece" to a championship puzzle because it takes every piece, tons of luck, "1,000 links in a chain." Jerry's violation? Saying the 90's Cowboys "couldn't have spelled Super Bowl" without the '92 trade for future HOF pass-rusher Charles Haley.

As important as Haley was, those teams couldn't have spelled "Super Bowl" without so many contributions from dozens and dozens and dozens of others. Players, coaches, staffers ... Owner!

Now along comes guard Zack Martin, coming off an All-Pro season as a rookie and in 2015 primed, according to his old coach at Notre Dame, to go from "Pro Bowl" to "Super Bowl."

"I remember when he was first drafted by the Cowboys," Brian Kelly tells me. "I was on a radio show and I think a lot of the folks were disappointed that they didn't take Johnny Manziel at the time. And I told some of the people that I was on the show with: (Martin) is going to help you win a Super Bowl."

The Cowboys fell short with a rookie Martin last season as the Green Bay Packers bested Dallas 25-21 in the divisional playoffs. Nonetheless, Kelly thinks the Cowboys have a player who can not only lead a position group but "galvanize a team." Kelly points to Martin's captaincy in his junior year as proof.

"To be a captain as a junior at Notre Dame, you have to be a special person," Kelly said. "I think at the end of the day, I think he's a very special young man."

During Martin's junior year, he helped lead the Fighting Irish to a BCS National Championship Game berth in 2012. The Indianapolis Chatard alum returned for his senior year with the Irish and earned his second consecutive team captaincy, becoming just the 18th player in Notre Dame history to enjoy such an honor. By the end of his final year, Martin set a school record for 52 starts and earned a 2013 Pinstripe Bowl MVP after Notre Dame's 29-16 win over Rutgers.

"We thought we had somebody special in our own locker room at Notre Dame as a two-time captain, and I think that obviously carried itself over," said Kelly.

Dallas selected Martin 16th overall in the 2014 draft. Martin secured the right guard spot in the spring, and never looked back en route to earning Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors as a rookie, a feat not seen since Rams offensive lineman Dick Huffman in 1947. "I think any time you're All Pro as a rookie," Kelly said. "I think that speaks volumes of your work ethic and really about how he's impacted the league."

Martin is one of four first-round picks Kelly has produced since becoming head coach in 2010, more than the Fighting Irish churned out from 1999-2010. However, the 2012 AP College Football Coach of the Year doesn't take all the credit for Martin's accomplishments.

"We think a lot of it is the culture," Kelly said. "We think a lot of it is in him as well, the kind of character he is."


Martin showed in college he could help guide a team to a title game. Now, he must prove he can do it once more while in the NFL.

He might just be part of the best line in football. He says himself that he doesn't want to get caught up in that "best line ever" hype. Marin knows the order here: first be a "special" link, as Kelly believes he is. Then create a chain, as the Cowboys believe they're doing. Then become a champion.

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