This back can hack it

The drill felt like it was going to drag on forever. Most of the other position players had already gone inside to get showered up, but the backs remained out on the practice field. The coach was determined to see whom he could break. <p>

Bill Parcells has developed the reputation around the National Football League as a coach who likes to break his players down, and then build them back up again, with the idea being that once they have overcome this experience; they can deal with anything the game of football throws at them.

On a sunny afternoon in the dog days of the August heat, during the Patriots 1995 training camp, Parcells was trying to break each and every running back on his roster.

There was this one annoying rookie from The University of Pittsburgh who would not break.

Maybe it was an attempt to show his new coach how tough he was, or maybe he was trying to develop a reputation in a new league, but one thing happened that both of these men remember that day, this one player just refused to give up, he was unbreakable.

Curtis Martin remained on the sun drenched practice field that day, and kept running the same drill for Parcells, over and over again; long after the other running backs quit.

"We are going to keep doing this until we get it right," recalled Martin, as Parcells saying, as his whole body became numb from the physical pounding he was taking that day.

"I was willing to stay out there until it got dark out, I really didn't care," said Martin. "After a while it got to the point where I was only able to walk through it."

Parcells remembers the lesson that he was trying to teach his rookie.

"I was trying to give him a quick, vivid illustration of what life was like being an NFL running back, I had spent a lot of time talking to him as a young running back about stamina and endurance," said Parcells.

" I didn't want any backs that tapped their helmet after three or four carries; I thought it was a good way for him to get a first hand look at it. I think he recalls that, and it was a lesson well learned. I think he has benefited from that. I am sure he would say he has."

Martin certainly did benefit from Parcells tough approach, and that season he did not "tap his helmet after three or four carries", much to his coach's delight, just the opposite happened.

In his rookie season, he rushed for 1,487 yards, on 368 carries, 364 more then he was expecting from the rookie.

What Parcells learned about his former running back that day in the sweltering heat, and in their years together after, with the Patriots and the Jets, was that Martin is a player who can respond to challenges. He is the type of player who can bounce back from adversity and continue to fight day in and day out, because of his superior work ethic.

"He is willing to pay the price to be great," said Parcells. "There is always a price to be paid and it had to be paid continually.

"He is a unique person, and I said this when we acquired him at the Jets, he is the kind of player that inspires you as a coach to give of yourself everything you have to give him," said Parcells. "Because you know when you are giving him everything you have as a coach, he will take it and utilize it at a maximum level, the more you know about what he needs to be successful the more you want to give a player like that because you know he has a genuine attitude and interest, and is willing to pay the price."

Now the running back will have to use these same traits, and his ability to bounce back from adversity, to meet possibly his biggest challenge yet.

He will be asked to start producing at his usual Pro-Bowl level after possibly the worst start to a season, in his 9-year career. Martin is being counted on to help dig the Jets out of a 0-3 ditch.

His old coach certainly thinks he can do it, and he doesn't understand all this talk about his old running back, the only one to survive his punishment that day in the blistering heat, being over the hill.

"All I can tell you is if they are tired of him send him down here and I will take him," said Parcells. "I don't think he is slowing down, I think it is just a question of opportunities, and once he gets those opportunities, he will be fine."

You can reach Dan Feit at

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