HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. - Tony Dorsett was impressed with Curtis Martin the first time he saw the running back suit up for the University of Pittsburgh.
Not much has changed since. Dorsett watched with admiration and excitement as Martin and Jerome Bettis passed him Sunday on the NFL rushing list. The Steelers' Bettis moved into fifth place with 12,863 yards, while the Jets' Martin is now sixth with 12,741. That drops Dorsett to seventh at 12,739 yards.
When Dorsett retired in 1988, he was second on the list, but has since watched Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders and Eric Dickerson pass him, as well. However, the ranking hardly matters to Dorsett. He was just happy to see two players as consistent as Martin and Bettis go ahead of him.
"My hat is off to those guys to be able to play at that level and to perform year in and year out," Dorsett said Monday. "I can't help but admire guys who are able to show up week in and week out and play at a high level of competition."
Dorsett starred at Pittsburgh and won the Heisman Trophy in 1976, before his distinguished 12-year career in the NFL landed him in the Hall of Fame. He watched with anticipation as Martin started his Panthers career in 1991, and has not been disappointed.
"He comes to play all the time and I admired that about him from the time I saw him play at the University of Pittsburgh," Dorsett said. "He has the passion, he takes care of his body. He came from a tough part of Pittsburgh and he was able to overcome a lot of things a lot of players have not been able to overcome and be able to go out there and play well."
Also Sunday, Martin joined Barry Sanders as the second back to start his career with 10 straight 1,000-yard seasons. Though he bruised his right knee in that game in Cleveland, Martin is expected to play Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals and another all-time great in Smith.
Martin shies away from talking about his chase up the rushing list. But sharing that record with Sanders is one in which he takes particular pride.
"This is the one accomplishment that really means something to me," Martin said after the game. "It's very rare that I really enjoy some of the things I have done, but this is something I enjoy right now because it's the true test of consistency, it's the true test of perseverance, and these are the things I stand for as a man, both on the field and off the field."
Dorsett ran for over 1,000 yards in eight of his first nine seasons. The only time he missed was in the strike-shortened season of 1982.
Being able to achieve something only Sanders has done sets Martin apart.
"That's the toughest deal," Dorsett said. "You have to be able to play with pain. Every team that Curtis has played for he's been the ultimate pro, ultimate team player. We have some athletes that come in, they are kind of flash in the pan, they have one or two good years. My whole deal was to see a guy if you are able to pass the test of time, and that's to be able to do it year in and year out with consistency."
Jets fullback Jerald Sowell said he will be able to reflect on what Martin has accomplished when his career is over.
"It is an honor for me to be a part of his success," Sowell said. "He's a very humble guy, he doesn't even talk about those type of things. Curtis, his character shows on and off the field. He's a great back. He's accomplished a lot."
And Dorsett believes those accomplishments will lead to Canton and the Hall of Fame.
"Obviously Curtis has shown he's got quite a few more years left in him, so I'm just going to support him and admire him in his quest to move further up that all-time rushing list," Dorsett said. "He's one of the best running backs to play in the National Football League."