When it comes to athletes destroying their own legacy, Jerry Rice getting cut from the Broncos in training camp isn't as bad as, say, Jerry Rice dancing on national television. But it's still pretty bad.
So I say this with nothing but love for two great backs, but Curtis Martin and Priest Holmes both need to retire. Like, now.
Martin's place in history is set -- 4th all-time in rushing yards, 10-straight 1,000-yard seasons, 102 career touchdowns. He's 35, has nothing else to prove. His body is obviously past the point of being capable to play in the NFL. Yet he still maintains that he'll be ready to play next year. The public knows this won't happen, the Jets know this won't happen, and I'd venture to guess that Martin himself knows it won't happen. So why keep hope alive? He's already missed the opportunity to go out on top, but he can still avoid going out on bottom, and that's important.
Holmes is a sadder story, and his attempt at a comeback is a little more justified (although, not enough). He'll be 34 when the 2007 season gets underway, but a spinal cord injury is the type of thing that would make me scared to go to sleep at night let alone take a hit in the NFL. Unfortunately, history is not going to remember Priest Holmes as it should. Though Shaun Alexander broke his touchdown record pretty quickly, when Holmes set the mark with 27 in 2003, it was a big deal. For three years, Holmes absolutely OWNED the NFL, rushing for 4,590 yards, catching another 1,976, and scoring 61 touchdowns. That's 6,566 yards and 61 touchdowns in 46 games. But those three years were sandwiched between two of the most dominant running backs ever, Marshall Faulk and LaDainian Tomlinson. In 10, 20 years, people are going to skip right over Holmes when they jump from Faulk to Tomlinson. It doesn't help his case that Larry Johnson stepped in and basically replicated his success.
I won't dare get into what causes an athlete to stick around past his time, because I'm not familiar with the psychology of your average NFL All-Pro. But both Martin and Holmes are smart, eloquent, classy, seemingly rational guys (as opposed to, say, Pacman Jones, who likes to spit on people). You'd think they'd both know not to tempt fate any longer, and get out while they can still walk. To finish the Pet Sounds allusion, both must lie awake and say to themselves --
"I know there's an answer. I know now, but I've got to find it by myself."