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Monday Morning QB (cont.)

Posted: Monday December 17, 2007 9:44AM; Updated: Monday December 17, 2007 1:55PM
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George Martin missed just six non-strike games in his 14-year NFL career.
George Martin missed just six non-strike games in his 14-year NFL career.
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"I was an impressionable kid,'' he said. "I grew up in the time of the Kennedys. And I was really struck by two things they said. President Kennedy said, 'Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.' Bobby said, 'Some men see things as they are and say why? I dream of things that never were and say why not.' I met people, healthy people in their 40s and 50s, who can't walk up stairs anymore, who have to decide whether to spend the money they have on medicine or food but sometimes not both. If I didn't do something to help this issue, then I wasn't the man I thought I was.''

These people need money, Martin thought, and not just $200,000. They need big money. He thought, "I've got do something big" and then, "This country needs to be reminded of the suffering of these heroes, and we've got to urge those in government to not forget them."

So he took a leave from his job as a vice president at AXA Equitable in New York to walk 3,300 miles -- from the George Washington Bridge to the Golden Gate Bridge, via the southern route because he'd be walking in the fall and winter. He decided he would do every interview, talk to everyone he met along the way about the issue, and stop at schools to spread the word. In essence, he set out to do something Kennedyesque.

Which brings us to Tennessee last Thursday. We started in Camden, in Benton County, on state highway 641 south just outside the Faith Christian Fellowship Church, on day 56 of his walk (he has taken some days off for personal events, like his son's wedding).

There was nothing momentous about our walk. We just walked, the two of us, and talked. "If I wrote a book about this,'' he said, "I'd have a chapter called 'Road Kill.' I've seen it all out here. Deer, possum, armadillo, snakes, squirrel, skunk. In Virginia, we were walking and all of a sudden out of the brush ahead of us comes this giant thing. It just wanders into the middle of the road. We get close enough to see it, and it's a hog. A 400-, 450-pound hog. Traffic stops. An 18-wheeler has to brake to stop from hitting it. The thing just sniffs the air for a while, doesn't smell anything like food, and goes back where it came from.''

That was the conversation much of the day. Anything goes. Ten times he found some reason to come back to the cause. "The people have been amazing,'' he said. "The heartland is amazing. I'm walking one day, and an 18-wheeler stops and pulls over and the drivers leans out and says, 'You're George Martin.' I said, 'Yes I am, sir.' He says, 'I heard about what you're doing. Do you take donations?' And he gives me one right there. A couple of days ago, a pickup pulls over and the guy gets out, tells me how proud he is of what I'm doing and gives me $20. A while later, the same guy comes back -- I guess he was ashamed of his original donation -- and gives me $100 more. These people understand sacrifice, and they don't forget what makes this country great.''

This is how much we walk: A reporter from a paper in Benton County pulls over on the side of the road a mile into the morning's walk, just after we turn onto U.S. 70, and asks Martin what he's doing. That afternoon, around 4, a reporter from the next county's paper, in Carroll County, is waiting by the side of the road where another impromptu interview happens.

He talks about the impact of Bill Parcells a lot. "Every day I think about him, and about the lessons he taught me about so many things,'' Martin said. "Sometimes I'll be out here on the road and he'll call me. The other day he called and said, 'Hey Martin, you gotta get out of Tennessee! Winter's coming.' Bill's been great. He's the one who made the donation that got us over $1 million.''

Parcells gave $10,000. Jim Fassel and Mark Bavaro have also given.

At one point on this 41-degree, raw, slate-gray day, Martin and I walk for at least four miles without seeing any man-made structures. We're walking through the woods, on a ribbon of asphalt. For an hour. And Martin loves it. "I haven't regretted the decision once. Not one time," he said. "I really consider it a blessing.'' And his health is good. It's amazing, but he has no strains, no sore back, nothing.

Martin travels with a medical technician to make sure that he's properly hydrated, a former New York City cop who walks with him and provides security, and an advance man to help with publicity and the scouting of the routes. On this day, Lee Reeves, the advance man, has arranged for Martin to meet the police, fire and EMS workers in Bruceton (pop. 1,554), a railroad burg on the Big Sandy River, then to speak an impromptu school assembly at the K-12 school in town.

The school principal has downloaded Martin's theme song, "Walk a Mile in My Shoes,'' and it's playing when he walks into the gym. When Martin takes the mike, you can tell he's done this before. He tells the kids people have called him a hero, but he never saved anyone's life or taught classes how to read. Those are the heroes, he tells the kids.

And he has the kids give ovations to the police and fire and EMS workers, and another one to the teachers. The kids are rapt. And he tells them why he's making the walk, to help people like the ones who protect them every day.

Then he takes the police, fire and EMS folks out to lunch at a Mexican place. He's in no hurry. The mayor comes by to say hello. By 2:15, he's stretching again, then back on the road, where he sees an Amish family clip-clop by in their horse-and-buggy. "I don't know there were Amish people here,'' he said. "You find out a lot you didn't know by taking this walk.''

Late in the afternoon, we pass a little ranch home, well-kept, with a pond in the front yard and a swing set on the side of the house. Martin stops on the side of the road and motions to the house. "See, something like this, it's beautiful,'' he said. "I've seen places like this a thousand times on this trip, but never one exactly like this. It's all new to me. I love it.''

Martin is looking for a hotel sponsor, to house his small crew along the way. He's looking for a gas sponsor for his two support vehicles. I asked Martin how the people who read this column could help his cause.

"People are in awe of the feat, of someone walking from New York to California,'' he said. "But that doesn't help us achieve our objective. Tell people to go to ajourneyfor 911.info and please help the people who put their lives on the line for us --and are paying so dearly for it now.''

'Tis the season.

If you believe in what Martin is doing, or if you love where you live, or both, ajourneyfor911.info should be your first stop today. Click on the donate bar. One man can make a difference. And you can help him prove it.

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