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A Giant cause

Martin walks for Ground Zero victims; Fine 15, more

Posted: Monday December 17, 2007 9:44AM; Updated: Monday December 17, 2007 1:55PM
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Peter King, right, joins former New York Giants DE George Martin, left, for a portion of Martin's 3,300-mile walk to raise money for first-responders to Ground Zero.
Peter King, right, joins former New York Giants DE George Martin, left, for a portion of Martin's 3,300-mile walk to raise money for first-responders to Ground Zero.
Rahul Rohatgi
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BRUCETON, Tenn. -- "Ladies and gentleman,'' the Northwest flight attendant intoned last Wednesday evening, "our scheduled flight time from New York to Memphis today is two hours and 39 minutes. And if you're one of our valued WorldPerks members, you'll be credited with 986 miles for this flight.''

That's when it hit me: My God, George Martin has walked this. All of it.

You may remember Martin as a 14-year New York Giant, an athletic defensive end who had a few moments of fame, including his sack of John Elway just before halftime of Super Bowl XXI; the safety started the G-men on a run of 26 unanswered points that opened the door to a 39-20 win. Martin is doing something slightly more important now.

I'm taking a detour from the games and the stars (and I promise, Jamal Lewis' resurgence and piling onto Bobby Petrino, and the Dolphins breaking the schneid and other news of the day is coming) to start the column this week with a message from the real world, way out here in rural west Tennessee.

Martin began walking from New York to San Francisco in September, and on Thursday, with me and an HBO crew in tow, he walked the 1,000th mile of his trip just outside this little town. (You can see a profile of Martin's walk Wednesday night on HBO's Inside the NFL show. You can even see me keeping up with him for all of Thursday's 18 miles. And let me tell you, the man can walk.)

Martin is walking to raise money and awareness for the mental and physical health problems that first-responders to the terrorist attacks at Ground Zero have suffered. Martin has raised $1.5 million of his $10 million goal; matching donors at three New York-area hospitals will boost the count to $3 million. Approximately 40,000 firefighters, police, EMS and volunteers have been affected by the inhalation of toxic contaminants from the pulverized buildings -- and have contracted lung disease and even cancer -- because most worked without protective masks. Even worse, some of those workers don't have health insurance, and a majority have inadequate health insurance to deal with the onslaught of new treatments they must use to stave off disease. At least eight first-responder deaths, including one of a nun, have been directly connected to Ground-Zero poisoning.

"Have you watched film of that day?'' Martin asked when we met on this morning. "Watch the scenes of all the people running from the site. Thousands of them. Then watch the people who are actually running toward the site, and watch the firefighters running into the buildings.

"It astounds me. It's so counter-intuitive. But have we forgotten the events of that horrible day? Have we grown tired of the aftermath? If so, shame on us. When the first fatality came, it barely caused a whimper in the media. But I was touched deeply.''

He had to do something. But what? Run a golf tournament to raise money for the second wave of 9/11 victims? A banquet?

I covered Martin late in his Giants career. The lithe defensive end was 32 when I met him, and the most mature man in the locker room. Some young teammates called him Pops. He was the cool head. Bill Parcells always thought if he coached one player who was going to save the world, it would be Martin. He started to, with the Giants, partnering with Fairleigh Dickinson University to get players to earn the degrees they never did at their original colleges; 16 teammates completed their schoolwork because of that program. The son of a South Carolina sharecropper, he lived the first 12 years of his life with a heavy sense of wanderlust tied to a 25-acre plot of ground; the family later moved to California, and he was a basketball and football player at Oregon before getting drafted by the Giants in 1975.

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