The Comeback of Harvey Martin

Eighteen months ago, the former Cowboys hero was drinking and drugging his way to disaster. Now he's clean, sober, and planning to stay that way.

Clark, a flight attendant for American Airlines, also said that earlier that day, Martin had asked her to marry him.

Officers found him at home; he was drunk, agitated, and about to explode. When the police tried to cuff Martin, he began thrashing about, knocking the cops over with his elbows. He fought them all the way to the squad car, then again at Lew Sterrett. There, a Dallas County Sheriff's Department officer found baggies of cocaine in his front pants pockets.

Martin was charged with assaulting Clark, possessing cocaine, and resisting arrest. He claimed that the cops had planted the drugs on him and that the officers, so much smaller than the man who once made a living sacking quarterbacks, beat him up.

Five years earlier, almost the same thing had happened: Martin pummeled a live-in girlfriend (a different one), resisted arrest, and had a bag of marijuana on him. He knew how this story ended.

But that didn't stop him from going on KTCK-AM (The Ticket) and insisting that Clark had broken into his home and started a fight, that he never hit her, that he would never resist arrest, and that the cops had planted the drugs on him. Martin, who appeared in several films and stage productions after retiring from the Cowboys in 1984, knew how to act.

He changed his story on April 3, when he confessed to the cocaine possession and wrote in his confession that the drugs were indeed his and were "not placed there by any law enforcement officer, as I have previously publicly stated or implied."

A week later, Clark filed an affidavit of non-prosecution with the Dallas County District Attorney's Office. She said she wouldn't testify against him and wanted all charges dropped.

Prosecutors were still pressing ahead with the drug charges when, on the morning of August 13, officers again went to Martin's home and found Clark sitting outside wearing nothing but a nightgown. She told police Martin had been smoking crack and became enraged, accusing her of sleeping around. He slapped her around, then threw her and her purse out the door, locking her out. Martin then drove away in his Mercedes, and Clark broke a window to get back into the apartment.

A few hours later, police returned to Martin's home and found him across the street, a beer in his hand. The cops took him into custody, only to find out that earlier that morning, around midnight, Martin had also called Clark's brother Ralph and told him to stay the hell out of his and Debbie's business.

"If you keep getting involved in this thing," Martin told Ralph Clark, "I will cut you up into little pieces."

Clark and her brother later signed affidavits saying they didn't want to prosecute--an all-too-familiar pattern in domestic-violence cases--but that didn't bother prosecutors, who were going ahead with the new assault case anyway, on top of the earlier drug and resisting-arrest charges.

On August 29, Martin pleaded no contest to the March cocaine possession charge, accepting seven years' probation and a sentence in the Judicial Treatment Center; the plea bargain also called for random urine tests over the course of his probation. Any violation, and it's straight to prison--no more good fortune for the Super Bowl champ. For the assault charges, Martin received a year's probation; the judge also ordered that he get domestic-violence counseling.

Some of Martin's family and ex-teammates swear they knew little of his problems until the tales of abuse and drug possession hit the front pages in 1996. They say Martin had become so withdrawn from them that by the time of the arrests, they knew little of his private life. They knew he was a substance abuser, but they had no inkling how bad the drinking and coking had become.

"There's no question--it was a total shock," says Drew Pearson, Cowboys wide receiver till 1983 and one of Martin's closest friends. "It was like, 'How can someone as nice as Harvey, the real Harvey Martin, do this?' The first thing I thought was, 'This isn't Harvey Martin. It's something that's got him and making him do those things.' It's almost like you could see him heading for a dead end, and you just hope that dead end--and this is real hard for me to say, but it's true--is not death."

Martin, who refused for 13 years to acknowledge he had a substance-abuse problem, finally realized he was at his end. During the three weeks between his August arrest and being sent to Wilmer, he got to sit in Lew Sterrett and wonder just how one of the most famous and successful men ever to wear a Dallas Cowboys silver-and-white uniform ended up behind gray bars.

He did what many do when they know they have dodged their last bullet: He began looking for God, praying for forgiveness, promising that if he ever got out, he'd be a good man. He recalls falling to his knees, tears in his eyes, begging not to end this way.

"I knew I was leaving and going to the treatment center, and I needed all the strength I had to get out of this, to straighten Harvey up again," Martin recalls. "The day Judge Price sentenced me, the day I walked into the little holding cell area, everybody's going, 'That's Harvey Martin, that's Harvey Martin! Oh, man. Wow!' I said, 'Yeah, I'm going to the treatment center to get my life back.'"

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