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.

Harvey Martin, Drew Pearson, and Billy Joe DuPree came into the league the same year, 1973. They lived together during training camp, hung together off the field, and became so close all three now refer to each other as "brothers." They were rookies on a team that already included Roger Staubach, Bob Lilly, Mel Renfro, Bob Hayes, Lee Roy Jordan, and so many other veteran warriors who had crushed the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI just two years earlier. Martin, Pearson, and DuPree were anonymous rookies among legends; in time, they would become heroes themselves, none larger than Martin.

The Harvey Martin that Pearson and DuPree recall entered the NFL as a sweet, innocent kid--not so different from the man they both know today.

"Harvey's got a good heart," says DuPree, Cowboys wide receiver until he retired in 1983. "He acts like a tough guy, but he's a wuss. People didn't know that about Harvey. The only side they saw was the athletic side."

He was an Oak Cliff boy who fulfilled every boy's dream by signing with the hometown team. Harvey had seen Staubach and Lilly and Tom Landry on television; never did he think he'd wear their uniform, share their glories, rank among the best ever to wear a star on his helmet.

There was a time when Martin never even wanted to play football. As a kid, he worked at Titche's department store, tending to deliveries and making sure the aisles were neat. He fantasized about moving into management, about working at Titche's forever.

He joined the South Oak Cliff football team only because he overheard his father, a truck driver, tell his mother he was ashamed his boy didn't play football. In his 1986 autobiography, Texas Thunder, Martin recalled his father saying, "All the guys at the club are bragging about their boys being on the football field. I can never brag about my boy."

In 1967, Martin's junior year in high school, he transferred to South Oak Cliff, which had become the first integrated high school in Dallas. That year, Martin suited up for the football team for the first time, wearing shoes one size too small and a helmet that gouged his forehead, leaving a dent that would last for years. The team went 9-1 that year, though Martin only played whenever they had a sizable lead: Even then, he played on the offensive line. That would change by his senior year, when he moved to defensive end and South Oak Cliff went undefeated, only to lose in the state championship game to a team from Houston.

Martin likely would not have played college ball had it not been for his high school coach Norman Jett, who pushed Martin to numerous recruiters; he landed at East Texas State. By 1973, Martin would become a third-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys, chosen behind DuPree and Golden Richards.

At first, the Cowboys coaches didn't think Martin had what it took to play in the NFL; they said he was too damned nice. Defensive line coach Ernie Stautner rode Martin for being too soft; he made him run extra laps after practice, work harder during drills. He humiliated the kid in front of greats like Bob Lilly and Jethro Pugh. His teammates would later say Martin didn't evolve into a great player, but became one literally overnight. Ed Jones was "Too Tall"; Martin turned into "Too Mean." Even now, 13 years after his retirement, he holds the team records for most career sacks (114) and most sacks in a single season (20, though he insists he racked up 23 in 1977, despite what the Cowboys' media guide reports). Martin led the team in sacks for seven of the Cowboys' 37 seasons, more than anyone in team history.

"Ernie Stautner called me into his office and said, 'Harvey, you're not going to make this club,'" Martin recalls. "You're not tough enough, and I don't see any way where you can do what we need you to do. It's up to you.' So I went out to practice the next day and picked a fight with Bruce Walton, and from that point on, I was OK."

Martin says it was during his rookie season that he smoked his first joint. He had been a beer-drinker in college and used to bet six-packs with Cowboys teammates over who played better, but never touched marijuana. At first, he smoked pot socially, recreationally; it was just "a little here and there," he says now, no big deal. Hell, everybody on the team liked to party and stay out late.

Besides, there were others on the team who had turned their recreation into a lifestyle, none more so than Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson, who celebrated his coke habit in his 1987 tell-all Out of Control.

In time, the Cowboys would become known as "South America's Team" and "The Cocaine Cowboys," but in 1978, they were champions, having destroyed the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XII. Martin and Randy White shared the game's MVP award; they were "salt and pepper," Henderson wrote in his book, "a good symbol of the Cowboys' defense."

Harvey Martin had money in nightclubs and a few other business ventures. He had his own radio show, The Beautiful Harvey Martin, on KRLD-AM; his face appeared on billboards all over town. By 1978, he was rich, beloved, one of the most famous men in the town where he was born and raised. Strangers wanted to be his new friends. Forgotten old friends wanted to borrow a little of his glory. They gave him anything he wanted, and they took from him his name, his fame, and his innocence.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help