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.

"I had a hard time saying no," Martin says. "I figured I could associate with anybody, and I was wrong."

That year, just moments after winning the Super Bowl, Harvey Martin would snort his first line of cocaine.

"I always said the worst thing that happened to Harvey Martin was he played for his hometown team," says Drew Pearson. "Everybody knew him, everybody wanted to be his buddy, everybody wanted to be around Harvey. And he wanted everybody to be around him. He loved it. He ate it up, and they took his kindness for weakness. They exploited it. Because of that, people were putting a lot of things in front of Harvey--whether it was business or alcohol or women. And he, being so gullible, would get right in the middle of it."

DuPree puts it more succinctly: "Strange people had some strange effects."

Harvey Martin recalls the moments before the good old days went bad--when everybody smoked, when everybody drank, when everybody screwed around, and when nobody thought twice about it.

"Back then, it didn't seem like anything. Now, when you look back at it, you go, holy shit."

Martin had a lot of time in rehab to consider the good old days--and the damage they had wrought. He had nothing but time for counseling, for chores, for tearing himself down and rebuilding from scratch.

His first day in Wilmer, Martin was assigned to a 40-man unit filled with inmates from all over Texas. They were rich and poor, black and white--and there wasn't a single one as famous as this Super Bowl MVP. It's ritual for the newcomers to walk at the front of the cafeteria line; they're paraded in front of the inmates, embarrassed. Martin was one of those rookies, and he heard their whispers as he got his food, heard his name spoken a hundred times. He was humiliated--the cheers had turned to whispered laughter.

The first few weeks in rehab are the toughest: Martin was given chores and placed in the kitchen, where he took inventory of the supplies. He met with counselors for hours on end; he sat in group meetings that would last for what felt like days, taking breaks only for food and sleep.

Martin wasn't allowed visitors the first two months in Wilmer, and then, only his mother and 13-year-old daughter came to visit him. A few old teammates would try to contact him, but they were told they would have to wait to see Big Harv when he was out of treatment.

Wilmer is hardly a fortress: It's more like a campus filled with addicts learning how to get sober and stay clean; there are no locks on the door, and patients have been known to leave long before they're ready. But Martin stuck it out for eight months: "I wasn't about to leave," he says, smiling.

In rehab, the counselors forced him to confront the reasons for his drinking and cocaine use. They made him commit to paper every rotten relationship, every bad business deal, every missed family function, every horrible moment of a once-promising life. He wrote out this confessional, then had to read it to every person he had ever wronged.

"I was able to really look down deep inside of myself and to see the changes that I had made and want to find the answers," he says. "Why was I a winner and all of a sudden winning didn't matter? You know, all of these things that were Harvey Martin, that is my core, and these things over the years and through different hits in life had taken its toll...I didn't take Harvey Martin, Dallas Cowboy into the treatment center. I took Harvey Martin the person in there--the kid who went to South Oak Cliff High School, the kid who went to East Texas State and fought his way up the ladder, the kid who went to the Cowboys and who carved himself his own place on that Cowboys team, who did the work and had the desire and the discipline to do all those things. That person had gotten away from me, but the center enabled me to go back in time and find out exactly why this happened and the reasons for it."

For Martin, there were numerous steps to his end in Wilmer: In December 1982, during the NFL's eight-week strike, Martin filed for bankruptcy, claiming he owed more than $211,000 to six creditors; at the time, his estimated worth was around $250,000. He blamed his predicament on poor business decisions: He had invested in Dallas nightclubs that had gone broke (including Balls and Lucifer's), put money in failed Dallas and El Paso restaurants, and pissed away his money on a poor real estate deal in San Antonio. The strike didn't help: He lost a good chunk of his annual $200,000 salary. At the time, he blamed his financial problems on "ignorance."

His filing for Chapter 11 became fodder for opponents and their fans. When Martin walked out onto the field at RFK Stadium to play the hated Washington Redskins, fans pelted his helmet with pennies. Players taunted him, asking him whether he needed a loan. He was devastated.

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