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.

Devincent wouldn't find out the extent of his father's problems until 1996, when it was almost too late.

The first time Martin's name appeared in the newspapers connected to drugs was in January 1983, when a barber-turned-drug dealer from Highland Park named Danny Stone sat in a federal courtroom and said, under oath, that Martin had bought drugs from him and used them in front of him on several occasions. Stone was a government witness who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to participate in a cocaine ring, and his testimony was meant to help the government put away four other dealers. Instead, Stone, who said he had been supplying Martin drugs since 1979, helped bring down the Cowboy, who spent the next few months denying Stone's allegations.

Though a Drug Enforcement Administration agent did admit that the federal agency had traced at least one call from Martin to Stone, no charges were ever lodged against Martin or three other Cowboys whose names surfaced in FBI wiretaps. They were Ron Springs, Tony Dorsett, and Larry Bethea. Springs retired the following year, Dorsett played for Dallas till 1987 and went on to the Hall of Fame, and Bethea killed himself in 1987.

Martin could deny the obvious, but Cowboys management knew he was in trouble. That's why coach Tom Landry and president Tex Schramm sent him to the Hazelden Foundation in Center City, Minnesota, in May 1983; they wanted their superstar cleaned up and dried out. They were tired of Martin's partying, the way he'd consistently break curfew by staying out all night. Ten days at Hazelden would do him some good.

Martin tested clean for drugs at Hazelden, and when he returned to Dallas, he told local reporters he went only to "evaluate" the rehab center at Landry's request, to see if it would be a good place to refer players who did have substance-abuse problems. Landry backed him up, knowing full well Martin was using.

"It was 10 miserable days," Martin now says of his stint in Minnesota. "I was living in total denial at the time. I was able to believe that for years."

Martin would retire a year after Hazelden: On May 3, 1984, he announced he was walking away from a $275,000 contract and quitting the game. He cited the 1983 season as the reason, claiming that a nagging shoulder injury, his bankruptcy, and the Hazelden incident turned him off the game. Landry claimed he tried to talk Martin out of his decision.

But Martin didn't retire from football; he says now he could have gone a few more years easily. No, he quit the Cowboys one afternoon, walked out the door an angry, bitter man. He had argued with Larry Wansley, a former FBI agent whom Tex Schramm brought to training camp to act as the head of team security. In August 1983, during camp in Thousand Oaks, California, Wansley had received from NFL security a list of 10 Cowboys suspected of having drug connections. Martin's name was on the list, and Wansley dogged Martin about his whereabouts. One day, Martin decided he couldn't take the hounding anymore.

"He was bird-dogging me, and he shoulda been, because I was the most noticeable one out there in the streets on a regular basis," Martin recalls. "I was spoiled. Most football players are. One day in the locker room, Larry wanted to call me on something, and I quit. I said, 'I'm tired of this shit.' I went through some very rocky times over that. But in the long run, that's how it happened. I can't go back and change it."

In an instant, Harvey Martin, the Cowboys hero, became just one more ex-football player. He made the reunion rounds, tried to live off past glories, wrote his autobiography, failed at business venture after business venture, drank and drugged himself to forget what he lost, then landed in jail. He became a walking cliche, one more tragic statistic in the land of faded celebrity.

It's a legacy he, his family, and his friends can do without.
Now, he begins his slow comeback: Martin sells chemical products for Arrow-Magnolia, the company run by former Cowboys defenseman John Niland, who overcame his own drug problems years ago. He makes regular sales calls in his white 1988 Ford Taurus, just another working stiff. Larry Rothberg, his supervisor, lavishes considerable praise on Martin; he refers to him as "one of the best," a man who has fought to overcome people's "preconceived notions" of who he was and what he did.

"Harvey Martin has a lot of integrity," Rothberg says. "There have been a lot of ups and downs, but he just takes each day and gives 100 percent of himself and puts everything into doing what's right."

It will not be easy for Martin to overcome the skepticism that follows any addict out of rehab. He has screwed up too often, found his name in the papers beneath horrific headlines that too many people read and remember. Even his son admits he was skeptical about his father's recovery--until he noticed the subtle changes in his behavior.

Not long ago, they would make plans to meet and Martin wouldn't show up; now, he's there every time Devincent calls. Now, he will happily pick up his daughter, Chase, from cheerleading practice. Now, he doesn't disappear from family functions.

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