The Comeback of Harvey Martin
The football field is a dull, dry brown against the blue December sky. It's generous even to call it a football field; it looks more like an enormous patch of dead grass bookended by goalposts so lopsided, it seems a strong gust of wind could blow them over.
Along one sideline runs a small thicket of trees and piles of dirt and limestone, behind which are modest apartment buildings. On the other side sits an imposing high school, its brick-and-steel sprawl devouring almost the entire block. It looks big even to the giant man pointing in its direction from the football field, where he walks in search of happy memories.
"Right up here, at the edge of that parking lot..."
The former football hero looks toward the concrete surface separating the field from South Oak Cliff High School, just a few miles from where he grew up.
"I remember on this right side here, that's where the athletic area is, where the football players are..."
His face, covered in Giorgio Armani shades, breaks into a wide grin as he points toward the familiar ground.
"The second door is the locker room. I remember going in there and meeting the coach..."
He pauses, as though reliving the moment in his head.
"I remember my mother and sister parked up there. I had really never played football before, and coach sent me up there with a guy, and I got outfitted. They showed me how to put my pads on the right way. Then I came down here on this field."
Harvey Martin almost whispers the last two words--this field. They are barely audible, a sigh lost in the gusts of north wind that cool this warm, late December day.
"What I see is accomplishment, what I see on this field are dreams. To me, it's sacred ground. Of all the places I've been, of all the fields I've walked on, nothing has the memories of this field here. It's not Texas Stadium. It's not the Orange Bowl or the Superdome, where I was Super Bowl MVP. None of that would have been possible without this."
Martin comes back to South Oak Cliff often. In recent months, he's been here three times to revisit the place where his football career began--a career that climaxed with his winning the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award in 1979, then ended in controversy and disgrace a mere five years later.
The 47-year-old ex-Dallas Cowboy comes back to remember the kid who almost didn't make the cut, then made the team at East Texas State University and went on to find fame and wealth as a defensive end for the hometown Dallas Cowboys.
But mostly, he comes back simply because he can.
Seventeen months ago, Harvey Martin faced the real possibility that he might not see anything but the inside of a jail cell for a long time. More than a decade of drug and alcohol abuse had taken its toll, and he ended up being arrested one more time--the last time--for beating his live-in girlfriend. By the summer of 1996, the football hero had become just one more drunken, coked-out disgrace.
Twice that year, Martin was arrested for turning Debbie Clark into a punching bag. Dallas police went to his home in March and August, responding to disturbance complaints; both times, they found Clark battered at the hands of the man who became an NFL legend beating up quarterbacks.
The cops also found drugs on Martin, cocaine stuffed in his pockets. He claimed it wasn't his--he always did. For more than a decade, he denied he had a drug and drinking problem--no matter the trip to rehab in 1983, the pile of arrest reports, the business failures, his disappearance from friends and family.
Then again, Martin could deny his problem: Despite an arrest record that documents a man hitting bottom and then digging in, Martin continually got off. He passed bad checks and was let off by the judge; he got busted for pot and had the evidence thrown out; he was charged with drug possession and resisting arrest, then received a year's probation.
He had a fistful of get out of jail free cards, and Martin was free to ruin his life. Finally, by fall 1996, Martin was in the Lew Sterrett Criminal Justice Center one more time, claiming he was going to commit suicide.
Were it not for a judge extending a hand, Martin could well be in prison now. Or he might have killed his girlfriend. Or himself. He might have ended up like Larry Bethea, who gave up football for coke, beat his wife, stole from his mother, robbed two convenience stores, then shot himself in the head. Bethea committed suicide when he was 30. It could easily have been his old friend and teammate Harvey Martin.
But state District Judge Tom Price gave Martin one more chance to turn his life around. In August 1996, he sent Martin to the Dallas County Judicial Treatment Center in Wilmer. Price told Martin this was his last shot; screw this one up, and it's prison time.
As he stands on the field that was the beginning of his trek to stardom and failure, Martin knows how lucky he was. He knows he had become just another Cowboys casualty, another punch line to a sad joke told about the likes of Bob Hayes, Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson, Larry Bethea, Golden Richards, even Michael Irvin, and so many more forgotten embarrassments. He can't wipe the smile from his face as he looks around.
It's the smile of a very lucky man--and a sober one--who has a job for the first time in years, who picks up his 13-year-old daughter Chase at school, who's there when his 26-year-old son Devincent needs some fatherly advice. It's the smile of a man who was this close to going to jail and knows all too well about last chances.
Martin says he has been straight for 17 months, by far the longest stretch in more than 15 years. A few years ago, he was clean for a week--then had a drink to celebrate his sobriety. But that was the old Harvey Martin, he now insists, referring to himself in the third person, especially when talking about what happened before rehab saved his life. He keeps saying that Harvey is gone, dead and buried "beneath the wreckage of my past."
"I don't see him anymore. He was a nice guy; he just didn't like himself. It's a different deal now. I think Harvey's pretty cool," he says, walking along the South Oak Cliff sidelines.
From his right wrist dangle two bracelets: One is made of gold, with HARVEY spelled out in diamonds. The other is made of blue rope. Martin made it in rehab. He wears it as a reminder of his time in the treatment center, and to remind him that he can actually complete something if he sets his mind to it. For years, the only thing he could finish was a bottle.
Just outside the doors leading into the office of his attorney, Randall Isenberg, hangs a handful of newspaper clips documenting Martin's tumultuous 1996. They are framed, preserved for posterity. Isenberg's name is mentioned prominently in each, and he no doubt hangs them there to advertise his association with his famous client, although their headlines scream of drug busts, psychiatric tests, assaults, and jail time.
These articles are embarrassing black-and-white reminders of what Martin had become, and each time he walks into Isenberg's office, they taunt him a bit. He says that they do not bother him anymore, that he is no longer the same man those articles are about, yet he declines to talk about the specific incidents themselves.
"You gotta understand, the life I live today, I'm not afraid of the wreckage of my past," he says of the framed newspaper clippings. "I've had my wreckage, and I've dealt with my wreckage. It's gone. If I held on to that, it would drag me down. I wouldn't be able to go forward. I'm just human...I look at those things, and it doesn't bother me. First time I saw it, I went, 'Wow, wow,' then I said, 'Well, what the hell?' It's gone, man. I mean, I don't go there no more."
It is two days before Christmas, and a week before Martin walks the South Oak Cliff sidelines with a photographer in tow, and he sits in Isenberg's office to talk about how he's a changed man. Wearing faded jeans and running shoes and a denim-and-leather jacket, with a baseball cap covering his bald pate, Martin spills out of a leather chair. He's an enormous man, still looking every bit of the 6-foot-5, 255 pounds he was during his playing days. Behind his prescription glasses, his eyes are alive and alert.
For almost three hours, he preaches the gospel of rehab. He talks of the chances God has given him--the talent God bestowed upon him, and how Harvey screwed it all up. He apologizes for what he had become, takes responsibility for what he has done, and swears he will never again touch the booze or the drugs that nearly ruined his life and the lives of those around him.
"I feel great today," he says in that deep, fluid voice once so familiar to anyone who ever heard him on radio or television. "I don't need to have a beer to feel like this. I don't need to smoke a joint to feel like this. I don't need any cocaine to feel like this. And tonight, when I go to bed, I'll feel just like this."
He sits in the very chair where Isenberg told him in August 1996 that he was out of chances--where his lawyer reminded him of the high price of growing up and screwing up in public, and where he offered Martin a shot at redemption. Isenberg recalls telling Martin: "This town will forgive you if you straighten yourself out, if you can pick it all up." Martin refers to his attorney's words as an intervention, the first moments when he realized his life was in ruins.
If Martin wanted Dallas to forgive his indiscretions, he had much to atone for--especially in 1996.
On March 29 of that year, Dallas police hauled Martin to jail for beating all hell out of Debbie Clark, his 37-year-old girlfriend and, at the time, also an addict. The two had been at Martin's home on Buena Vista Street when they began arguing; Clark and Martin had been dating for almost two years, and she had recently moved in. Martin was high on cocaine and drunk, and he began bruising her ribs and forehead and wrists and pulling clumps of hair from her head. He threw her to the floor, striking her again and again. She told police she was convinced he wanted to kill her.
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.'"
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.
"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.
But that didn't stop Martin from getting involved in even more money pits after that. Then again, he was always quick to give his name and a few bucks to anyone who promised easy fortunes. Pearson recalls that during their days playing together, he often became jealous of all the business opportunities being thrown Martin's way.
During the 1977 season, when Pearson was separated from the woman who would soon become his ex-wife, he moved in with Martin. He recalls the day Martin showed him a handful of business cards with his name on them.
"He told me, 'Drew, my goal is to have a hundred of these,'" Pearson recalls. "He thought by being involved and having these business cards--and people would just make them up and give them to him and make it look like he was involved--that made him feel like he was involved in these businesses. I said to myself, 'If he thinks that's what it's all about, he's going to find out the hard way.' It's not about how many businesses you're involved in, but how they're doing."
In 1987, that truth would hit Martin. What began as a business venture with noble intentions ended with his losing everything, including a mansion in Carrollton that came complete with an indoor swimming pool.
Martin wanted to bring a Sam's Wholesale Club to Oak Cliff; he thought folks in the old neighborhood would appreciate the bargain-shopping. So he hooked up with a local real estate developer, flew to Arkansas to meet with Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, and provided his own money and property as collateral--more than $100,000, he says. The Sam's was to be built at Loop 12 and Ledbetter Drive, and Martin left his partner in charge.
Martin didn't have time to stick around: He was due in Minnesota, where he was filming a small role in the Jamie Lee Curtis-Alex English children's film Amazing Grace and Chuck. By then, Martin had appeared in a handful of films (including No Safe Haven) and local stage productions (including Damn Yankees and The Odd Couple) and was eagerly pursuing his acting career; his idea of tending to the big picture was making movies, not taking care of business. It would prove his undoing: When Martin returned from shooting, he discovered that the Sam's deal had soured and that his money--not to mention his Jaguar, his Mercedes-Benz, and his house in Carrollton--was gone.
Martin didn't sue his partner for the money. He did nothing, except drink, snort, and try to forget the whole awful affair.
"I was a lost person," Martin says. "That, to me, was a turning point. My self-esteem went through the ground. All of a sudden, for the first time in my life, I was defeated, and it was such a defeat that I couldn't get back on my feet. I didn't fight, and I should have. That was the beginning of my end."
Over the course of the next decade, he would start and stop a number of unsuccessful businesses: He opened a collection agency and started selling pre-paid phone cards. Those and other fly-by-night operations emptied his pockets. He was never broke, but he was on the wrong side of rich. Among his biggest chunk of revenue is the more than $180,000 in workers compensation he has received for old football injuries--to his hands, legs, shoulder, you name it.
One local sports memorabilia dealer says Martin would show up to hock whatever he had remaining from his playing days. Martin says he still has many souvenirs remaining--including his Super Bowl MVP trophy.
He ended up taking a job on the KKDA morning show, working as a sort of sports anchor-personality. Sometimes he'd show up to work; other times, well, if he didn't make it, that's just Big Harv. His life degenerated into one long cocaine high and whiskey low. In 1989, he was pulled over for an expired inspection sticker, and cops found pot in the car; two years later came the assault on the live-in and yet another marijuana bust.
Two years ago, he withdrew from his family and friends and gave up on work. He decided he needed some time to himself, as he explains now with a sad smile--more time to sleep, to get drunk, and to throw away whatever remained of his life. He'd kill time at the Stoneleigh P bar, concealing his troubles from patrons who'd ask for autographs. Even his teammates and family didn't know the extent of his problems.
"I knew there was something wrong, but I didn't know exactly what it was," says Devincent Robertson, Martin's 26-year-old son. Robertson's the child of Martin and Blanche Robertson, a woman Martin dated while at East Texas State. The two have not spoken in years, communicating only through Devincent, a former Army soldier and now a salesman at Prestige Ford. "As a kid, nobody's going to sit you down and say, 'Hey, I know you love your daddy to death, but guess what...?' They did a good job of keeping it from me, and he did too. When we met with each other, I would be able to tell something was wrong, but he would say he's OK, and you take your daddy's word for it."
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.
And he is still seeing Debbie Clark--who came out of rehab herself only three weeks ago. "She stuck with me even after the hell I put her through," Martin says. "Can you believe it?" (Clark was unavailable for comment.)
Devincent remembers coming home from the Army in 1993 and driving with his father to buy a car. Harvey told his son to stay out of trouble in Dallas, because the cops would never know him as Devincent, only as Harvey Martin's son.
"And then he got in more trouble than I ever got in," Robertson says with a slight laugh. "I give him a hard time about that. But now, I am proud of him. I don't tell him as much as I should, but I'm proud of him. He's been there for me when no one else would have. That's how I know he's changed. In the past, I couldn't count on him. Now I can."
On January 14, Harvey Martin will go back to the Judicial Treatment Center. This time, he will not go as a man trying to keep his life from falling apart. He is speaking to the graduating class, an example of a man who put his life back together.
"Harvey has learned some tough lessons," Pearson says. "I am so proud of him. Now, he meets people face to face. He stands up to what he did wrong. He's not trying to hide it or run away from it or point the blame somewhere else. He knows the embarrassment he caused his family and his friends, but he's not running from it. He's facing it dead-on, and I admire that more than the friendship we have or him sacking quarterbacks or the great things he did on the football field. This is the right thing. Harvey Martin is going to be fine.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.