1975 Dallas Cowboys Player Rankings #10 Harvey Martin
Though it has never been recorded in the history books as such, Tom Landry’s mind could be a devious mechanism when pondering the rudiments of defensive football. Unfortunately for his competition, that’s exactly what the 50-year old head coach of the Dallas Cowboys was doing during the spring of 1975 when he decided what the next wrinkle in his fabled Flex defense would be.
Landry’s analytical approach to the game had him constantly viewing the gridiron as an enlarged basketball court. He was always harping on such keywords as “spacing” and “angles.” Quarterbacks were often encouraged to look for those “passing lanes.”
But as the Cowboys prepared to say goodbye to both Bob Lilly and Pat Toomay, Landry’s mind of inventiveness was transfixed upon the wide-ranging possibilities of blindside speed. He had already been mulling over whether or not he should move second-year defensive end Ed “Too Tall” Jones back over from the right side to left defensive end, a position the 6-foot-9-inch standout had played during his days at Tennessee State. The fact that Landry would be able to insert Harvey Martin as Jones’ replacement on the right side of the Dallas front made the decision a no-brainer.
With the league benefitting from an ever-flowing influx of right-handed quarterbacks, Landry knew that the new positioning of “Too Tall” Jones would directly benefit the efforts of Martin across from him. The tendency for NFL quarterbacks during the 1970s was no secret. For better or for worse, they directed the majority of their passes toward the side of their throwing hand. When playing the Cowboys, that meant they would be staring at the imposing figure of Jones, whose long frame was further enhanced by a pair of equally abnormal long arms. With Jones giving the quarterback reason to pause, Martin would be afforded extra time to close in from the backside.
The move would help everyone on Landry’s Flex, but especially Martin who bloomed into a top-notch defender in 1975.
Though Martin had become a starter during his second season in Dallas in 1974, he had yet to become a full-time player, often giving way to Toomay on obvious running downs. But when Toomay requested a trade shortly after the season, Landry knew the inevitable moment had arrived. After bringing him along slowly, it was now time to unleash the “Smiling Assassin.”
Martin’s greatest strength as a lineman had always been a burst of speed that allowed him to get around the corner and past the outreaching arms of offensive tackles. But if he was going to be an every-down player like Landry expected him to be, then Martin would have to learn the proper techniques of defending against the run as well.
In addition to his new chores on the football field, Martin was also taking his first steps into the entertainment industry, earning a gig as the host for “The Beautiful Harvey Martin Show,” a brand-new show on KRLD radio in Dallas. Though blessed with a gregarious nature, Martin admitted that life in front of a microphone was not without its own set of challenges.
“I plan to say what I think,” said Martin of his radio show. “But I’ve got to watch my mouth. I cuss a lot. Like at one of our games, I was swearing out there and looked around and this guy from ABC had the mike on me. It was live. He had this weak grin on his face. But I get excited and just swear. If I don’t stop that they’ll call it the Harvey Martin Bleep-Bleep Show.”
After a long off-season of workouts and film-study, Martin appeared to be gaining confidence in his new role, telling his head coach that, for the first time in his career, he was able to read and react to what offenses were doing. Landry apparently agreed, calling Martin one of the Cowboys’ best defensive players near the end of preseason.
“That Harvey Martin,” said Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw after the Cowboys’ exhibition victory over the Steelers in September, “he looks like a good one to me.”
“The difference in me, mostly, is playing,” explained Martin. “Before they’d put me in on third down or second-and-long…the obvious passing situations. All I had to do was pin back my years and charge.
“Now, I’m trying to be a total player. It’s different. People before were saying I could be this or that if I wanted to be. Well, I want to be and I’ll concentrate and work until I am.”
Martin’s dedication to his craft was evidenced during the Cowboys’ fast beginning to the 1975 regular season. Martin was voted the MVP of the Cowboys’ 36-10 victory over Detroit in Week 3, after tallying three of the Cowboys’ 11 sacks of quarterbacks Greg Landry and Bill Munson.
Before the Cowboys’ Week 6 matchup with Philadelphia, Eagles quarterback Roman Gabriel referred to the Cowboys as “arrogant,” and to Martin as a “nobody.” Martin though exacted a revenge of sorts in Dallas’ 20-17 victory by teaming up with fellow lineman Bill Gregory to record the Cowboys’ only sack of the game.
When asked afterwards if he shared any postgame words with Gabriel, Martin said, “Naw. I don’t say nothin’ to him. I let him do the talking. He has got to back it up if he’s going to talk like that.”
Martin said the lack of Dallas pressure against the Eagles was caused by the slick, wet artificial turf at Veterans Stadium. The Cowboys tried four different types of shoes, but nothing seemed to work.
“My thing is quickness,” said Harvey Martin. “And my quick feet, I can’t get started out there. The footing was awful.”
Seven days later, on the soft grass of RFK Stadium in Washington, Martin suffered the first injury of his football career – a sprained ankle. Every evening for the next week, Martin sat with his leg propped up on a chair with ice on top of it to reduce the swelling. Martin played the following game against Kansas City on Monday Night Football, but was relatively ineffective. Near the end of the Cowboys’ 34-31 loss, Martin was seen sitting on the bench with his leg propped up on the back of a chair.
Against New England in Week 9 Martin was among the Cowboys defensive starters, but he quickly gave way to rookie Randy White. With Martin on the sideline trying to get healthy, White tallied three sacks of Patriots quarterback Jim Plunkett as Dallas snapped their two-game skid with a 34-31 victory.
Martin was virtually invisible for the next few games, while his tender ankle slowly healed. But once at full health, Martin was back to his old ways of destruction, leading the Cowboys’ pass-rush in a Week 13 conquest of Washington to secure a playoff berth, and then by putting the finishing touches on Joe Namath’s worst day as a pro, crunching the Jets quarterback to the ground and knocking him from the game with a fourth quarter hit.
Namath finished with just one completion for seven yards, his lowest output as a professional. Said Martin of the hit: “I just heard him say, ‘Oh, no, not my knee.’ I meant to hit him and hit him hard. All around the league they baby him, help him up. That’s a bunch of bull. I got my ankle almost broken by someone that didn’t help me up.”