Nebraska football fans have ridden the roller-coaster that is Taylor Martinez since he walked out on the field as a freshman against Chattanooga in 2010. But now it appears that a foot injury that has dogged Martinez since Week 1 of this season will spell the end of his Nebraska career. Per ESPN's Joe Schad:
Taylor Martinez's debilitating foot injury won't get better w/o rest and could take 6-8 months to recover #Nebraska— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) November 11, 2013
So if the Martinez’s last snap wearing scarlet and cream was a Jeremy Balazar interception to seal Minnesota’s upset of NU, then it would be a good time to start thinking about where Martinez should fall in terms of his standing among the history of Cornhusker quarterbacks.
If Martinez’s career at Nebraska is indeed over, it will end with him holding many of Nebraska’s single-season and career records. Martinez holds over 30 school records, including records for career total offense and career passing yardage. His total rushing yardage as a quarterback is second only to Eric Crouch. He holds individual game records for completion percentage and total net yardage.
So when considering Martinez’s legacy, one must give weight to the sheer volume of productivity he produced while in Lincoln. Again, assuming Martinez does not play again, take a look at his career statistics as a Cornhusker:
|Pass Att.||Comp.||Comp. %||Yds||Yds/Game||TD||INT|
|Rush Att.||Net Yards||Yards/Game||TD|
The numbers are simply staggering, ones we are unlikely to see again anytime soon. Sure, statistics aren’t everything (as will be discussed presently). But they’re not nothing either, for those who wish to dismiss the Martinez era to the dustbin of Cornhusker history.
Staying with the positive, Martinez has guided Nebraska to some amazing wins. He holds the distinction of steering Nebraska to the biggest comeback win in school history. He nearly single-handedly won games for Nebraska during its six-game stretch in 2012 to win the Legends Division. He beat five ranked teams during his career.
Yes, there were losses as well (again, as will be discussed presently). Yes, Nebraska was 0-2 in conference championship games under Martinez. But it would not be fair to look at his legacy without considering that it was Martinez who got Nebraska to those championship games in the first place.
Nebraska was 29-14 with Martinez at the helm. It was 0-2 in conference title games and 0-3 in bowl games. Against ranked teams under Martinez, Nebraska was 5-8.
Those are not great numbers, especially at a school like Nebraska where success and failure is ultimately judged by trophies in the cabinet. And it was the nature of Martinez’s play in many of those losses that make them sting all the more.
In 2010, Nebraska was well-positioned to knock off Oklahoma and walk out of the Big 12 conference as champions. But a horrific interception started a Sooner tidal wave that Nebraska couldn’t stem, depriving NU fans of one last raspberry to direct at their old conference home as they left for greener pastures.
In 2012, Nebraska went to the B1G title game and faced a 7-5 Wisconsin team that finished third in the Leaders Division, earning the title-game berth only because both Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible. Yes, Nebraska’s defense collapsed in that game to the tune of 70 points, but Martinez’s performance was far from game-winning. Aside from his amazing touchdown run, Martinez threw two interceptions and was unable to play a clean enough game to keep Nebraska competitive.
Martinez has been the target of fan discomfort almost from the beginning of his career, based in large part on his perceived aloofness and unwillingness to engage with the media and the fanbase. That perception is unfortunate, particularly given his toughness and willingness to sacrifice to improve and make himself better. But that perception will likely color how many fans will perceive Martinez’s legacy at Nebraska.
There is no doubt that Martinez cannot be elevated to a discussion as one of Nebraska’s true greats. He did not win any titles, like Tommie Frazier, Jerry Tagge or Scott Frost. He did not win a Heisman Trophy and conference titles, like Eric Crouch.
Where the discussion gets more complicated is when you compare Martinez to players like Steve Taylor, both electrifying athletes who could at times frustrate the fanbase. But Taylor had postseason success, including being the MVP of the 1987 Sugar Bowl and winning a Big Eight conference championship as a senior. While Martinez’s statistics are better than Taylor’s, the contributions of Taylor to the Nebraska trophy cabinet put Taylor above Martinez in my book.
An interesting comparison is to look at Martinez next to Jammal Lord, another supremely talented athlete who was not embraced by the entirety of the Nebraska fanbase. Lord, like Martinez, played for Nebraska teams that underachieved (although Lord was 1-1 in bowl games, beating Michigan State in the 2003 Alamo Bowl). I would put Martinez above a player like Lord, simply based on his statistical accomplishments.
So, ultimately, I would put Martinez on a “third tier” of Nebraska quarterbacks, signal-callers who had amazing statistical performances but little silverware to show for it. Others may look at Martinez’s body of work and come to a very different conclusion.
And perhaps it is appropriate that Martinez’s legacy is like his tenure as a Nebraska quarterback—an enigma. There is much to be celebrated about Martinez, and much to be disappointed about, which make nailing down Martinez’s place in Nebraska history very difficult.
In other words, debating Martinez’s place in history will be just like the debates during his tenure as Nebraska quarterback.
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