"My health was excellent then and it is pretty excellent now," Martin said recently. "It is pretty much the same."
Martin attributes his good health and fortune to his long-standing commitment to physical fitness, which has been a big part of his life since he arrived in the metropolitan area as an 11th-round draft choice from the University of Oregon in 1975.
"One of the things that I did early on in my career when we decided to settle here on the East Coast and we built our home, I built a full gymnasium facility within my home," said Martin, who participated in all the events at the reunion of the 1986 Super Bowl champion Giants last weekend. "Because my perspective at that time was that conditioning and training were a lifetime endeavor that did not just correspond to being a professional athlete. So my perspective was different from the outset. And I never took the position that when I retired from football that I would retire from working out. It remains an integral part of my lifestyle even to this day."
Martin is convinced the devotion he had to a healthy lifestyle 36 years ago benefits him today.
"I think unquestionably it does," Martin said. "Number one, it creates a routine in your lifestyle because it is part and parcel of who you are. Number two, I think it also gives you a great perspective on life because it allows you to remain active. I am now 58 and I still go out in the yard and play with my grandchildren and I cycle and I walk. To me, exercise has always been a lifelong endeavor. It should be a lifelong endeavor. And it should not come to an end."
Martin is not at all bothered – or slowed – by the 10 pounds he's added since playing his final game in 1988. And even if he was, Martin has enough support and evidence to confirm that he is healthy.
"I am a little bit heavier now, but I still feel great," said Martin, who is the Executive Director of the NFL Alumni Association. "I get an annual physical, because I think that is part and parcel of being fit. I make sure that I get a complete physical every year, to make sure that all of my numbers are in line. I do not have high blood pressure. I do not have anything that relates to urological diseases. I make sure that I get those checked as well. So I think there is a whole mindset, a whole regiment that goes along with being physically fit. And inclusive of that is taking those necessary health audits every year. Whether it is looking for colon cancer, whether it is looking for urological issues or high blood pressure, just the whole make up, I feel should be done annually.
"You also have to look at people who are in certain danger groups. If you look at being an Afro-American male, there are certain things that are more a requirement for you than your white counterpart. So you have to be cognizant of the whole medical environment."
It wasn't long ago that Martin was looking to add a few pounds. In 2007, he demonstrated how superb his condition is in a manner few ever have, by walking from New York to San Diego. Martin's Walk Across America raised more than $2 million for the rescue and recovery workers who developed respiratory problems after working in the ruins of the World Trade Center after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The journey took 10 months to complete and Martin wore through 80 pairs of socks, 24 pairs of shoes – and 40 pounds. But losing the weight was part of his plan.
"It was by design, because I had corporate pledges that would pay me $400 a pound for every pound that I lost," Martin said. "So I was very proud to have added that to the total. You can't maintain that (weight loss) always. I have put about 25 pounds back on since then."
When Martin was training to travel across the country by foot, he would leave his New Jersey home and take long – make that very long – walks in a state park across the New York State border. He developed a love for the area and continues that regimen today.
"You will see me up there every spring, summer and a little bit of the fall," Martin said. "You won't see me up there in the wintertime. I developed a very, very good routine. And to me, it is almost spiritual to go up Seven Links Drive in Bear Mountain State Park and to walk my minimum five-mile routine. And if I am having a good day I will do eight or 10 miles, just to have that solitude and to clear your head and to commune with nature. To me, there is absolutely nothing like it. And it also allows me to hearken back to one of the most precious and the absolute splendid time of my life when I walked across America and I saw how beautiful it was. I love to have that ability to reminisce and to get a good workout in the process."
As exhilarating as the long walk was, Martin could not have made it without his dedication to always staying in top condition. Today, most NFL players are in good shape all year, thanks to the offseason conditioning programs that all 32 teams have. But when Martin played, particularly early in his career, working out between seasons was neither as popular nor as prevalent for the vast majority of players. Martin took it upon himself to be as fit in April as he needed to be in October.
"I think I was definitely ahead of the curve because to me, football wasn't my primary sport," Martin said. "I very much had a basketball mindset. So going out and running or playing and making sure that cardiovascular exercise was part of my routine, using my quickness and my agility – that all lead to my longevity of having played 14 years. It also lent itself to an offseason regiment that was very conducive to staying in shape."
Martin played in 201 regular season games to become one of just three players in Giants history to cross the 200-games barrier (the other are Michael Strahan with 216 and Howard Cross with 207). He is still fourth on the team's career sack list with 96.0 (including 50.0 prior to 1982, when sacks became an official statistic). Martin was a vital performer on the 1986 Super Bowl champions (he sacked John Elway for a safety in Super Bowl XXI). He had a knack for making the big play, scoring six touchdowns, a record for NFL defensive linemen since broken by Miami's Jason Taylor. Martin also caught a touchdown pass when he lined up as a tight end in 1980.
In addition to his impressive statistics, accomplishments and leadership ability, Martin was remarkably durable. In part because he worked so hard in the offseason, Martin was always healthy from July to January. Unlike many players of his generation, Martin's retirement is not marked by pain or the loss of mobility resulting from an injury he suffered as a player.
"I was extremely fortunate as a professional athlete," Martin said. "I never got injured seriously. I got hurt every day, as is inherent with the sport. But I never had an injury that required surgery. I never had any lingering ailments such as back, shoulders, knees, neck, etcetera, etcetera. None of those things have plagued me. And I think it is one of the reasons that enabled me to do the journey for 911, which saw a former defensive lineman who had played 14 years in the NFL without any serious medical impediments be able to walk over 3000 miles."
The workout that Martin used to get in condition for that walk and to remain at peak condition incorporates many elements he has used since setting up the gym in his house almost four decades ago.
"It's mostly cardio, but not exclusively," Martin said. "It encompasses both cardiovascular exercise and a little bit of weight training. And here is the thing, you have to evolve – like anything, everything has an evolutionary cycle. When I first retired I was still going out and doing the same routine that I did as a player. And I found that that was very counterproductive and it was totally unnecessary. A corporate executive doesn't need to be benching 400 pounds. And that is what I was basically doing.
"I found out – yes, you learn – you need to reduce the weight training and increase the cardio. And I did that over a period of time. And there was one time when I was an avid jogger. I ran quite, a lot but I found out that was putting too much compression on my joints. And that is why I decided to walk across America and not run across America. So if you are intelligent you begin to adjust your routine to fit your lifestyle. And my wife and I are very active and much love tennis and we play tennis with a great deal of frequency. But invariably, because my job requires so much travel, the first thing I do when I pack my bags is I put my sneakers and my workout clothes in my bag. And then I pack my business attire."
In his position with the NFL Alumni Association, Martin has a bully pulpit from which to encourage other former professional players to get into or stay in peak condition. And he's not shy about using it.
"We talk about maintaining optimum health," Martin said. "We talk about making sure that there is a prescribed regiment that goes along with a healthy diet, regular exercise, regular checkups, all of those things – looking at those warning signs, because you don't want to become a diabetic, you don't want to become an amputee, you don't want to not be able to walk up a flight of stairs. All of those very good habits that you developed as a professional athlete, they shouldn't be shoved aside and then put in the closet in your retirement days. We're trying to be able to get a mindset where we know there is a lot of pride and people like the way they look and they like the fact that they had this Adonis body at one point in time. So try to maintain those healthy habits because it is only going to lead to a long, more productive quality of life."
No one personifies that attitude more successfully than George Martin.