It's just after 5 p.m. when Doug Martin arrives through glass double doors at the upscale steak and seafood house around the corner from his Tampa apartment. Groggy from an afternoon nap, the Buccaneers' rookie running back is trying to get a feel for the layout of the place when an attractive brunette calls from behind the front desk, "Doug Martin?"
He looks startled.
"Bucs cheerleader," the young woman identifies herself, and a broad smile eases across the 23-year-old Martin's face.
"Oh, yeah. I remember," he says, half-recognizing her from a team function.
Later Martin is seated at a dark corner booth with his girlfriend, Alyssa Simon, as the dinner crowd trickles in. Another admirer catches him by surprise.
"You gave the best answer ever in that interview," says a male employee, making like the gushing host of the old Chris Farley Show on SNL. ("Remember that time... ?") "They were asking you, 'Was that move more Barry Sanders or Ray Rice?' And you said, 'That's a Doug Martin original.' That. Was. Great!"
Martin doesn't remember the interview or the comment, but he's too polite to say so, and the server moves on with a laugh.
Such is life for Martin these days—but it hasn't always been that way. Four weeks ago, having rushed for just 408 yards through six games and averaging a middling 4.1 yards per carry, Martin could float through this harbor city's finest establishments with limited interruption. His numbers were respectable, on par with the parade of blah Bucs running backs before him: LeGarrette Blount, Derrick Ward, Earnest Graham.... But that's not what fans were expecting after Tampa traded up to select him 31st in last April's draft.
A two-game stretch for the ages changed all that, however, and today Martin, the NFL total yards leader (1,319), is regarded as one of the most promising and versatile young runners in the league—a 5'9", 215-pound kaleidoscope of quickness and power. Thus the attention.
Fans—especially those who play fantasy—perked up after a nationally televised Thursday-night thumping of the Vikings in Week 8, an eye-opener in which Martin carried 29 times for 135 yards and a touchdown and caught three passes for 79 yards, 64 of which went for a second score. But that proved a mere appetizer. A week later he ran through the Raiders for a franchise-best 251 yards on 25 carries and scored four rushing touchdowns, including three on dashes of longer than 40 yards, an unprecedented scoring feat in the NFL. In those two games Martin piled up 486 yards of total offense, a tally topped only four times in NFL history, by a few guys you might remember: Walter Payton (twice), Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson.