Harvey Banks “Too Mean” Martin (or Harvey Othel Martin), professional football player, sack specialist, and Super Bowl MVP for the Dallas Cowboys, was born on November 16, 1950, in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas to Sylvester Martin and Helen Pearl (Watson) Martin. In 1967 during his junior year of high school, Martin played organized football for the first time when he joined the team at South Oak Cliff High School. Still considered a “raw talent” when he completed high school in 1969, Martin developed into a star during the next four years at East Texas State University (now Texas A&M University-Commerce). He won National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), Football News, and Associated Press All-America honors during his senior season in 1972 and led East Texas State to the NAIA Division I championship.
Martin’s professional career began when the Dallas Cowboys drafted him in the third round of the 1973 draft. Although relatively small (by later standards) for a defensive end at six feet, five inches in height and 260 pounds, he played eleven seasons and gained fame for sacking opposing quarterbacks, leading the team in sacks seven times and setting a franchise records that still stood in 2012. Martin was often referred to as “Too Mean,” a nickname he supposedly acquired in his first training camp in reaction to being told that he was too nice by defensive coordinator Ernie Stautner. The assessment inspired Martin to toughen his attitude, and he gained notoriety as part of a fearsome defensive line, the “Doomsday Defense,” that included Randy White at right tackle and Ed “Too Tall” Jones at left end. Martin was named to the Pro Bowl four times (1976–79) and honored as the National Football League’s defensive player of the year in 1977. He played in three Super Bowls. Martin’s greatest day came in the Cowboys’ 27–10 victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XII at New Orleans on January 15, 1978, when he shared Most Valuable Player honors with fellow defensive lineman Randy White.
Martin, the first Dallas native to play for the Cowboys, enjoyed his role as one of the team’s most popular players. In 1977 he began to host The Beautiful Harvey Martin Show, his own weekday morning radio program on Dallas station KRLD. Commerce, the home of East Texas State, held a parade in his honor on “Harvey Martin Appreciation Day” on May 3, 1978. He invested in a number of restaurants and nightclubs in Dallas, appeared regularly at charity events, and worked during the off-season as a television sports reporter. In 1980 he was named to the All-Decade Team for the 1970s by the NFL Hall of Fame Selection Committee.
Unfortunately for Martin, financial problems and suspicions of drug use began to cloud his career even while he remained highly successful on the field. In June 1978 an IRS audit showed that he owned more than $250,000 in back taxes. In December 1982 he filed for bankruptcy after several business ventures failed. Also in 1982 the Federal Bureau of Investigation questioned him in a case that involved a defendant later convicted of selling cocaine. A year later FBI officials said that Martin had been mentioned as a drug user in an agency wiretap. Though he denied the cocaine use and no criminal charges were brought against him, in May 1983, at the request of Cowboys head coach Tom Landry and team president Tex Schramm, he spent ten days at a drug rehabilitation center in Minnesota.
Martin took a job in early 1984 as sales manager with Dallas-based PCB Electronics, and on May 4, suddenly announced his retirement from professional football at the age of thirty-three. He focused his energies on developing his acting skills and starred in a few small films and local productions. He also published an autobiography, Texas Thunder: My Eleven Years With the Dallas Cowboys, in 1986. In 1990 Martin worked as sport director for black radio station KKDA in the Dallas area. His personal life, however, continued to spiral downward. In 1991 he served one year of probation after being charges with resisting arrest and marijuana possession. Five years later he was fined $1,000 and sentenced to seven years’ probation on charges of felony cocaine possession. Then, in August 1996 he received two one-year sentences and a six-month sentence for telephone harassment, assault charges, and resisting arrest in a case involving his girlfriend. The sentence was made probationary when he checked into a drug treatment center and attended a six-month domestic violence counseling class.
During the last years of his life, Martin had reportedly turned his life around. He secured a job as a salesman for Dallas company Arrow-Magnolia. He also spoke to children, drug addicts, and other groups about drug abuse and the challenges of his life. On December 24, 2001, Martin died of pancreatic cancer at Baylor Medical Center in Grapevine, Texas. He was survived by his mother and a son and daughter. Martin never married. Many former teammates were among the 1,000 people who attended his funeral service at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano. Martin’s sister, Mary Martin, established the Harvey Martin Dream Foundation, Inc., an organization to foster educational mentoring and financial assistance to marginal minority high school students, in her brother’s memory. Of Harvey Martin’s legacy, Tex Schramm commented, “He’ll be remembered as one of the great Cowboys of the golden years.”