GRAPEVINE, Texas (AP) -- When the Dallas Cowboys drafted Harvey Martin as a virtual unknown out of East Texas State University in 1973, he was a mild-mannered defensive end who used to help fallen foes to their feet.
Martin, who died Monday night of pancreatic cancer at 51, was in jeopardy of being cut during his rookie season, former teammate and road roommate-to-be Drew Pearson recalled Tuesday.
Pearson later learned how the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Martin altered his attitude after a meeting with defensive coordinator Ernie Stautner.
"Ernie sat him down and told him, 'You're not going to make the team. You're too nice,' " Pearson said. "Harvey changed overnight. All of a sudden, 'Too Nice' became 'Too Mean."'
Martin soon became notorious for his rough style. Without as much as flinching, he would smack unsuspecting quarterbacks with his forearm or step on downed offensive linemen. He also had a quick temper and bravado.
The week before the Cowboys played the Washington Redskins on Dec. 16, 1979, Martin received a funeral wreath, purportedly sent by the Redskins. On it said, "Sympathy for an Impending Loss."
Days later, after the Cowboys won 35-34, Martin was still fuming. He marched into the Redskins' locker room and threw the wreath smack into the middle of their prayer huddle, yelling, "Take this back to Washington with you!"
Maureen Porter, spokeswoman for Baylor Health Care Center, said Martin died Monday night at Baylor Medical Center in Grapevine.
Martin's health deteriorated quickly in recent months, said Ed "Too Tall" Jones, the Cowboys' other defensive end in the Martin era.
"This is devastating to me," Jones said. "Less than a year ago, Harvey and I were making personal appearances together."
He led the Cowboys in sacks seven times, leading former Dallas coach Tom Landry to call Martin the team's best pass-rushing defensive end ever. Martin led in sacks from 1974-77, 1979-80 and 1982. He holds the Cowboys record for career sacks at 114.
"He'll be remembered as one of the great Cowboys of the golden years," former Cowboys president and general manager Tex Schramm told The Associated Press Tuesday night. "He was a great player, one of the first in the group of the first great pass rushers. He accomplished more than was anticipated of him."
Martin became a cornerstone with Jones and Randy White of the Doomsday Defense, which helped lead the team to victory over Denver in the Super Bowl in 1978.
Martin drove himself to the highest plateau during a 14-game regular season in 1977. His speed-rush techniques produced 85 assorted tackles, a club-record 20 sacks, two fumble recoveries in the NFC championship game, All-Pro and the Associated Press NFL defensive player of the year award, and the Super Bowl co-MVP award with White.
Martin is the first Super Bowl MVP to die.
Dallas Morning News sports columnist Frank Luksa recalled that one measure of Martin was that he was recognized by his first name.
"He was always Harvey. He needed no other identifier. He was never called Martin," Luksa wrote Wednesday. "The only public reference to his last name occurred at Texas Stadium after Harvey trapped the quarterback, which was often. A replay screen in the end zone flashed the word: MARTINIZED!"
Opposing players feared Martin's abilities and appreciated his competitiveness.
Former St. Louis Cardinals offensive tackle Dan Dierdorf banged heads with Martin and the rest of the Doomsday Defense twice a season in the '70s and early '80s.
"On the field, he was a competitor, and you'd hate the guy," Dierdorf said. "Then you'd meet him off the field at the Pro Bowl or at a league function, and you'd find it was impossible not to like him. You'd leave him and be mad at yourself for liking the guy."
After retirement, Martin struggled with substance abuse, domestic violence and bankruptcy.
Martin was jailed in 1996 on domestic violence and cocaine charges. He received probation on both charges and was sent to the Dallas County Judicial Treatment Center. He was released after eight months and took a job selling chemical products. Martin also made anti-drug speeches to children.
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