OAKLAND, Calif. -- Doug Martin came into the Coliseum interview room after his record-setting Sunday afternoon and, as he headed to the podium, shyly asked a Buccaneers staffer if he should button his golf shirt up a little higher. He got a "no,'' and then commenced smiling the unstoppable smile. It stayed in place through every question, every blissful answer.
"It was awesome,'' he said of rushing for a franchise-record 251 yards and four touchdowns in Tampa Bay's 42-32 win over Oakland, where 60 Northern California friends and relatives showed up to see the Oakland native play the eighth game of his NFL career. ''It's surreal right now.''
He looked and sounded so young. Martin is very young, only 23, not even six months removed from the Boise State campus, and he had just delivered the 10th-best rushing day in NFL history. But in his line of work, this does not qualify one as an anomaly or prodigy. It's understood that running backs have short shelf lives, but the record book and list of 250-plus days makes an even stronger statement about youth at the position.
When Andrew Luck broke the rookie single-game passing record for an NFL quarterback on Sunday, his 433 yards left him 24 short of ranking in the top 50 performances of all-time. Martin's 10th-best single-game rushing performance in NFL history did not give him the rookie record. It didn't come close.
The all-time and rookie records belong to the same player, Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 296 yards exactly five years, to the day, before Martin trod mercilessly on the Raiders. Another rookie, DeMarco Murray in 2011, sits just above Martin in the ninth spot, and Martin shares No. 10 with a fourth rookie on the list, the 2000 version of Mike Anderson. (Anderson spent four years in the Marines after high school and debuted with the Broncos at a geriatric 27.)
Except for O.J. Simpson, who was eight years deep into his career when he rushed for 273 yards, every back on the list hit this particular performance peak within his first four professional seasons.
The most distinctive feature of Martin's day, beyond even the four second-half touchdowns, was the fact that Josh Freeman balanced his work with 247 passing yards, more than any other quarterback had ever managed on a day when his running back exceeded 250. The previous best passing output came from Kansas City's Matt Cassel, who threw for 207 on the same day that Jamaal Charles went for 259. Five of the quarterbacks in the same situation could not reach double figures, and three couldn't match even the 64 yards of Freeman's longest pass of the day.
The balance of Sunday's win speaks promisingly about the resurrected Bucs, now 4-4 and the first group in franchise history to score 28 points four games in a row.
The development of Martin, the No. 31 pick in the draft, should thoroughly stiff-arm memories of a 4-12 season in 2011. Through the first month of the season, he seemed incapable of averaging four yards per carry. He broke through a week ago, with 135 yards rushing against Minnesota.
In the recent past, having the Raiders on tap next would have virtually guaranteed an outstanding encore. They were pushovers in the rushing game. But their 2012 defense ranked 11th against the run at kickoff, after they had surrendered a total of 201 yards on the ground over their last three games.
Martin came close to detonating on several early runs, but tripped up on several surges through the line. "My coach [Greg Schiano] was like 'Get your head up, get your head up,''' he said. "So I started to pick my head up after I was stumbling. What follows the head is the body, so I just kept going and I was onto the third level.''
He ran with his upper body so low to the ground that he looked like a human right angle in motion for the first 10 yards of every rush.
"His center of gravity and his balance, that's stuff you can't teach,'' Bucs safety and sage Ronde Barber said. "It's pretty rare.''
There was just one downside to his work, which included touchdown runs of 45, 67 and 70 yards, as well as a pedestrian 1-yarder in the final two minutes. His efficiency gave his defense minimal rest and allowed the Raiders to lead in time of possession, 31:56 to 28:04, despite forcing Carson Palmer to attempt a preposterous 61 passes.
"I almost wish we didn't score so fast,'' Barber said, chuckling.
The Top 10 list of rushing performances also suggests tempering enthusiasm about the larger meaning of Martin's performance for the 2012 Bucs. Of the 10 teams who played with his single-game-record peers, only four made the playoffs that year. None of those four (1977 Bears, 2000 Broncos, 2003 Ravens, 2010 Chiefs) won a postseason game.
On Sunday, though, the Bucs had no interest in looking backward, except perhaps to savor a few memories of running up big scores on two straight road trips.
Martin was looking forward to the briefest of visits with his local fan club before he boarded the team bus for the airport. As he walked out of the interview room, TV and radio stations kept asking him for further comment. A team rep, looking stern, kept saying that the young back had to go. But Martin obliged every request, smiling the whole time. On this day, he had to believe that no one could stop him in a meaningful way.