Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL Nation [Print without images]

Saturday, February 2, 2013
Tears of joy for Cris Carter

By Kevin Seifert



I should have bet the house Saturday night that Cris Carter would emerge from behind a curtain, sit down and bawl his way through a question-and-answer session about his inclusion in the 2013 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In 14 years of covering the NFL, I don't think I ever saw a football player cry more than him.

Carter cried at highly appropriate times, including the 2001 death of teammate Korey Stringer. He cried at times that seemed reasonable, such as when he was named the 1999 NFL Man of the Year. And he cried at times that most people would not, like when he spoke at a standard team meeting.

Over the years, some have associated his quick tears with a larger attention-grabbing front they thought Carter put up, a self-promotional tool to portray him as a deeply religious do-gooder who had turned his life around and deserved accolades for it. That interpretation continued Saturday when Carter's raw reaction -- "This is the happiest day of my life" -- drew scorn from some of you via Twitter.

"Sure that makes his wife and kids feel great," tweeted @moefasa11.

Cris Carter
Cris Carter couldn't hold back the tears after being elected to the Hall of Fame.
On this day and all others, I think it's irrelevant to consider the motives behind Carter's persona and emotions. The inarguable and objective fact is that he has an incredible life story, one that has and will continue to benefit countless people whose lives started and progressed the way his did.

As you probably know, Carter grew up in a single-parent household as one of six children in Middletown, Ohio. Early mistakes nearly ended his career before it started, from losing his final season at Ohio State because he signed with an agent to getting released by the Philadelphia Eagles for what he later acknowledged was heavy drug abuse.

But from the moment the Vikings claimed him off waivers in September 1990, Carter fashioned one of the best careers for a receiver in NFL history.

Even after the NFL's passing game explosion over the past decade, Carter ranks fourth all-time in receptions (1,101) and fourth (130) in touchdowns. His hands were immaculate and his techniques for getting open were as precise as anyone who has played. He waited out a five-year process in which voters dealt with a backlog of players at a position they traditionally haven't valued as much as others, but to me there was never a doubt Carter would eventually be elected.

Even so, voters spent more than 30 minutes debating his candidacy, the third-most of the 17 finalists, according to one of the voters, Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland.

"The history with wide receivers," Carter said, "I follow it pretty close. I look at Art Monk, I look at Lynn Swann, I look at Michael Irvin, and it's becoming very, very difficult to judge the skill of a wide receiver in today's game. But what else can you judge it on but the numbers? The numbers, they do tell a story.

"I'm glad they recognized my career for what it was. … It doesn't matter [that it took so long] … I've been in this process for five years and they have not selected one bad player. Not one bad player have I seen elected to the Hall of Fame."

That was one genuinely humble moment for Carter during his interview session in New Orleans. Another was when he credited former Vikings coach Dennis Green for helping "take me to another level I never ever thought I would be."

Carter and Green were close during most of their tenure together in Minnesota, but they had a personal falling out and were barely speaking to each other toward the end. I'm glad Carter bypassed that short-term friction and recognized the role Green played in his success.

"He told me things, even compared me to the guys who I played with," Carter said. "And he told me things that I could go on the field with and have the greatest confidence. He would show me the game plan and show me how they were going to utilize me and what they needed me to do. They used to have a section in the game plan that had my name on it. I used to memorize it, He said, 'Man, it's like playing basketball on turf.'"

You might not like the way Carter carries or portrays himself, but his style is built on an awful lot of genuine substance. I hope that's what we focus on in the days and months ahead of his August 2013 enshrinement. As a player, he has deserved to be in the Hall of Fame since the moment he retired. As a person, there is plenty to admire as well.