Overcame Addiction And Excelled
Carter played his first football game when he was eight years old, in a peewee league in Middletown, Ohio. When his teammates made a feeble attempt at tackling a large opponent, Carter became furious and said he would beat up anyone on his team who didn't play as hard as he did. His older brother, Butch, had to drag him off the field, telling him that this was not how team sports should be played. However, as Jeffri Chadiha noted in Sports Illustrated, Carter "was born with talent and a mean streak." Later in life, Carter would tame the mean streak, while retaining the talent.
Carter played for Ohio State University and began his professional career when he was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1987. His first reception as a pro player was a 22-yard touchdown catch. At the time, however, he was battling addictions to alcohol and cocaine. Carter flunked three drug tests while with the Eagles, who waived him in 1990. He overcame the addictions, turned his life around, and spent the next 12 years playing for the Minnesota Vikings.
Carter, who until then had held a fairly lax notion of training in the off-season—playing pickup basketball and occasional running—started as a backup but was in
for a big change with the Vikings. Roger Craig, an allpro running back from the San Francisco 49ers, joined the team, and when Carter asked him how he had become such a good player, Craig told him it was because he took his off-season training seriously. Carter took the hint, and began spending the entire day training. He has continued this regimen throughout his career. "Work is all I know," he told Chadiha. "There are no tricks. Right now I don't even think about football. I just push my body to the limit. When football season comes around, then I put it all together."
The training paid off. While playing with the Vikings, Carter went to the Pro Bowl eight consecutive times from 1993 to 2000. He was known for his avoidance of major injury, playing a full 16 games for 13 seasons. Carter had back-to-back 122-catch seasons in 1994 and 1995 and caught over 90 passes three other times.
In 1996, Carter became an ordained minister; since then, he has frequently testified about his past troubles with addiction and the role of spirituality in helping him overcome them. Carter told Chadiha, "I tell people that when they see alcoholics or drug addicts on the streets, they should think about me…. NFL Man of the Year, family man, a man who loves God. Yes, those things are all part of the picture, but so are the other things. They're all part of how I got to where I am now."
In 1998, Carter was devastated when his best chance to play in the Super Bowl slipped away. The Vikings, who had had a stellar season, were beaten by the Atlanta Falcons in overtime in the NFC Championship game. In the locker room after the game, Carter wept, and was unconsoled by teammates who insisted the team would be back and would someday have another chance. But the team made changes in personnel during the off-season, and Carter believed he would not have another chance to win the Super Bowl with the Vikings.
In 1999, Carter was awarded the NFL's Man of the Year Award. In that year, he also became the second player in NFL history to catch 1,000 passes in a career. Only the great Jerry Rice caught more passes in his career than Carter.