NEW ORLEANS – Cris Carter, the man who became a Viking for the paltry sum of a $100 NFL waiver claim in 1990, finally reached the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s end zone on an emotional, tear-filled Saturday evening at the New Orleans Convention Center.
After a 16-year career defined by so many scores — 130 in all — that former Eagles coach Buddy Ryan once proclaimed, “All he does is catch touchdowns,” Carter was selected Saturday as a member of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2013. He will be enshrined in Canton, Ohio, his native state, on Aug. 3.
“This,” said Carter, “is the happiest day of my life.”
Later, when the bright lights of the NFL Network’s show had clicked off, Carter stood in a corner and talked about that waiver claim. It took him several seconds to compose himself as he remembered how the Vikings reached out to him at a point in his life when chemical dependency had cost him his job with the Eagles and threatened to wreck his pro career after just three seasons.
“Man, [the Vikings] invested so much time in me,” said Carter, breaking down again. “They got me to see the right people. Man, when I got there, I needed a lot of help. Oh my goodness.”
Carter’s voiced trailed off. He looked down. He dabbed at his swollen eyes with a Kleenex that had lost its usefulness much earlier in the night.
Contributing to the flood of emotions was the fact Carter was in his sixth year as a Hall of Fame finalist. He broke through as the third receiver from the 1990s when the Hall’s 46-man selection committee busted up a longtime logjam that included two of Carter’s receiving peers: Tim Brown was eliminated when the 15 modern-era finalists were cut to 10. Andre Reed was eliminated in the cut to five.
Carter, the fourth former Viking to be selected in the past five years, is joined in this year’s seven-member class by former Giants, Patriots and Jets coach Bill Parcells, Buccaneers and Raiders defensive tackle Warren Sapp, Ravens left tackle Jonathan Ogden, Cowboys guard Larry Allen and Seniors Committee picks Curley Culp, a nose tackle for the Oilers and Chiefs, and Dave Robinson, a Packers linebacker.
Carter thanked former Vikings coach Denny Green and the team’s eight-member ownership group that was in place in 1990. Without them and his family, he said, he never would have beaten his drug addiction and fulfilled his potential.
“It was a lot of hard work, but there were a lot of people helping me, not on the football field, but just getting my life together,” Carter said. “They really cared about me. I owe everything to the Vikings. What they invested in me was more than money. What they taught me was how to live the rest of my life. I didn’t have to be a prisoner to the things that held me back before. That I could finally, finally tap into my athletic ability. That was the first time that I really feel like the car was running 100 percent.”
Carter was a fourth-round supplemental draft pick for the Eagles in 1987. After joining the Vikings, he became an eight-time Pro Bowl pick and two-time first-team All-Pro. He had back-to-back 122-catch seasons (1994-95), eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons (1993-2000) and five consecutive seasons with at least 10 touchdown catches (1995-99).
Ten seasons after he retired, Carter still ranks fourth in NFL history in career catches (1,101) and receiving touchdowns (130), eighth in total TDs (131) and ninth in receiving yards (13,899). Of the 22 modern-era receivers in the Hall, Carter’s career touchdown total ranks second to Jerry Rice’s 197.
Carter also thanked his mom, a single mother who raised him and six siblings in a housing project in Middletown, Ohio. “From the housing project I grew up in, it’s 242 miles to the steps of the hall,” Carter said. “But it felt like a million miles away when I was in trouble [with drugs].”
Carter said his son, Duron, 21, will present him at the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremonies. Duron, also a receiver, entered this year’s NFL draft after college stints at Ohio State, Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College and Florida Atlantic.
“He’s had very, very similar struggles as myself,” Carter said. “And he wants to play in the NFL. I think he would be a perfect presenter.”
Obviously, Carter hopes his son can find the same path that he found 23 years ago. “When I got myself together, the Vikings really believed in me, and we never looked back,” Carter said. “We never had any hiccups. Never had any mistakes. Never had any failed tests. Man, it’s just hard to believe. I knew this would be good, but I never thought it would be like this.”
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