EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — Walking the corridors of Minnesota Vikings headquarters for the first time since he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the memories came flooding back for Cris Carter.
He came to Minnesota in 1990 with drinking and drug problems weighing him down, having been kicked to the curb by Philadelphia despite scoring 11 touchdowns the previous season.
The Vikings gave him some discipline and direction, without which he doesn't believe he would have come close to putting together a career worthy of the Hall.
As he recounted his experiences in Minnesota, he spotted former Vikings part-owner Wheelock Whitney in the crowd and recounted how Whitney and former team counselor Betty Triligi helped him overcome alcohol and cocaine issues that essentially got him booted out of Philly.
"Personally what they did for my life, that changed my life," Carter said on Thursday. "Besides my mother, there's a lot of people that helped me out but there's not a lot of people that can say that I wouldn't have made the Hall without their involvement. But I can stand here today as a man to tell you if you wouldn't have helped me that day when I came here, that second week in September, I wouldn't have made it."
Carter choked up several times while he reminisced on his time with the Vikings, who claimed him on waivers after Philadelphia cut him.
He said he had stopped using cocaine by then but was still abusing alcohol, and recalled the exact day — Sept. 19, 1990, — when Triligi challenged him to go a week without drinking.
"I haven't had a drink since then," Carter said. "I was just trying to make it through the week to survive really. That's what I was really trying to do, just make it through one week and then eventually after surviving, I could feel my body starting to change and I could feel my ability starting to really, I could be as good as I really wanted to be. I upped my conditioning, I dropped my body weight, and then the rest was history."
By his third season with the Vikings, Carter started to emerge as one of the best receivers in the game. He finished his career with 1,101 catches for 13,899 yards and 130 touchdowns in 16 seasons.
At the time of his retirement, most of his statistics were second on the career lists to Jerry Rice, but it took him five tries to finally gain entrance to the Hall.
"It's the most frustrating thing for people to tell you you're a Hall of Famer but you don't have it," Carter said. "To finally get in, man it's really, really amazing."
Carter also got emotional when thinking about his upbringing in a rough area of Middletown, Ohio. He attended Ohio State before being drafted by the Eagles in the fourth round in 1987.
"It's 241 miles from the housing project I grew up in," Carter said of Canton. "From that doorstep to George Halas Hall, it felt like 10 million miles because of the journey I had to get there. You don't grow up in that little place like that and think you're going to end up in Canton. You really don't. For me, it's a special meaning."
What delayed Carter's election was a voting block that is still trying to adjust to the changes in the game from a run-based league to a passing-based league.
He became eligible at the same time as Buffalo's Andre Reed and Oakland's Tim Brown did and had some difficulty getting clear of the logjam. Reed and Brown are still waiting.
"It's supposed to be the best players, not the best players by position," Carter said. "Eventually, they'll work out. I can't campaign for them because it's going to be tough. It's going to be tough. If you look at the people that didn't make the finals this year, they could have gotten in the Hall. It's going to be tough, but I'm so glad I'm not on that list with them."
Carter will have his son introduce him at the induction ceremony in Canton, Ohio, in August, where he will go in with coach Bill Parcells, Dallas Cowboys guard Larry Allen, Baltimore Ravens left tackle Jonathan Ogden and defensive tackle Warren Sapp, along with senior selections Curley Culp and Dave Robinson.
"Every day I cry. Every day," Carter said. "It's overwhelming. It's the most unbelievable thing that has ever happened to me. People tell you it's going to be exciting and it's going to be good, but they don't really give it justice for what it means."
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