Last Friday I was in Mankato for the start of Minnesota Vikings training camp, as I have been now every year since 1978. The Vikings have held training camp in Mankato for 48 years. And for the third straight year, the Vikings will have a player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
On August 3, John Randle, Chris Doleman and number 80 Cris Carter will join the 50th Anniversary class of Hall of Famers.
During his career with the Vikings, which included eight Pro Bowls, Carter made so many great plays and stretched the field with his ability to make the spectacular plays routinely. My relationship with Carter started the day the Vikings signed him for $100 from the waiver wire after Buddy Ryan and the Eagles released him for substance abuse issues.
Carter was a wreck, but the Vikings made a strong commitment to help him clean up his personal life and were able to get him to fight the demons and get back to playing the game to the best of his ability. And that he did: He played in 188 games and started 177, a record among Vikings receivers. He caught a pass in a record 111 straight games.
His first head coach was Jerry Burns, but it was Dennis Green who made Carter a starter and featured him in his offensive attack. It was during the Green years that Carter exploded. Green challenged him and told him he was a Hall of Fame player. During Green’s 10 years as coach, Carter made the Pro Bowl eight times and was All-Pro four times.
It was during this time that I hosted and produced Green’s weekly radio programs, and because of that relationship I was able to get my two sons, Larry, Jr. and Marcus, jobs as Vikings ball boys. The relationships contributed greatly to my sons’ development as high school football players.
Being around great coaches and players made a difference — Randy Moss, Carter, Daunte Culpepper, Robert Smith, Randall Cunningham, Jake Reed, Brian Billick, Tony Dungy, Tyrone Willingham just to name a few. But it was Carter whose work ethic helped the learning curve of Larry, Jr., a future Hiesman Trophy runner-up at the University of Pittsburgh who idolized Carter and Moss and was able to not only dream, but to work on making his dream a reality.
Carter holds Vikings records for 1,004 catches, 110receiving TD’s, and 12,383 yards. He had 40 career 100-yard games. He was named to the 1990 NFL All Decade team. Carter was named winner of the Byron Whizzer White award by the NFL Players Association. He played in two NFC Championship games including 1998, the year the Vikings were 15-1 and the highest scoring team in NFL history. Carter won the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 1999.
He was born in Troy, Ohio. His brother, Butch Carter, played a major role in his life. The former Indiana basketball star and later Toronto Raptors head coach gave his brother much tough love.
Carter is just one of six Vikings all-time to have his number (80) retired. I can tell you in 1993, when I was fired by KFAN Radio from my successful, highly rated radio program after being discriminated against, it was Carter who went on TV and radio in the Vikings locker room and said none of the Vikings Black players would talk to that station again.
Personally it meant a lot to me, and for many reasons. Carter is among my favorite Vikings; I see him as family. When my wife Carol died in 2003, he spoke at her funeral. In April of 2013 he was our guest of honor at the 9th Annual Carol Fitzgerald Memorial Fund Benefit. Carter’s son Duron recently signed with Montreal of the Canadian Football League, and he will introduce his father Saturday into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Cris, congratulations on getting it done and being one of the greatest to ever play the game and for being a friend of my family over all these years.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to [email protected], or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.