CANTON, Ohio -- Cris Carter’s emotional football journey started in Ohio about four decades ago and ended in Ohio on Saturday night.
Carter, 47, grew up in Troy, which is three hours away from Canton, home of the Hall of Fame, where Carter was honored this weekend. He also starred at Ohio State in Columbus before his stellar 16-year NFL career.
On Saturday, Carter -- emotional and reflective -- came full circle, returning to the Buckeye State as a member of the 2013 Hall of Fame class. He didn’t prepare notes for his speech. Carter spoke strictly from the heart in front of many of his fellow Ohioans and football peers.
“We have the greatest Hall of all the Halls,” Carter said emphatically. “And to be able to join these men, on this stage, in football heaven is the greatest day of my life.”
Carter’s journey wasn’t easy. He signed with an agent and lost his eligibility his senior year at Ohio State. Carter said his only football-related regret was leaving school early and being forced to enter the supplemental draft.
“To all the Buckeye fans, from the bottom of my heart, I sincerely apologize,” Carter said.
Carter also battled drug and alcohol problems that nearly derailed his career. Carter described Sept. 19, 1990, as a landmark date in his life. That’s when he was asked in rehab to change his life. He’s been clean ever since.
On the field, Carter’s first NFL catch was a touchdown reception in 1987 against the St. Louis Rams. He had just five catches his rookie year with the Philadelphia Eagles, which included two touchdowns. Former Eagles coach Buddy Ryan later coined the famous phrase that “All he does is catch touchdown passes.” That stuck with Carter the rest of his career. He finished with 131 career touchdowns, which ranks eighth all time.
In Minnesota, Carter’s career flourished. That’s where he made eight straight Pro Bowls, had two seasons of 122 receptions, and five straight seasons of double-digit touchdowns. It’s also where Carter got his life together.
Carter also can make a strong case for having the best hands in NFL history. His highlight tape displays some of the most difficult and spectacular catches ever seen. Those strong hands made Carter fourth on the all-time reception list with 1,101.
“When he came in from Philadelphia, we knew he was a great ballplayer and we knew he could play,” former Vikings teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Chris Doleman said. “We wanted to just give him a clean slate to work from and let him do what he do. He’s never done anything but honored the Vikings and the Vikings colors.”
Consider Carter’s enshrinement speech, which was about 16 minutes long, one final touchdown reception. He was the final speaker in the 2013 Hall of Fame class, and Carter had several tough acts to follow. Jonathan Ogden and Curley Culp were classy. Dave Robinson and Larry Allen were funny. Bill Parcells and Warren Sapp, as expected, were straight shooters.
But Carter was able to put a bow on this entire Hall of Fame. He began by playing to the hometown crowd with a chant of “O-H-I-O.” Then he got more personal.
Carter’s son, Duron, introduced him. Carter also made sure to thank his mother, Joyce, and asked her to stand up in front of a national audience.
“Mama, I got to tell you, I didn’t have to wait to get a call from the Hall for them to tell me I was a Hall of Famer -- you’ve been telling me that since I was little,” Carter said. “You told me everything that’s ever happened in my life that’s happened. But Mom, I got to tell you. I have to apologize. I’m so sorry for the bumpy flight and the bumpy ride.
“But I got to tell you, Mama, it’s a smooth landing.”
Carter’s résumé is still growing. He is the author of a new book and an insightful NFL analyst at ESPN.
After five years as a finalist who came up just short, Carter can add one more deserving label on a historic night in Canton: Hall of Famer.
“Buckeye born and bred,” Carter said in conclusion. “Now an H-O-F-er -- even after I’m dead.”