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Photo - Aj Mansour (KFAN)
By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
Minneapolis, MN - For former Vikings wide receiver Cris Carter, growing up in the shadow of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio was more than just a figure of speech.
Growing up in a group of housing projects only 241 miles from Canton, Carter grew up taking classroom field trips to the Hall of Fame. Still, according to him, the ultimate trip to inclusion in George Halas Hall "felt like 10 million miles" because of all he went through on his journey.
"You don’t grow up in that little place like that and think you’re going to end up in Canton," Carter added.
At the time that he retired from the game, Carter had played 16 seasons for three different NFL teams (PHI 3, MIN 12, MIA 1). He was second all-time with 1,101 career receptions, second all-time with 130 TD receptions, second all-time with 8 pro bowl nods for receivers and had only struggled through two losing seasons in 16 years (his first and last seasons with the Vikings). On paper, the numbers were Hall of Fame worthy, but the real story was behind the scenes as Carter struggled through drug addiction, alcoholism, criticism and always being stuck in the shadow of the NFL's all-time best receiver.
Coming out of Ohio State University in 1987, Carter was selected in the 4th round by the Philadelphia Eagles. Throughout his three years in Philly, Carter failed to make much of a name for himself on the field. Off the field, now that was a different story. Carter was hooked on cocaine, using marijuana and abusing alcohol at a rapid rate.
His on the field struggles and off the field issues led Carter to a quick demise out East and led to the now infamous $100 waiver-wire claim that landed Carter in a purple Vikings jersey where he would make a name for himself and earn his way into the Hall of Fame.
On September 19th, 1990, Carter sat down with Vikings officials who shared with him their intentions to steer him on a better path. At the time Carter was no longer using drugs, but alcohol was still in the picture. He was, as he told KFAN's Dan Barreiro, "a dry drunk" who was not using but had no plan to keep him from sliding again.
"Even though I wasn't using cocaine at the time," Carter told Barreiro. "I really didn't have the skill set in my mind and how I could get my body off the chemicals and the thinking behind someone who was a drug addict...
That first day, the Vikings with the help of his counselor issued Carter a challenge. Stay off alcohol for one full week.
"No one in Philadelphia told me that I couldn't drink," Carter said. "The first time that I was ever challenged not to drink was in Minnesota. They told me that that was going to be the key ingredient in everything."
According to Carter, that day was the last time alcohol ever touched his lips.
Clean and back on the right track, Carter shone in his second year with the Vikings. Reeling in 72 receptions for nearly 1,000 yards and five touchdowns, it was the beginning of something beautiful for Carter and the Vikings. By 1994 Carter was reeling in 122 balls and by 1995 it was 17 touchdowns.
Still, there was something stuck in the craw of Carter.
You see, there was this guy you might have heard of named Jerry Rice out on the West Coast. He was a pretty good receiver and everybody kept telling Carter that Rice was the hardest working receiver in football. That didn't sit well for Carter, who with the help of his trainer devised a plan to change the minds of those who overlooked Carter's work ethic.
"Everyone assumed that Jerry Rice was the best receiver," Carter said. "And Jerry Rice trained at 7:00 a.m. on the West Coast, but with my trainer we came up with a plan. We said that we are going to outwork Jerry Rice before he gets up, when he’s sleeping, true story. We started working out before him."
Carter kicked off a workout that would begin around 7:00am local time (5:00am on the West Coast), so that he could get in a full workout while Jerry Rice was still sleeping.
"I caught thousands of balls one-handed," Carter continued. "By the time Jerry Rice woke up I was done with my work, I was done doing whatever I wanted to do and I knew that if Jerry Rice was ahead of me, that day I had caught up to him a little bit."
Carter may forever play second-fiddle to Rice who holds a crazy 21 NFL records, but as of last weekend the competition officially ended as they finally became a members of the same team. No more competing, they were now teammates in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Later on this year Carter will join other Vikings' greats like Fran Tarkenton, Alan Page, Bud Grant, Jim Finks, Paul Krause, Ron Yary, Carl Eller, Gary Zimmerman, Randall McDaniel, John Randle, and Chris Doleman in the halls of Canton at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.