Cris Carter, the Vikings' newest Hall of Famer, met with the Twin Cities media at Winter Park today. He talked for about 30 minutes about a variety of subjects. But the highlight definitely was his candid conversation about Sept. 19, 1990, the day that changed his career and his life. Here's our take on it:
By MARK CRAIG
Sept. 19, 1990 was the most important day of Cris Carter’s 16-year NFL career.
Heck, it was the most important day of his 47-year life.
“That was the last day I ever drank,” the Vikings’ newest member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame said Thursday during a press conference at Winter Park.
Carter spent nearly half an hour reflecting on a stellar career that included two of the best hands in league history. But it wasn’t the 1,101 catches, the 13,899 yards or the 130 touchdowns that stood out. It was Carter’s teary-eyed recollection of his first few weeks as a Viking.
Carter arrived as a troubled former Philadelphia Eagles receiver on Sept. 4, 1990. When then-Eagles coach Buddy Ryan took a hard line against Carter’s cocaine and alcohol abuse, the Vikings stepped in with a $100 check for the waiver wire fee and a plan to help Carter off the field.
“I think that 100 bucks has to rank right at the top as the best [bargain] in NFL history,” said Jerry Burns, Carter’s first head coach in Minnesota and one of the former Vikings who attended the press conference.
“The first day [in Minnesota] was very, very difficult because I would say the Vikings were somewhat aware of my situation, but not fully aware,” Carter said. “But once they opened that file, they became fully aware, realized I had an issue and they put certain steps in place that day.”
Carter played in the 1990 season opener, but didn’t catch a pass. He played the next two games and didn’t catch a pass.
He was a long, long way from getting his life straight.
“My biggest problem was the struggle with cocaine,” Carter said. “At that time, I wasn’t using [cocaine], but I was still using alcohol.”
Carter looked into the background, spotted former Vikings co-owner Wheelock Whitney and thanked him and Whitney’s former assistant, Betty Triliegi, a drug and alcohol counselor who worked with the team for nine years during the 1980s and early 1990s.
“Personally, what they did for me, that changed my life,” Carter said. “I can stand here today as a man and tell [Whitney] that if you wouldn’t have helped me that day when I came here that second week in September, I wouldn’t have made it.”
On Sept. 19, Triliegi met with Carter in the moment that changed his life.
“Betty issued me a challenge,” Carter said. “It was for a week that I wouldn’t drink. I haven’t had a drink since then.”
It was a long week, and then some.
“I was just trying to make it through the week and survive, really,” Carter said. “That’s what I was really trying to do. Make it through one week. But eventually, after surviving, I could feel my body starting to change. I could feel my ability starting to [surface]. I could be really as good as I wanted to be. I upped my conditioning, dropped my body weight and then the rest was history.”
Four weeks later, Carter went back to Philadelphia and caught six passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles.
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