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Former Vikings player Cris Carter, who was recently voted into the Football Hall of Fame, at Winter Park with former teammate Leo Lewis.

Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

Sobriety, Vikings turned Carter's career around

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG
  • Star Tribune
  • February 15, 2013 - 7:11 AM

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," said the Vikings' newest member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Thursday during a news conference at Winter Park.

Carter, who was selected to the Hall of Fame on Feb. 2, 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 with the Vikings.

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 for off-field help for Carter.

"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 Vikings coach, who was at Winter Park on Thursday.

"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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