He didn’t think it was a big deal. Didn’t think he’d ever get hooked like he’d seen others in this neighborhood get hooked. When it was football season at Ohio State and players were being drug-tested, Carter simply stopped smoking and substituted with alcohol.
Carter made another poor decision at Ohio State when he signed with agent Norby Walters before his senior season. When it was discovered, Carter lost his eligibility and was drafted by the Eagles in the fourth round of the 1987 supplemental draft.
Things were going well in Philadelphia. Or so Carter thought until Labor Day in 1990, when Ryan called him into his office for a four-minute conversation that jump-started what Carter calls the “worst day of my life.”
Carter had started 34 straight games. He had finished third in the NFL in touchdown catches with 11 in 1989. He also was about to be cut. Ryan had had enough. He was taking a stance against Carter’s drug and alcohol abuse.
“My wife [Melanie] was pregnant with our first kid, my son, Duron,” said Carter, who also has a daughter, Monterae. “And I had to go home and tell her I didn’t have a job.”
Ryan’s wife had pleaded with Ryan not to cut Carter.
“Buddy started out by saying, ‘I told my wife I was going to release you and she began to beg and plead, ‘Don’t cut that kid. There’s something special about him,’ ” Carter said. “Buddy’s telling this story and I’m starting to cry because it’s cutdown day and I know I’m about to be cut.”
The Eagles offered Carter a flight to anywhere he wanted to go. One-way, of course.
“Then they gave me a garbage bag and told me to put my belongings in that bag,” Carter said. “I’m walking across Veterans Stadium, going to empty out my locker, with a gray garbage bag. That was the first time in my life that anybody had ever told me that I was garbage.”
The Carter kids
The steel and paper-producing industries thrived in Middletown during the first half of the 20th century and a little beyond. Armco was founded there in 1899. In 1957, Look magazine named Middletown one of its “All-America” cities. In 2008, a year after AK Steel, formerly Armco, moved its headquarters out of Middletown, Forbes magazine ranked Middletown as the country’s 10th Fastest Dying City.
When the Carter kids were growing up, however, Middletown was a destination for strong-backed workers and young athletes who had the skills and toughness to dominate the scholastic sports scene while proudly wearing the Middletown Middies’ purple. Basketball Hall of Famer Jerry Lucas was a Middie.
The Carters started out in Troy, Ohio, about 50 miles away. At 17, Joyce became pregnant with her first child, Butch. When Butch was 8, Joyce and Clarence divorced. As Butch, who’s nine years older than Cris, and his siblings got older, one thing became clear:
“My kids were going to be athletes,” Joyce said.
So Joyce moved everyone to Middletown, where she took a job in the day care at the Robert “Sonny” Hill Community Center. The center’s small basketball court became the Carter kids’ home away from home about a quarter of a mile down the road.
Long before Middletown became the home of Cris Carter, it was the home of Butch Carter. Butch was named the state’s top high school basketball player in 1976. He signed with Indiana University, was drafted in the second round by the Lakers in 1980, played seven seasons for four teams and later became a head coach in the league.
“Butch was our only father figure,” Cris said. “Every dime he made growing up, he gave to my mom so we’d have food on the table. Butch didn’t think I noticed, but when we’d eat, there were seven of us and Butch wouldn’t eat until he knew there was enough for the rest of us kids.”
A lot of times, the only thing to eat was oatmeal.