Bear safety Mark Carrier is by no means the only ex-Southern Cal star who has pursued a TV career. There's Lynn Swann. And didn't one of those Heisman Trophy tailbacks do some TV work? What sets Carrier apart is that he's working as an analyst on Chicago superstation WGN's Sunday NFL wrap-up show while he's still an active player.
Is it possible for a player to be objective about his team? If Carrier were to slam the Bears as hard as he hits receivers, wouldn't that hurt his standing with his teammates? "There's a lot going on that needs to be kept in the house," Carrier says. "You have to be respectful of your teammates, but you also have to give your viewers your best evaluations. I try to play it down the middle."
There's no question how Carrier plays it when it comes to helping the needy. Through his foundation, MacKids, Carrier has donated more than $15,000 to victims of Los Angeles-area disasters. He raises money by sponsoring a three-on-three basketball tournament in Long Beach, Calif., his hometown. He also works with the Special Olympics and the Red Cross, and he does fund-raisers for special-education children and cancer victims. But he expects nothing back except warm feelings. "I don't do it for publicity," Carrier says. "I do it because I want to, because of my father."
In 1979, when Carrier was 10, his father, Willie, was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident. In the ensuing years, as Mark followed Willie from one hospital to another, he became acutely aware of how much pain and suffering there is in the world. Yet when his father told him to quit playing football because he risked suffering a crippling injury, Carrier balked. "He wanted me to play baseball, but I got bored with that because I didn't think it was as exciting as football," Mark says. "It strained our relationship."
In 1986 Carrier appeared headed to Notre Dame. But just before he was to sign a grant-in-aid form, he opted for USC so he could remain near his father. He majored in communications.
When the NFL relaxed its policy toward undergraduates entering the draft, Carrier, then a junior, made the jump. The Bears made him the sixth pick of the draft, and as a rookie in 1990, Carrier led the NFL with a club-record 10 interceptions and was voted to the Pro Bowl. He had another Pro Bowl season in 1991 but then got caught up in the malaise that dropped the Bears to 5-11 in 1992 and cost coach Mike Ditka his job. "We had a lot of turmoil, and I wasn't enjoying football," he says. "But I got through it. I've been dealing with adversity since I was 10."
Under new coach Dave Wannstedt, Carrier had another Pro Bowl season in 1993. But nothing meant as much to him as his father's approval. "He never really said so, but I knew he was very proud of what I was doing," Carrier says.
At 27 Carrier is in the first year of a four-year contract his agent negotiated last March while Mark and his wife, Andrea, were honeymooning. He has become the Bears' defensive leader, a role he cherishes.
Nobody gets away with anything while Carrier is on the field, as Ian Beck-les, Tampa Bay's 304-pound guard, surely will attest. In a Game 3 victory over the Bucs, the 190-pound Carrier was penalized after he took a late shot at Beckles in retaliation for a blow Beckles had delivered to Bear cornerback Kevin Miniefield. "I played with [Mike] Singletary and those guys," Carrier says, "and they would always do something to even the score. I told Miniefield he should pick on somebody smaller, more my size."