Wideout Cris Carter is coming out of retirement—and not a moment too soon for the injury-depleted Dolphins
The dolphins were 28 minutes and three turnovers into their meltdown at Pro Player Stadium on Sunday when, 35 miles to the north, in Boca Raton, an interested observer snarled at the big-screen TV in his family room. "Come on, Ray!" Cris Carter said, urging on Miami quarterback Ray Lucas. "Take a sack! We've got a beast of a defense! Let them win it!"
Maybe Carter, second in the NFL in career receptions, should have come out of retirement a day earlier. On Monday, in the wake of their 23-10 loss to Buffalo, the Dolphins signed the 36-year-old Carter to a contract that could pay him around $1 million for the last 10 weeks of 2002. After that, Carter is expected to return to his analyst's job on HBO's Inside the NFL, though he sounds like a man who hopes his close-to-home gig is more than a half-season deal. "Stay tuned," he said on Sunday.
Retirement, as it turned out, was too sedate for Carter. The HBO assignment was fun and a way to keep his hand in football, but it didn't satisfy his route-running jones. He got the I-should-be-out-there feeling when he took his son Duron to the Jets-Dolphins game on Sept. 22. And he didn't need much convincing when Miami called on Oct. 16 to feel him out about playing again. The Dolphins may have been sitting atop the AFC East at 5-1 after a last-second win over the Broncos on Oct 13, but they were hurting at wideout with starters Chris Chambers (concussion) and Oronde Gadsden (torn ligament in his left wrist) out for a week and the season, respectively, and with no depth to speak of.
Last Thursday in New York City, before taping the HBO show, Carter was wrestling with whether he should accept the Miami offer. His Inside the NFL colleagues were unanimous. "Bro," Dan Marino told him that morning, "do you have any idea how much I'd love to come back? You've got to do it." When Carter's family got on board on Friday, the decision was easy. After passing a team physical on Monday, Carter began preparing for his new job in earnest. He should play a prominent role in Miami's next game, on Nov. 4 in Green Bay.
"After you retire, you're always trying to justify not wanting to play," Carter said on Sunday during a timeout that momentarily halted the Dolphins' six-turnover implosion. "You say you've got to get on with your life. You almost believe it. All of us who go into the next life knowing we've got something left still want to play, in the back of our mind."
The deal with Miami is salve on the wound left by his departure from the NFL. After persuading the Vikings to grant him his release last winter, Carter was on the verge of signing with the Rams in March. But they backed out when Carter delayed a trip to St. Louis because he was also negotiating with the Browns. At the same time, he was talking to the Dolphins, but he wanted more than the roughly $1.5 million the team was offering.
Second only to Jerry Rice on the alltime receptions list, with 1,093, Carter hopes to contribute immediately by serving as a safety net for the inexperienced Lucas. The 30-year-old quarterback, who on Sunday made his first start since 1999, will be in the lineup for at least a month while starter Jay Fiedler recovers from a broken right thumb. "I watch tape from last year," Carter said on Sunday, "and there's nothing I won't be able to do now that I did then."
The Dolphins are counting on that.
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