The new tattoo on his barrel chest reads SECOND CHANCE. All 21-year-old Robert Carr, the most prolific running back in Yale history, needs to figure out is what to do with that chance. He might try pro football after graduation next May or something in real estate or banking. But Carr is certain of this: He has been granted a cosmic do-over after nearly drowning in the murky water of a Connecticut lake last summer.
"My being alive, that's not luck," Carr says. "There's something in store for me, something important I'll do with my life."
For now Carr is shredding Ivy League defenses--following last Saturday's 17-7 loss to Penn, he led the conference with 188.5 all-purpose yards per game--because of a set of circumstances on July 3 that qualify as, well, miraculous. A man whose autumn Saturdays have been neatly defined by statistics, Carr almost became one himself, one of the roughly 3,000 Americans who drown each year. He can vividly recall drifting to the lake bottom and his final thought: This is it.
But thanks to two strangers, Brandon Roy and Nick Nunnally, it wasn't.
On the choppy waters of Lake Candlewood, about 35 miles northwest of New Haven, Carr was enjoying a day on the lake with friends. A competent swimmer, he was trying to get from a boat to a rope swing about 25 feet away when he took some water up his nose and began to choke. Panicking, he started to thrash and swallowed more water. Moments later Carr was descending 15 feet to the bottom. After his friends made a few futile dives in an effort to locate him, they shouted for help.
In the first of a series of spectacular coincidences, Roy, a 19-year-old automotive-school student, heard the shouts. Indeed, if one of his friends had not wanted to try a final jump off the rope swing, Roy says he would have already left the area. Instead, Roy quickly swam to where Carr had disappeared. He dived once, twice. Nothing. On the third try, unable to see Carr in the blackness, Roy felt the lake bottom. While groping, he latched onto the back of Carr's shorts. The six-foot Roy, who like Carr weighs 190 pounds, was able to sling an arm around the unconscious Carr's chest and lug him to the surface. Carr doesn't know how long he was underwater; onlookers have told him it was three to four minutes. The only thing he remembers is that when he came to, Nunnally was standing over him.
A member of the U.S. Coast Guard and an emergency medical technician, Nunnally happened to be vacationing on the lake that day. He performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the shore.
Carr recovered and life went on, if not quite in the same way. He has had a hunger for the goal line since his high school days in Baytown, Texas, but after the near-death experience his desire became almost feral. "He's always had the ability to focus," Yale running backs coach Larry Ciotti says, "but I think his level of determination is even higher this year. Some of that might be because it's his senior year and the career rushing record's out there, but I think there's more. He's very sensitive to the fact he survived, and his body and mind have responded to that stimulus."
With Nunnally among the 17,737 at the Yale Bowl last Saturday, Carr ran for 167 yards on 31 carries to surpass Rashad Bartholomew's fouryear-old career rushing record of 3,015 by 32. The Bulldogs' loss left them two games behind the Quakers and Harvard in the Ivy League title race. Winning even a share of the conference title is a long shot, but Yale is still alive--and Carr, more than any other Bulldog, knows that anything can happen.