Monday, October 4, 2010

Catching Up with Mark Carrier

Mark Carrier, a third round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1987, is Tampa Bay's most prolific receiver of all-time. He still owns the most 100-yard receiving games in team history (15), and the single-game receiving yardage record (212). A Buccaneer from 1987-1992, Carrier played 12 seasons in the NFL and finished his career with 8,763 yards and 48 touchdowns. Carrier can now be heard weekdays alongside Ronnie Lane on WHBO 1040-AM from 3-7 p.m. He recently took some time to talk about his Buccaneer days and his new career behind the microphone.

Q. Take us back to your rookie training camp under Ray Perkins. What was that like?

A. It was a camp that I never expected. Prior to coming into the league and watching football, or seeing depictions of football practices on television, I had a different expectation. Once I got here, I guess reality set in. I was dumbfounded, and found myself thinking, "This is not what I saw on television!" It was a rude awakening for me.

It was his first year, my first year, and I want to say we had something like 20 draft picks that year. I truly believe his goal was to rebuild the team from scratch and get guys in place who he felt fit his plan. If they didn't fit his plan, he was going to do anything in his power to keep them off the team. I think the three-a-day training camp was how he felt he could see who was mentally and physically tough enough to go through it.

Q. How did you personally adapt to the rigors of camp?

A. It was tough for me, but I think I was able to adapt quicker because I wasn't one of the veterans who had been exposed to a different camp. Therefore, it was a culture-shock for them. For me, being accustomed to working hard I was able to deal with it better. Being young helped of course, and I didn't know truly what to expect. It was a tough camp, a tough season, it was the year of the strike. A lot of things were going on that first season.

Q. What kind of impact did the strike have on you as a rookie?

A. To be honest with you, after going through the grueling three-a-days of camp, the one advantage of the strike was my body getting a chance to rest a little bit. With all the hard work in that heat, my body was tired. It was brutal. If I could take anything positive from that strike, it gave me the chance to rejuvenate my body.

Other than that, it was particularly tough as a rookie coming into the league when you've not been exposed to what the strike is all about. It was the veteran players who knew what was going on, and had a better idea of why were striking. We as rookies had to learn as we went from what we had heard and read. It was eye-opening for me. Veteran players who had been in the league nine or ten years were talking about the things they wanted for the future, knowing their careers were ending in the next year or two. I could not appreciate it as much back then because they had gone through some of the things I had not been exposed to yet.

Q. That season you had a breakout game against New Orleans, setting a team-record for receiving yards (212) in a game. That had to be extra special coming in your home state of Louisiana.

A. I can't remember if I bought 30 or 40 tickets for that game, but it was my first time returning home. I grew up in Louisiana, went to school in Louisiana, cheered for the Saints as a child, even during the bad days of Archie Manning and Chuck Muncie. Quite frankly, anybody who grows up playing football in Louisiana would love to play football for the Saints. That's the nature of the beast out there. I was trying to put on a show for my family and friends who had come to the game, but also for the New Orleans Saints who had not drafted me. I went to school an hour away, but they chose to go in a different direction. I wanted to show them what they passed up.

Q. You came in as a rookie alongside Vinny Testaverde, and would play with him again later in Cleveland. Can you talk about how your careers intertwined?

A. One of the things that happened by getting drafted together is that we developed a chemistry. The coaches knew they weren't going to start him right away, but still we got in a lot of work together during training camp. That New Orleans game was actually his first game as a starter. All of the stuff we had been working on came together that day. It got to the point where I could depend on him, and he could depend on me. We were able to be successful and put up good numbers from then on.

As far as Cleveland goes, it wasn't planned out. It just happened to be that way and worked out to where we were able to hook up together for a couple more years.

Q. 1989 seems to be the defining year of your career, getting named to the Pro Bowl and being named the team MVP. How did it all come together for you that season?

A. That was a season where everything fell into place. I felt comfortable with the system, comfortable with Vinny, and more secure with my role and what my expectations were. I had the opportunity to make plays, and the coaches began to believe in me. The confidence built in me from them. Vinny and I had been playing together for three years by them, so we knew each other like the backs of our hands.

Q. That season the team finished 5-11, and if not for a couple of last-minute losses, could have had a winning record. What do you recall as the difference that year?

A. That was so long ago and so many losses ago. (laughs) I think back then, we were still trying to learn how to win and I think we were on the edge for a lot of games, but we could never get to the point where we could close out games. Like you said, we were 5-11, but we weren't a 5-11 team.

When you get into a habit of losing, it's hard to sometimes get out of those ruts, so to speak. Just like it seems when you are winning, the ball bounces the right way. When you're losing, it's just the opposite. It seems to be contagious and goes from one week to another.

Q. Going to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl had to make up for some of the disappointment, right?

A. That is probably one of my best memories. I ended up having a great year. 86 catches, I think. Initially, I wasn't going to go to the Pro Bowl because they had voted in John Taylor from San Francisco. He had 26 less catches and a few hundred less yards. But when you look at San Francisco and you see them every week them on television, it becomes a popularity contest. I understood the nature of the business. As it happened, he could not go. I was the first alternate, so I was able to take his place. It was gratifying because all of the hard work that I put in had paid off. It's one thing to play against the caliber of some of those guys, but to then go to practicing with and playing with them was a thrill for me.

Q. You came within one game of a Super Bowl in 1996 as a member of the Panthers. After all the losing years in Tampa, how special was that season for you?

A. Well, my second season in Cleveland we made the playoffs. That was my first-ever experience in the playoffs. I tell these young guys all the time that it took me eight years to get to the playoffs. Some guys come into the league and get into the playoffs their first or second year. That's very rare and shouldn't be taken for granted. Just getting a taste of the playoffs was great.

With Carolina, that was a season unlike any other. It was only our second year of existence. It reminds me of that Sylvester Stallone movie "The Expendables" because we were a group of older guys that came from different teams. We were either left unprotected or released by our former teams and then taken by the Panthers. We were The Expendables. We came together and were actually a game away from hosting the NFC Championship Game. If Green Bay had lost in the divisional round, we'd have had the championship game at home which would have made a world of difference. Going up to play in Green Bay seemed like it was 20 degrees below zero. I viewed that as the coldest day in the history of the world for me. It really was. Fighting those elements, never getting on track as a team, and finding ourselves in a hole right away kind of spoiled our chances. But just the experience of getting there was gratifying for me.

Q. How did you get involved with your new radio show?

A. It's by freak accident that it happened. About two months ago, I was very blessed and fortunate to be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. I'm flying back to Tampa from the ceremony, and at the airport I run into Ronnie Lane. We talked for a few minutes, and he told me he was back in town trying to get a new radio show going. Then he asked if I would be interested in joining him. I said sure, and that's how it came together.

It's a new experience. I'm still feeling my way a little bit, but with each passing day I get more comfortable and relaxed. I've always been on the other side of the mic! So it's been interesting. As a sports fanatic, I like the fact that now I can talk about sports all day. Being able to do that is a piece of cake, really.

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