Cris Carter has waited patiently to hear if he would be called by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Carter, the eight-time Pro Bowl receiver who had caught the second-most passes in NFL history when he retired in 2002, did what he could on the football field to earn his spot in the Hall. Now a finalist for the fifth time, he’s still waiting to receive the much-anticipated call. He knows adding “Hall of Famer” to his many accomplishments when votes are taken on Saturday would change his legacy, even though it wouldn’t change the view he has of himself.
“I can’t fake who I am,” Carter said Thursday. “I can’t make it up. I never won a championship. At the end of the day, as a man, I’m just waiting like everyone else who ever played this game. I don’t like being in the situation where someone else is going to put the identity on your career. It seems like everyone is waiting to make an adjustment on my career based on the Hall of Fame. It’s the system that we’re in, and I just have to deal with it.”
Two former Minnesota Vikings teammates, Carter and defensive end Chris Doleman, are among this year’s 15 finalists. The 2012 inductees will be announced Saturday afternoon.
Carter, Minnesota’s all-time leading receiver, was known for having one of the best set of hands in NFL history, finishing his 16-year career with 1,101 catches (fourth all-time), 13,899 receiving yards (eighth) and 130 touchdown receptions (fourth). Doleman, one of the most feared pass rushers of his time, is the Vikings’ all-time sacks leader, accumulating 150.5 sacks in his 15-year career, the fourth-most in NFL history.
Like Carter, Doleman has had to wait to hear his name announced as a Hall of Famer. The Vikings’ No. 1 draft choice (fourth overall) in 1985, Doleman is a finalist for the second time.
“I think I was a little more nervous last year,” Doleman said. “I’m kind of a veteran of this now. I feel this is a wonderful opportunity to be a part of and you take it as it comes. You realize it’s just that, it’s an opportunity. Nothing is guaranteed to any one of us.
“It’s nice for somebody to notice your body of work as a player. It is a humbling experience, I guess. To be considered one of the greatest to have played … you’re in rare air.”
Many consider just making the list of finalists to be an accomplishment. Fellow finalists Kevin Greene and Charles Haley were also elite pass rushers whose careers mirrored Doleman’s. Along with Carter, receivers Andre Reed and Tim Brown are on this year’s list. All three are among the top 10 all-time in receptions. However, over the past six years, only three receivers — Jerry Rice, Art Monk and Michael Irvin — have gained induction.
“I know there’s an issue as far as the wide receivers,” Carter said. “It’s real, but it’s up to those people in the room to solve that problem. That’s why the National Football League, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, that’s why they have those people on that panel.
“I’m just thankful of my career. I’m thankful that I’ve been honored. I’m thankful that I’m one of the finalists. Every guy on that list deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. If you get on the finalist list for the Half of Fame, man, you have done something significant in the game of football.”
Doleman was inducted into the Vikings’ Ring of Honor this past season, joining Carter in the 19-member group. An eight-time Pro Bowl selection, Doleman was drafted as an outside linebacker, but eventually became a defensive end as Minnesota transitioned to the 4-3 defense. He finished his career seventh in NFL history with 24 fumble recoveries and 45 forced fumbles.
“I appreciate my teammates. Those relationships are more valuable than they have ever been,” Doleman said. “To spend time with (fellow Hall of Fame teammates) Johnny Randle, Randall McDaniel, to be in the Ring of Honor in Minnesota and realize you’re one of 15 players in 51 years of the Vikings is pretty cool.
“I appreciate what the club has done for me. They opened doors for me, and I’d proudly go in (to the Hall of Fame) as a Vikings player.”
A fourth-round pick by Philadelphia in the 1987 supplemental draft, Carter blossomed when he arrived in Minnesota in 1990. During his 12 years with the Vikings, he had 1,004 catches for 12,383 yards and 110 touchdowns. He set a then-record with 122 catches in 1994, then equaled the number the following year.
“I would say the closer you get, naturally, the more difficult it is because so much of your fate is in someone else’s hands,” Carter said of the Hall of Fame process. “I think anyone in that type of situation, it’s nerve-wracking. It’s an honor that you want, and I’ve been so close the last several years, that you can almost just taste it, but you don’t really have it.”
Carter said it’s an emotional process for him because of all the support he had throughout his career, specifically from his father who is from Ohio and is dealing with early Alzheimer’s.
“If I am a Hall of Famer, it’s because of these people,” Carter said. “It’s not me. I wasn’t going to make it. I didn’t have a track to the Hall of Fame. I didn’t have a game plan. I had no dream I would be in the Hall of Fame. But there were people who saw things in my life and said things to me that ultimately put me on the doorstep on the Hall of Fame, and now I sit there and I wait.”
Brian Hall writes about the Vikings for Fox Sports North.