- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2000

Mark Carrier became the man of the house at age 10, when his parents, Marie and Willie, removed their mask of happiness and told him they were getting a divorce.
Carrier learned some quick lessons like how to be tough, and how to suppress his emotions for the good of his mother and two older sisters. The strategy suited him and allowed him to perform fearlessly in the sport he loved as he became one of the nation's top young football players.
And then, nearly two decades later, Carrier realized that he no longer loved football, and that his life was splintering because he couldn't talk about his dissatisfaction. The Pro Bowl free safety had suppressed too much. He had become too tough.
"That was my downfall, because I kept it in," Carrier said recently. "You can overshadow things, but eventually it's all going to come out, and it can come out in a very negative way."
During his lowest moments, Carrier strongly considered quitting the game. However, after being released by Chicago, he reestablished himself with Detroit and this offseason signed a five-year, $15 million contract with the Washington Redskins.
"Now I'm really enjoying the game," the 32-year-old Carrier said. "Now I don't mind talking about it. 'Hey, I had a bad day.' Because it's fun. I know life is not going to stop if I had a bad day on the field. I know I'll have a better one next time."

Going to California

Marie and Willie were aiming for Fresno, Calif., when they left Wichita Falls, Texas, in 1976, but they never made it. They stopped to stay with a family in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Compton before moving three months later to Long Beach.
The Carriers fell in love with Southern California and life seemed splendid to young Mark. But the union of Marie and Willie, who married in their teens, was rapidly dissolving.
"When Mark Anthony was younger," Marie said, calling her son by his full name, "he was not exposed to a lot of negatives. I still remember the look in his eyes when we told him. They were wide open. He didn't know what was going on."
Carrier was forced to grow up. The process was accelerated soon after when Willie was paralyzed in a car accident and Marie told her son that he had to become the man of the house. To Carrier, that meant, "I could never show weakness. I could never show vulnerability."
"I guess that was a mistake on my part," Marie said. "But I was a single parent trying to make ends meet, trying to raise three kids, keep them off the streets, keep them off drugs. I expected all three of them to take care of each other, but with Mark being the boy, I felt like he should have a more mature role."
The Carriers moved "10 times in 10 years" after arriving in California, Marie said. However one thing stayed consistent after the divorce: Marie held family meetings once a month to discuss the family's goals. The key long-term question, she said, was, "Who would be the first to make it in this family?"
Marie, Lynn and Rhonda decided it would be Mark. So after Lynn graduated from California at Berkeley, she spurned graduate school to come home, get a job and make money. Rhonda went to fashion school in L.A. and worked part-time at a department store to help send her brother to college at nearby Southern California.
"He was on scholarship, but he couldn't go away to school with all those rich kids [without any money]," Marie said with a laugh. "He was named the best-dressed athlete every year at SC. He was our pride and joy."

Blown away in the Windy City

Carrier left USC after his junior season, and was picked sixth overall by Chicago in the 1990 NFL Draft. That season, en route to being named defensive rookie of the year, he had an astounding 10 interceptions, a mark no other player would match in the 1990s.
Meanwhile, Carrier got to play with some of the game's dominating defenders guys like Mike Singletary, Richard Dent, Dan Hampton and Steve McMichael. Carrier flourished and made the Pro Bowl in 1990, '91 and '93.
But the Bears were coming apart. Mike Ditka was fired after going 5-11 in 1992, and Dave Wannstedt guided Chicago to the playoffs just once (1994) in a six-year tenure. Big-name players like Alonzo Spellman and Rick Mirer were signed, but the Bears' core of tough players began to erode.
"I knew from playing that you can't be giving [away] quality character guys you can't have enough of those guys on your team," Carrier said. "They might not be big-name guys, but … you need guys like that around you."
Carrier's misgivings affected his play, which soured his reputation with management and the media. Marie noticed he wasn't playing with same the enthusiasm, and his fiancee, Andrea, saw that he resented going to workouts. Worst of all, the man of the house internalized his unhappiness and refused to talk about football or much else at home.
"I was going out too much, hanging out and not spending time at home not being a good husband," said Carrier, who married Andrea. "I would come home and my wife would know something was wrong, but I didn't want to talk about it. I just wanted to put it behind me."
The turning point came in the summer of 1997, when the Bears called to say Carrier had to accept a pay cut or be released.
"It was 8 a.m., like two days before he was supposed to report back," Andrea recalled. "Mark had heard the rumors. So he said, 'What kind of pay cut?' They wanted to make him one of the lowest-paid players on the team. He just starting laughing and hung up the phone."
Said Carrier: "I was out of a job, and the only people I had to look to was my family. They were there. Football wasn't there anymore, but my family was there. The people who I wasn't necessarily there for, were still there for me. That's when I kind of said, 'Let's reevaluate this whole game.' "

Detroit renaissance

Carrier was released June 1 and signed by Detroit 19 days later. Given a fresh start with the Lions, he rediscovered his love for the game. It came naturally, he said, once he learned how to be a family man. For the time when he wasn't around for the birth of his son, Mark Anthony II, now 4, he made sure he was there for the birth of Alexandra, now 2.
And in football, Carrier learned how it felt to be coached really coached again.
"I got to play under [Lions defensive coordinator and former Redskins assistant] Larry Peccatiello and [secondary coach] Dick Selcer," Carrier said. "They showed me I didn't know as much about the game as I thought I did."
But it also was with the Lions that Carrier developed a dubious reputation, incurring league penalties for improper hits. After having been fined with Chicago, Carrier received a written warning (1997), a one-game suspension ('98), and a $50,000 fine and another one-game suspension ('99).
"I'd like to say I came in from the old school of the NFL," Carrier explained. "When you play, you play and you play hard. You fight. You get the guy before he gets you."
Carrier stayed around the team during his suspensions, a move that did not go unnoticed. He was almost unanimously respected in Detroit, observers say, even though he endured a few incidents in particular, one with rookie Bryant Westbrook in 1997.
It was a Monday Night game against Green Bay and Carrier, responsible for defensive calls, changed the coverage at the line of scrimmage. The deep help was supposed to go to Westbrook, but instead it went away from him. Westbrook was beaten for a touchdown and he angrily gestured toward Carrier.
The two argued on the sideline before a national television audience and Carrier ended the confrontation by dressing down the rookie. But later in the locker room, when the media wanted to know about the confrontation, Carrier accepted the blame.
"I've learned in this game, from experience, it's easy to point the finger," he said. "Whether I was wrong or not, I accept responsibility because I'm on the field and I have some say-so. I can always do something."

Finding a home in Washington

Redskins strong safety Sam Shade, for one, respects Carrier for his handling of the Westbrook incident.
"That's character," said Shade, a five-year veteran. "That takes a big person to do something like that even if it was his [own] fault. To admit that, especially in the business we're in … that's big."
Shade also has been impressed with Carrier's work ethic noting that the 10-year veteran spends extra time studying even simple plays and his veteran tricks. Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey simply calls Carrier "the best safety I've had behind me," but the more experienced Shade notices that Carrier can anticipate passes and bait quarterbacks into mistakes.
"People can say he's not as fast as he used to be; well, maybe he isn't," Shade said. "But as far as game-wise, he's always where he needs to be."
Carrier agrees. Although he was pleasantly surprised with his 40-yard dash time this month (4.59 seconds), he knows his smarts must compensate for what he has lost in physical ability.
"I've gained a step mentally, even though I've lost a step physically," he said.
But for Carrier, this portion of his career is about enjoying himself as he competes. This is about more than reproving his talents and taking another shot at the Super Bowl; it's about keeping football in perspective and sharing his experiences when he comes home.
The man of the house, just three years removed from nearly quitting the game, has nothing to hide.
"What's most important on the field is not the most important thing in the world," Carrier said. "So enjoy what you're doing."

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