It could have been so different, so much easier or, at the least, smoother. Wouldn't have been all these rats with pens and tape recorders and television cameras gnawing at him already. That would have come, sure. Just not this quickly. Not right out of the gate.
Neophyte quarterback Quincy Carter realizes the situation as he saunters in, returning from an afternoon minicamp meeting. A horde of reporters has encircled his locker in some horrible Little Big Horn re-enactment. Still, he doesn't seem to mind this intrusion, this hiccup in his daily routine. Carter cordially holds court, showing remarkable poise for a 24-year-old. Smiles a lot. Looks everyone in the eye. Makes nice. Basically lets his guard down.
Pity. Someone should have told him. Explained that we could turn on him at any minute and to watch his back. It's a lot like Ray Liotta's character Henry Hill said in Goodfellas: "They come to you with smiles." He'll learn.
"Right now this is all so overwhelming," Carter says with a Deep South accent. "I'm doing something that's a dream for me. Right now, I just want to concentrate on football."
During the interview, he regurgitates that last sentence five or six times, clutching it like a security blanket. He's not a hardened veteran yet. Doesn't turn to the phrase to rid himself of this media scourge. Rather--and the cynical among us will have trouble bending their minds around this concept--he actually wants to concentrate on football and football alone.
Carter was resigned to this: merciless media scrutiny before the season, or the preseason, had even begun. Subjected to this crap, question after question, in minicamp, which is pro football's annual parade of futility. Other rookies and free agents lounge around after the morning workout, spread out on the locker room couches, gorging on fried chicken and baked beans and other fare the club provides for lunch at its Valley Ranch workout facility. They are, mostly, left alone. Most, save one.
Any chance of Carter being another rookie, however, and doing something so trivial as learning the game was smashed to bits by Jerry Jones and his pathetic yes-men. By most accounts, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound QB has potential, but not enough to justify where he was selected. Figured he would go third to fourth round because signal callers who complete just 56.6 percent of their throws in college, and do more darting and dashing than passing, tend to be devalued in the draft.
Instead, Carter's immediate future was determined a few weeks ago--sealed by Jones, Chief Bungler, who took him in the second round (53rd overall) out of Georgia. Carter became the third quarterback chosen in the draft and the first by the Dallas Cowboys to replace Troy Aikman. That task is daunting enough. The city had its rock star, its beloved, and so this gig will be a little like replacing a band's frontman--everyone listening intently for a sour note. (Yes, the Pokes also have Tony Banks, who is set to be the starter and the first to fill Aikman's role, but, really, if he doesn't blow it before the season's halfway point then my brilliant sports-prose isn't severely underappreciated by New Times.)
"We think, as opposed to being identified as a scrambling quarterback, with his outstanding speed and mobility, he moves around the pocket and looks to throw the ball, exactly what we were looking for," Jones muttered after selecting Carter. "Our strategy today was to get as low as we could in the second round, and we did not want to wait until the third round on him because we felt good about drafting him early in the second round."
It's possible Jones was enamored with Carter. Possible he was eyeing the former Bulldog the way you lustily checked out a pretty girl during college classes. Possible this was the initial plan. More likely? He panicked. Then created this aura around the pick, this "I'm sooo in love with Quincy" spiel to deflect criticism. With Jones, you must admit, the scenario is entirely feasible. The man is disingenuous by nature. (And you know it, which is why you booed him Sunday at Reunion during Game 2 of the Stars-Blues series when his mug popped up on the video-scoreboard.) Recently, he conducted a news conference with officials from Midwestern State University and the mayor of Wichita Falls, where the Cowboys have held training camp the last three years. Announced, proud as a first-time father, that the Pokes inked a new contract and are headed back upstate.
"I don't know how it could be better than in Wichita Falls," Jones beamed. What P.T. Barnum didn't volunteer is that it's merely a one-year agreement and that the Cowboys will also train in California this summer. What went unsaid, dear reader, is that Wichita Falls has about as much of a chance of seeing them next year as I do of mapping the human genome. Pure evil. Which is why you can't trust Jones or be sure if Carter was his guy.
What is certain is that nurturing his skills, developing Carter as the quarterback he must now become, has morphed into an exceedingly arduous task because of where he was selected. Take him in the third or fourth round, and I'm not writing this column, and no one else is bugging him either. Take him where they took him, though, and suddenly it's on.
Obviously, attention comes with the job, and he'll have to get used to it sooner or later. But wouldn't it stand to reason that a wide-eyed kid trying to find his way--and he is still a kid, despite his advanced age. For godsake, he has braces and says "thank you"--would benefit from a shadow's protection? Wouldn't it be that much simpler to learn hundreds of plays without scores of flashbulbs popping in your face? Wouldn't it be best to bring him along slowly?
Again, don't mention Tony Banks--the Cowboys equivalent of putting Fix-A-Flat on a tire worn to the rim.
"I don't really want to get into too much of who's gonna start yet 'cause we're not in pads," head coach Dave Campo says, looking at the crowd through those trademark thick glasses. "I feel Tony Banks is our quarterback. Now, he's had some ups and downs, but we expect him to rebound."
A vote of confidence if I've ever heard one. You think this is bad? What happens when Banks skips a pass or 10? Remember, this is the same guy who last season skillfully guided the Baltimore Ravens through five weeks without a touchdown.
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From here, it only gets more complicated for Carter. So, pressure?
"I'm not thinking about that too much right now," Carter says. Clad in a pair of gray cotton shorts and a white Dallas Cowboys T-shirt with a single chain dangling from his neck, he looks around contemplatively before continuing. "I'm just trying to learn as much as I can. I'm just trying to concentrate on football."
He didn't ask for this. Probably doesn't want it, either. It's not his fault.
But it is his fate.