"Thanks for calling Mud Bugs hockey. How may I direct your call?"
Uh-oh. It's nearly always ominous when your first attempt to find a former Dallas Cowboys quarterback leads you to a minor-league hockey team based in Shreveport. Yes, Quincy Carter has fallen this far.
So far that he plays for a team so small and a league so half-assed that the incorrect phone numbers on the Web sites lead down dead-end roads to other teams, even other sports. To find a clear picture of who and where Quincy is these days, I had to recall the star he once was.
Hard to believe Carter was Dallas' top pick in the 2001 draft, and the second quarterback selected just after Michael Vick and before Drew Brees. I mean, most Cowboys quarterbacks matriculate to fame and/or fortune. Don Meredith is still the funniest analyst in the history of Monday Night Football. Roger Staubach's in the Hall of Fame. Troy Aikman remains a relevant, revered voice of today's NFL. Tony Romo's canoodling Carrie Underwood and is one bobbled snap from already owning the city. (And news of Drew Bledsoe's retirement yesterday is, well, considered news.)
But Quincy? Once the CEO, now the fry cook. Once leading America's Team to the NFL playoffs, now plastered on a Bossier billboard at Spring and Youree Streets hawking something called the BattleWings.
Familiar face; foreign surroundings. Crowds of 3,000. $200 paychecks. One of his teammates stars in NBC's Friday Night Lights, and one of his coaches is a full-time Bossier police officer. Arena2, with its $85 season tickets and its in-game music ranging from Dave Mason's "We Just Disagree" to Rage Against The Machine's unedited F-bombs, is as far from the big time as this woman is to Kim Dawson.
You think Quincy's destination is whacked, get a load of his journey.
You remember how he flunked a drug test for pot and was cut by Dallas a week into training camp in 2004. (In a strange twist of fate, Romo might not have yet seen an NFL field if not for Quincy's dedication to cannabis. So, um, thanks?)
"Just like that, poof, he was gone," says Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist and ESPN-103.3 FM radio host Randy Galloway. "He went from a job with the highest prestige to complete falling off the map and into a downward spiral."
Even more bizarre was the role of local media in Carter's plight./p>
While sitting out the 2005 season, Carter made an unsolicited, impromptu phone call to KTCK-AM (1310, The Ticket) afternoon show "The Hardline." In a rambling, slurring "interview" that made Anna Nicole sound like Tony Blair, Carter called wanting to "set the record straight" but proceeded to merely further cloud his issues. He wouldn't directly answer questions about his rumored cocaine use (which he now strongly denies) or his rumored bipolar disease (which he now strongly denies). Neither, when sarcastically questioned by frustrated co-host Greg Williams, would he confirm or deny his stance on salad.
"It's definitely in the top three craziest moments in Ticket history, and that's saying something," says "Hardline" co-host Mike Rhyner. "He called wanting to clear some things up, but it was obvious from the outset he was incoherent. As soon as he started rambling we were shooting each other 'What the fuck?' looks all over the place. If anything, he damaged his reputation even more."
A year later Carter found himself sitting an Irving jail cell, arrested for -- what else? -- possession of marijuana.
"When I got a call saying Quincy was in jail for drugs, I wasn't surprised," says Galloway. "Initially I forgot about it, but then the day went on and he was still there. That seemed more than a little strange."
Moved by the Christmas spirit and radio ratings, Galloway called up the good folks at Cowboy Bail Bonds and offered to pay Carter's $500 bond, which amounted to $160. Thankful for the publicity, CBB waived the fee, and Carter -- after 12 hours in jail -- emerged a free man, saved by a radio bit.
"This guy made a lot of money as a top baseball pick, remember," says Galloway. "He made close to $3 million with the Cowboys. How the hell did he not have $160 to bail himself out of jail?"
For that matter, how the hell did he not have a ride home?
While Galloway received e-mails ranging from "What a kind gesture" to "What an asshole enabler," Carter left jail with no money and no cell phone, literally a lost man surrounded by emptiness -- and TV cameras. Eventually, KDFW-Channel 4 cameraman John Thompson gave Carter a ride home, and the two have since become close friends. After a couple of Carter's six touchdowns last Saturday night, he threw the ball into a corner of the arena toward Thompson.
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"It's really weird the things that happen in life," says Carter of his relationship with Thompson. "Some things were meant to be. One of my main things now is to surround myself with the right type of people."
I finally found Quincy Carter. And, at least temporarily, he's on his way to again finding himself.
"Pot has no place in my life, a blind man can see that," says Carter. "I want to be the person God called me to be, the person my mom raised me to be. It's all going to work out, and I'm going to end up back in the NFL."
Even if he has to wind his way through Mud Bugs hockey. --Richie Whitt