The trouble with Quincy
By RICH CIMINI
DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER
The Jets think troubled backup QB Quincy Carter is worth the risk.
Imagine being such a gifted high-school athlete that one of your coaches tells you, "God made you different than other people."
Imagine going to a football-crazy college and, after two years away from the sport, becoming the school's first true freshman in 50 years to start at quarterback on opening day.
Imagine being so revered in your hometown that a church holds a revival in your honor, praying for your well-being as you prepare to embark on a career in the NFL.
It all happened to Quincy Carter, one of the most famous football players to come out of the state of Georgia. You could call it a charmed life, although there are legions of fans in Athens, Ga., and Dallas who would choke on their barbecue if they heard that.
In those cities, Carter's last two football stops, the pattern was the same: He arrived with great hype and tantalized the masses with his wondrous ability, only to exit before his time was up. In both cases, it ended bitterly amid scurrilous questions about his character.
He's not a good finisher. The Jets hope he never gets a chance to start.
Three weeks after getting fired by the Cowboys, who once hailed him as their quarterback of the future, Carter is a $555,000 insurance policy for the Jets. It's a marriage of convenience: The Jets get an experienced backup to Chad Pennington; Carter gets a chance to rehabilitate his tarnished image.
"I think it's a win-win for everybody," coach Herman Edwards says.
For the first time in his career, Carter, 26, isn't burdened by high expectations. From his perspective, this is a one-year detour on the way back to the fast track - at least that's how he explained it to friends. Considering his past, he may want to slow down a bit.
Carter has been described as a con man, a charmer who invariably leaves his bosses disappointed. In three seasons with the Cowboys, he reportedly flunked two drug tests, with the result of the second positive surfacing at the time of his stunning release. He reportedly has been admitted twice to rehab, and there have been rumors of cocaine use, which he emphatically denies.
"I just refuse to believe he has gone down that road (of cocaine)," Steve Davenport, one of Carter's former high-school coaches and friend, told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution. "Even so, as most mortals do, he has some issues and demons to fight."
Carter has been dogged by drug rumors since his days at Georgia, where he went from a freshman phenom to a junior bum. His play declined so dramatically that overzealous fans and boosters started whispering about possible game-fixing.
"I can tell you, unequivocally, that's not true," former Georgia coach Jim Donnan told the News.
Donnan believes Carter struggled as a junior because his talented supporting cast was gone. Aware of the drug rumors, Donnan conducted his own investigation. As a matter of course, he called the local authorities and the FBI. He said the rumors were unfounded. Asked if Carter ever failed a drug test, Donnan said, "Not to my knowledge."
Carter bolted for the NFL after his junior year, entering the 2001 draft. According to an NFC scout with close ties to the Georgia program, "No one was unhappy that he left. They didn't try to talk him into staying."
Even though they had a young Pennington on the bench, the Jets showed more pre-draft interest in Carter than every team except the Cowboys, Donnan said. In a shocker, the Cowboys chose him in Round 2. Donnan was fired after Carter's final season. Donnan still wishes him well, but they don't talk much anymore.
That the Jets were willing to take a chance on Carter raises questions, considering they already have two players in the league's substance-abuse program - defensive linemen John Abraham and Josh Evans. Edwards is counting on the team's strongest leaders, namely Pennington and Curtis Martin, to provide the necessary support. "I think our team will embrace Quincy and we'll do everything we can to help him," Edwards says.
Privately, the Cowboys say that Carter's demise went beyond the substance abuse. After an offseason in which he worked hard to reduce his interception total (21) - Carter studied tapes of Peyton Manning's footwork and Michael Vick's release - Carter reported to training camp with a sour attitude.
He argued with assistant Sean Payton, complained about a lack of practice reps and, perhaps showing insecurity, boasted that "this football team knows who its starter is." That didn't sit well with coach Bill Parcells, who doesn't believe in handing jobs to incumbents.
It was telling that, upon Carter's surprising release, not one veteran expressed disappointment.
In 2002, Carter almost got cut after a confrontation with owner Jerry Jones in Arizona on the sideline. The offensive coordinator was former Jets coach Bruce Coslet, now a Cincinnati consultant. Coslet, through a Bengals spokesman, said he didn't want to be interviewed for a story about Carter.
Carter always dreamed big. As an eighth-grader in Decatur, Ga., he wrote an essay saying he would play someday for the Cowboys and the Chicago Cubs. Sure enough, he was drafted by the Cubs and spent three seasons in the minors before enrolling at Georgia. He couldn't hit a curveball.
In Decatur, Carter is an icon. Before leaving for his first Cowboys minicamp in 2001, he was celebrated at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. Kneeling at the altar, he was surrounded by clergymen, all of whom touched his head and led the congregation in prayer.
"He's made for greatness," says Buck Godfrey, who coached Carter at Southwest DeKalb High. "Hopefully, this (adversity) will teach him responsibility to himself and the people he hurt in the process. Life has twists and turns. You haven't seen the last of him."
Then Godfrey pauses. "I just wish he'd give me a call," he says. "That would help me out a lot."
They don't talk much anymore.
Originally published on August 28, 2004