(photos by Brian Murphy)
I couldn’t help but smile yesterday afternoon when word broke that the Oakland Raiders had signed former Washington Redskins defensive end Andre Carter.
First of all, it was great to see one of the most down-to-earth guys in the NFL get another chance after the 33-year-old finished last season on the shelf with a quad injury. But it was even more enjoyable for me because of the team that signed Carter.
That’s because the last time the Redskins played in Oakland was one of the most memorable and enjoyable games I’ve had the pleasure of covering.
The 2009 season was winding down and the writing was on the wall for lame-duck coach Jim Zorn, but the guys in maroon and black came to play inspired football on that day.
Maybe it was because they had knocked starter Bruce Gradkowski out of the lineup, which forced the Raiders to trot out JaMarcus Russell as their quarterback, or maybe it was just their day, but the Redskins defense imposed their will all game long in a 34-13 rout.
The dynamic duo of Brian Orakpo and Carter combined for six sacks that day — four of which came courtesy of Orakpo who tied a team record. But the play that remains fresh in my mind all these years later involves Carter’s failed attempt to secure a fumbled football for what would have been the first touchdown of his career.
Please indulge me this trip down memory lane as I look back at one of my absolute favorite moments covering this team over the last eight seasons. Here’s what I wrote about that highly-entertaining play in the days following that game:
Here we are, days after the best win of the Jim Zorn era, and all we can see when we think back is Carter, at 6-4, 254 lbs., fumbling around on the ground in a “greased-pig” situation.
As a quick refresher, the Redskins were leading 31-13 with less than eight minutes to go in the game. The Raiders had the ball first-and-10 on the 20, and had no chance of driving 80 yards because JaMarcus Russell was their quarterback.
Redskins rookie defensive end/linebacker Brian Orakpo came flying in from Russell’s blind side and drilled the oversized quarterback from behind – causing the ball to fly out of his hand. Carter saw the loose football sitting on the turf just a few short feet away from the endzone and raced in to score the first touchdown of his nine-year career.
What happened next was the cause of much post-game locker room debate. The cliffnotes version goes something like this – Carter failed to reel in the loose ball and it was eventually recovered by Raiders offensive lineman Mario Henderson.
“I had the perfect view,” said defensive lineman Phillip Daniels. “I was on the sidelines and saw [Orakpo] fly around and strip the ball. I saw the ball laying there, with nobody around. No nothing. And then, I saw Dre come and I said, ‘This is an easy touchdown.’ And then I watched Dre pass the ball. I was like, ‘What the hell did he just do?’ We were just looking at each other on the sidelines, shaking our heads.”
Daniels wasn’t alone in shaking his head.
“I’m disappointed in Andre,” said receiver Devin Thomas. “He really prides himself on his flexibility because he’s so big and muscular. I just knew he was going to get low and scoop that. I know he’s mad, he’s salty about it because he wanted a touchdown. He definitely should have had that one.”
Orakpo left little doubt when asked if he planned on giving Carter grief for not reeling in the would-be touchdown after the rookie caused the fumble on his fourth sack of the day.
“Oh yeah,” he said with a laugh. “I’m gonna because he had an easy touchdown and I don’t think we have a defensive touchdown this whole year. He could have been the first, and he blew it.”
Do you think he just got too excited seeing that ball sitting there just waiting for him?
“I think he did,” Orakpo said. “He normally knows how to pick up a ball, but he got too excited. It was so easy that it made it harder.”
Because the play ultimately didn’t come back to haunt the team, most of the locker room was laughing the play off. Like Orakpo, they all seemed content to have a little fun at Carter’s expense.
“I think we just need to work on that more in practice,” Daniels said. “We need to do some more scoop and score. We ain’t worked on it in a while, but I’m pretty sure it’s coming this week because that was one of those ‘C’mon Man’ moments you’re going to see on Monday Night Football for sure.”
In the post-game locker room one player had already made up his mind on how to help Carter avoid future embarrassment, should the situation arise again down the road.
“I just know I have to buy him some stuffed animals for Christmas,” said linebacker Rocky McIntosh. “So he can have something to grab and be soft with. That’s what I’m going to do. Yeah man, he’s just too ripped. He was on a high already from getting a lot of sacks and he just got too excited. He just needs to think of it as him picking up his son.”
Carter watched us as we bounced around the locker room getting different perspectives on the play that could have been. He knew it was coming, and by the time we headed to his stall, he was already cracking up.
Rocky says he’s buying you a stuffed animal so you can learn to have softer hands. What say you?
(Laughs). “I know, I know,” he said. “I’ve got to kiss the baby, man. I’ve got to kiss the baby.”
So what happened?
“I got excited, man,” Carter said. “I was like a little kid thinking I was gonna get a touchdown. I was like, ‘I’m gonna score a touchdown!’ And then … awwwww. I guess it happens to the very few of us who have no hands. The good thing is we won, so I’ll take the win … but I really wanted that touchdown so bad.”
And that’s why I enjoyed that moment so much. Carter is a guy who racked up 34 sacks during his highly-productive five seasons in Washington. He was a well-respected veteran who provided great leadership to young players and was always willing to answer tough questions after a tough loss. He was a freak of nature with only three percent body fat, even though he was more than 250 lbs.
But watching him try to reel in that fumble in Oakland showed a human side to him that I’ll never forget. He absolutely looked like an excited kid on Christmas morning as he saw that ball just lying there and began envisioning the first touchdown of his career.
Even though he didn’t recover the loose ball, that’s still my favorite play of Carter’s time in Washington. It’s also why I hope he goes to the Raiders and picks up where he left off last season — don’t forget he earned a trip to the Pro Bowl with 10 sacks for New England before suffering that quad injury.
So best of luck in Oakland, Mr. Carter. If nothing else, maybe you can finally score that defensive touchdown we’ve all been waiting on.