It has been a bittersweet holiday season for Andre Carter. His wife, Bethany, and their two children live near Los Angeles, and for 6-year-old Quincy, Christmas can be one of the best times of the year.
Quincy’s father is on the opposite coast, though. A job opportunity recently presented itself, much too good to pass up, but one that comes with travel and time commitments far away from his native California. So while Carter’s family was enjoying Christmas in the warm, comfortable confines of home, he was some 3,000 miles away.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Carter. “I’ve got an amazing wife and healthy kids. I think my wife knew the love that I have for this organization, and she said, ‘Hey baby, just give them all you got.’ This place holds a lot of special meaning.
“I’m definitely blessed for the holidays. This is a great time of year and I definitely have a lot to be thankful for: being healthy, being alive, and playing my dream for 13 years.”
Lucky 13 has come courtesy of the New England Patriots, who signed Carter Oct. 23, seven games into the season. Stung by season-ending injuries early in the year to defensive linemen Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, the Patriots needed help, and turned to Carter, who spent the 2011 season with the team. He signed after that season with Oakland, and was still with the Raiders in August during training camp before being released.
But Carter kept himself in shape, just in case. And when the Patriots reached a point of “in case of emergency, break glass,” Carter happily became their man.
“If you never said a word to him and just watched what he does, he’d be a great example and a great role model,” said coach Bill Belichick. “You can see why he’s played 13 years in the league.
“He’s a smart guy, he works hard, and he really cares. I think that’s certainly been a good influence on our team — at the position he plays and all the other ones. It’s good for the coaches, too. He’s just a good guy to have on your team, good guy to be around.”
The gregarious Carter, 34, is one of the more pleasant people in the Patriots locker room. Even though he had spent only one season with the team, his re-signing played out like the long-awaited return of a best friend, with greetings, hugs, and handshakes.
It’s part of Carter’s charm. At 6 feet 4 inches, 260 pounds, he is physically intimidating — until he flashes his smile, which is frequently. He’s also an experienced NFL veteran, aware of what’s important, what’s required, and what’s at stake.
He’s also studious.
“He’s very professional,” said Belichick. “He’s the first one in the meeting, sitting in the front row, has his notebook open before anybody — you would think he’s a rookie free agent.
“He’s always ready to go. He trains very hard, he’s a very well-conditioned athlete. He works very hard at the physical training, the mental training, he’s on top of his assignments, and he works well with his teammates.”
Carter has made an impact, much as he did in his 2011 Pro Bowl season, when he had 10 sacks before missing the final two regular-season games and the playoffs with an injury. Appearing this season in each of the Patriots’ past eight games, Carter has two sacks — he brought down Joe Flacco during Sunday’s 41-7 win at Baltimore — and with seven quarterback hurries, he is tied for third on the team, behind Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich.
Coincidentally, those two players happen to be friends with Carter’s 6-year-old son.
“He loves Chandler Jones,” said Carter, “and when Chandler scored a touchdown [against the Ravens] he said, ‘That’s my buddy, Chandler Jones is my buddy.’ He brags, he’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m friends with Chandler Jones, I’m friends with Rob Ninkovich, they’re my pals.’
“It’s fun, it’s something you love and embrace.”
One of the best parts of being with the Patriots, Carter said, is giving Quincy a chance to see his father play professional football when he’s old enough to understand the stage and the situation. It’s a position Carter was in himself, years ago. He’s the son of Rubin Carter, who played for the Broncos from 1975-86.
“I’m so thankful that my son can see this,” Carter said. “It reminds me of the time where my dad played, toward the end of his career, and I can remember what he did.
“I wasn’t into it like my son is. My son is loving it. I’d go to my dad’s locker room and see the players, but I didn’t care too much for the game. But my son, he wants to go out on the field, catch touchdowns, go in the locker room.”
Between the time Carter was released by the Raiders and re-signed with the Patriots, he explored some possibilities for life after football. Coaching could be in his future, or commentating. But Carter couldn’t shake what he kept hearing from his coaches and teammates in Oakland: “You still have a lot left, there’s no way you’re done.”
He’s not done. And latching on with the Patriots again, he’s also not experiencing much losing — which he has before. His college teams at California went a combined 11-33, and he had seven losing campaigns in his first 12 NFL seasons. There have been three trips to the playoffs but only one playoff win, way back in 2002, when he was with the 49ers (he was injured during the Patriots’ run to the Super Bowl in 2011).
Another postseason win could come this season. The Patriots have won the AFC East and will host at least one playoff game, following Sunday’s regular-season finale at home against Buffalo. So despite missing his family during the holidays, Carter carries on, not sure how long his football journey will go, or where it will take him. He doesn’t sound concerned.
“When you play this game for a long time, there’s players that have a story, whether they weren’t given an opportunity to play, whether they had backed up somebody for a long time, but that’s what makes the NFL so amazing,” Carter said. “You don’t know, at times, when you see guys are so successful: Where did this guy come from? How did he become the man he is?
“We’ll see what the good Lord has for me. This is an amazing time for me. There’s no other place I’d rather be.”