Pride Comes Before Promise of Brighter Days

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TEMPE, Ariz. - Night had fallen on Sun Devil Stadium, the Cal football team's season and any good reason that Andre Carter should have been on the field.

But on third-and-14 with less than seven minutes left in the game, Carter lined up at defensive end, flung his blocker aside, ran down Arizona State quarterback Matt Cooper and snagged his ankle for a 1-yard sack.

The Bears were down, 30-3.

The senior had far more to lose from an injury than to gain from playing another snap. A multi-million dollar NFL contract was up against pride.

Carter chose pride.

Just as he has all season long, Carter played virtually every down Saturday. Long after hope left the Bears, he played on and played well, finishing with a team-high eight tackles and three sacks.

"It's a pride thing," Carter said. "I try to play like each play is mine. This is my last year and my last opportunity to play here. It's an honor playing and you've got to take advantage of the time you're here."

But Carter doesn't have to be here. If he so desired, he would be playing on Sundays instead of Saturdays this fall. He would live in a posh house in an NFL town instead of a Berkeley apartment. And unless he played for the Chargers, Carter would almost certainly win more games.

Instead, Carter opted to stay for his senior season when he would have been a surefire early-round selection in the NFL Draft last April. Among the reasons he listed for staying was his desire to go to a bowl game for the first time in his career.

That's about as likely as the Chargers winning the Super Bowl. Carter says he still thinks his team can get into a bowl, but deep down, he must know that he'll leave Cal as another great player who wasn't lucky enough to play on a team that won as much as he deserved.

So why does he play on?

"That's pride," Carter said. "You never take a knee, that's what (Cal defensive coordinator Lyle) Setencich says. You bloody their noses and keep on fighting."

Carter took exactly one play off Saturday night - his first of the season. It was late in the fourth quarter, after most of the sparse ASU crowd began to disperse.

It also wasn't his idea.

"You don't want him to totally be depleted," Bears head coach Tom Holmoe said. "I wish I could take him out more. We've got to look out for him."

If Holmoe is worried about jeopardizing a successful professional career, Carter isn't. After watching from the sideline for one snap, he was back out there, even though Holmoe had pulled most of the starters.

When Carter is on the field, life isn't easy. He gets clutched and grabbed more than a hottie at a Tempe nightclub. Opponents know who he is, and they try to find ways to stop him, inside and outside the rules.

Carter's reaction is easy to predict.

"It's part of the game," he said. "I expect it coming in. I don't really notice it that much. Did you notice?"

Some people are beginning to notice. Carter is beginning to get the calls that didn't come earlier this season. He was also recently named a semifinalist for the Rotary Lombardi Award, which is given to the lineman that "best exemplifies the characteristics and discipline of Vince Lombardi." Anyone who watches Carter knows that he would fit in on Lombardi's Green Bay Packers dynasty of the 1960s as well as Ray Nitschke.

But most importantly, his teammates take notice.

It's hard for a freshman new to the program to take it easy when he sees one of the best players in the game putting everything he has into every play. Carter isn't a vocal leader, but the example he sets is matchless.

"He's the best example of all time," Holmoe said. "Things aren't going great as a team. When he does that, it's hard for an average player to quit. They might want to take a few plays off, but when they see him they can't."

This team got beat up and embarrassed Saturday. The most entertaining way to pass to the time was a tie between trying to guess how many flags would be thrown in the next two minutes and watching the gratuitous shots of attractive female students in the crowd that flashed onto the stadium's JumboTron every 15 seconds.

But as ugly as the game was, the Bears did not give up. Part of that's coaching, part of it's the individual players, and a lot of it is silent leaders like Carter.

"You've got to somehow some way do more," Carter said. "I don't know how you do it, but you've got to do something."

Carter does all he can, and will continue to try to do more on a team headed nowhere this season.

That's pride.

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