The 24-year-old quarterback of the Houston Texans on faith, family, fame, and what it’s like to get sacked over and over and over again.
Evan Smith: So the rumors about your hair are true: You won’t cut it until the Texans win two consecutive games.
David Carr: Actually, I got it trimmed a couple of times. My wife made me. It started out because I was frustrated that we hadn’t ever won two in a row. My dad’s doing the same thing, though he needs to cut his hair. It’s almost down to his shoulders. It’s getting a little ridiculous. I looked at him and my mom from the back the other day, and their hair was the same length.
ES: Why do you think you haven’t won two in a row? What will it take?
DC: I think it’s one or two plays in each game. We’ve had the lead in most of those games, and we just happened to give it away or something happened—a turnover. It’s football; something’s going to happen. Hopefully this year we’ll win more than two in a row. I think we have enough talent to. We played much better than our record showed last year. Some of the teams we beat made it to the postseason. The Patriots won the Super Bowl. We beat them. But we also lost to the Bengals.
ES: How good are the Texans, honestly, both on their own and compared with other teams?
DC: On the practice field I feel totally different than I felt last year about how good we can be. I’ve played with every guy out there. This is the first time in three years that I walked onto the practice field and didn’t see a rookie in the huddle.
ES: But if the team has the same personnel, what’s the difference?
DC: The confidence level—just the fact that you know you can make plays. I remember when I got to meet Charles Barkley. He said the day he knew he was going to be all right in the NBA was when he heard someone on TV say he was good. I think it’s self-perception more than anything else. We realize that we’re not an expansion team anymore. We’re a real NFL football team, and we can go out and make plays. We have talent. We can beat teams. It’s not a fluke if we beat the Cowboys. It’s not a fluke if we beat the Dolphins. We have to get into the mind-set that we’re supposed to win football games, and we’ll start doing it.
ES: What’s it like to do what you do? Do you ever step out on the field and say, “I can’t believe this is my life”?
DC: I said that as soon as I got down to Houston. It’s a job that anyone would want. I get to do something I love doing, and I get paid for it.
ES: Not everybody gets paid this much.
DC: It just so happens that the thing I do well is play football, and it pays a lot. I’m blessed to be in the position I’m in, and I go out and enjoy it. It’s fun. But it’s hard too. It’s so competitive at this level. Day in and day out you have to stay focused. A lot of people think we play for five or six months and then go home and sit on our butts for six months and not do anything. It’s totally the opposite. I find myself busier and working harder in the off-season than during the regular season.
ES: Is there something about playing quarterback rather than another position that causes people to treat you differently on or off the field?
DC: I’ve heard a lot of people say that the quarterback gets too much credit when the team wins and not enough blame when the team isn’t doing so well. Look, I’ve always liked having the ball. When people play in their backyard, or wherever they play, they want to be in charge of the game. That’s how I’ve always been, so I figured the best way to do it was to play quarterback. As far as how people treat you, you’re the unofficial spokesperson for the team. They see your face when the news comes on. Especially being drafted number one, and also the first pick in franchise history—that’s something that kind of stuck with me.
ES: Is it a burden?
DC: No, not at all. You go out to lunch and people come up to you and say hi. I love the fans. When I bring my friends out from California, they get kind of overwhelmed by the whole situation, but I’m used to it by now. It’s a lot to deal with sometimes, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
ES: How do you know how to behave? You’re a young guy who hasn’t done this before, who went from being an extremely good college quarterback to the white-hot center of the world.
DC: I think it has to do with how I was raised. I was raised to believe that whatever you do in life, you stay humble and take it for what it is. You stay the same person. When I came out here, my family came out here with me. My grandfather, who’s been my pastor since I was little, lives here during football season. They’re really who I spend most of my time with. Of course I’m around my teammates a lot, but when I’m around my family, I feel like success in football hasn’t changed me. I realize how blessed I am, and it’s really kind of easy when you look at it like that.
ES: You were sacked 76 times in your first season, more than any quarterback ever. For the benefit of people who will never know themselves, what does it feel like to be hit like that?
DC: When you get the wind knocked out of you, you feel it on that play. But when you really feel it is when you try to wake up the next day. Your adrenaline is pumping so much during the game that when you get knocked down, you get back up. The next day, you notice a big gash on your arm that you didn’t even know was there. It’s kind of like being in a car wreck and not realizing it until the next day.
ES: Have there been any times when your cage has gotten rattled and you’ve thought, “I can’t believe I just got hit that hard”?
DC: Sometimes you can’t really fathom it. You get hit to where you don’t even realize you’ve been hit. You get up and you’re so foggy that you don’t know what the next play is. Once or twice in my career I’ve gotten hit and not even remembered it. Seriously.
ES: Who’s hit you the hardest?
DC: My own right tackle. We’d tried a Hail Mary play. It was at the end of the first half, and I’d dropped back five or ten yards and tried to roll out to my right to get more time for my receivers to get down the field. My right tackle spun out—he was trying to block somebody—and he came up under my chin. He hit me pretty good. That was kind of embarrassing. We looked like we didn’t know what we were doing.
ES: Is it hard for a big guy who’s in shape to get up, get knocked down, get up, get knocked down?
DC: Yeah, definitely, especially my first year. I didn’t realize, because I’d never been through it before, how many sacks 76 is. During the week, I try to work out at least two or three times, but about halfway through the season I was so sore. I remember fighting the whole time just to lift for 35 or 40 minutes. I was run-down and tired.
ES: Tell me about the transition from college to the pros.
DC: It was more mental than physical. Your body will adapt to the speed of the game. You can go at a certain pace. Every time you play basketball, if you play with someone who’s really good, you speed your game up; if you play with someone who’s not as fast, you slow it down a little bit. The same with football. In college I played at a certain level because that’s how everyone else was playing. The difference now, and it’s the hardest thing, is the mental part of the game, learning what the defense is trying to do to me and what the offense needs to do to score points.
ES: The crowds you were playing in front of at Fresno State were nearly half the size of those in the NFL. Does that make a difference?
DC: No, I enjoy playing in front of the fans. As far as getting nervous, there’s no difference between a 50,000-seat stadium and an 80,000-seat stadium if the fans are loud and they’re into the game. Road games can get a little crazy when you’re trying to call a play. We’ll play in some stadiums where they have metal bleachers and the fans are jumping up and down—they can make some noise. They know what they’re doing, and they know exactly when to do it.
ES: Are the fans worse in one city or another?
DC: I think all fans are bad if you get close enough to them. The hardest part about a football game you’re losing on the road is having to walk up and down the tunnel. The fans are right on top of you, and they can throw stuff at you—and they do. The security guards look the other way.
ES: Who’s worse to encounter: the opposing fans when you win or the home fans when you lose?
DC: Our fans are probably not more forgiving, but they understand. When we’ve won games on the road, I’ve seen the other team leave the field and their fans are booing the heck out of them. That would be hard. We really haven’t had to deal with that. Actually, it’s kind of fun leaving the field after you’ve won a game on the road, because the fans really don’t have too much to say. They’ll give you a “You suck!” or something like that, but it’s halfhearted. They don’t really mean it.
ES: And even if they do mean it, you just beat them.
DC: Right, so it doesn’t matter. You give a little smile and wave and go about your business.
ES: What’s your relationship with opposing players?
DC: Everyone enjoys playing against good players, and everyone enjoys playing with guys who love to play the game. You can tell the guys who enjoy playing and the guys who play because it’s their job or whatever and they’ve been there too long and they’re tired of it. There are some guys in Jacksonville—even though we look like we mouth off to each other, I like playing against them, because they bring it every Sunday. I like playing against Roy Williams up in Dallas. He’s fun to play against even though I hate his team.
ES: You hate the Cowboys?
DC: Not a big fan. Actually, I used to be one. That’s the whole deal. I was a Cowboy fan growing up. My grandparents were born in Dallas. My mom was born in Waxahachie.
ES: You even have a brother whose middle name is Dallas.
DC: Right. It’s in the blood. And now it’s totally flipped.
ES: Is it a problem that you personally have with the team?
DC: No, it’s nothing like that. I just think that there’s so much tension between Houston and Dallas. We’re always competing in sports. You find that out when you get down here, and you kind of buy into it. And then you go on the field and play against the guys. We played a scrimmage with them, and they were talking trash and we were talking trash. I enjoyed playing those games. I enjoy not liking the Cowboys, I guess.
ES: What’s it like to be a professional athlete in Texas?
DC: Kids start out at such an early age here. They’re so competitive. California is competitive also, but they take it to a whole new level in Texas as far as high school football and baseball and golf and lacrosse go. It’s a neat atmosphere for me because I love all sports. There’s always a game.
ES: I wonder if being in a place where the fans are so sophisticated is better than being in a place where they’re not. They know more about football, and they think they know more than you do.
DC: I’ve noticed that. When you have conversations with people, they know a lot more than you give them credit for. Our fans are really knowledgeable. Sometimes, at a road game, the other team’s fans will cheer when the offense is on the field and trying to run plays, so the offense can’t hear. Our fans know when to cheer.
ES: Surely you’ve been out with your wife and kids and a fan has come up and said, “Why did you run that play?”
DC: Our fans are pretty cool. They won’t try to get into a debate with you. I think they’re just excited to have a team back in Houston. Because I have two kids at home, when kids come up and talk to me, I’ll talk to them forever. Also, I remember what it was like to be a kid myself.
ES: That would have been in Bakersfield, California.
DC: Right. My grandparents moved to Bakersfield, which is outside of Los Angeles, when my mother was two years old. They started a business out there selling office supplies. Then, when my mom was five years old, my grandfather became a pastor. My dad’s family is from Santa Cruz, which is a beach community.
ES: Anybody in your family play sports above the recreational level?
DC: My dad played basketball in college at Cal State Bakersfield, Division II. My mom’s brother Lon E. Boyett played in the NFL. He was a tight end for the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders for a couple of years. He’s a proud uncle.
ES: He’s also one of the few people who really understand what you’re doing.
DC: It’s fun to talk to him because he knows what I’m going through more than anybody else. My dad tried out to be a punter for the Cowboys. They’d call him every once in a while and have him come out for practice in the middle of the year in case they needed him. The punter back then was Danny White, who was also the quarterback. Every week he hoped Danny White would get hurt.
ES: Did it ever occur to you, as a kid, that this would be what you would do as a career?
DC: Yeah, I honestly thought I would go on to play some kind of professional sport.
ES: Most kids say, “I’m going to be a professional baseball player when I grow up,” and, of course, most kids are delusional.
DC: It never crossed my mind because my dad and I worked so hard. He was the general manager at a GMC dealership; he sold Saturns and trucks in Bakersfield his whole life. He would get home at eight. We would go out, take his truck, and turn the headlights on the football field right across the street from our house, and I would throw balls out there. Or we would throw them in the morning before he went to work and I went to school.
ES: You’ve alluded to the role of religion in your life a couple of times. When athletes are so open about their faith, the response is usually cynicism.
DC: A lot of players will score a touchdown and get down on one knee just for show. That doesn’t bother me, but it’s so much a part of my life that it doesn’t really occur to me to go out and show God off. It’s a privilege to have the faith I have. There’s no way I would be playing ball in the NFL if it weren’t for my faith, for my ability to walk out on the field knowing that someone else is watching out for me. I’ve played with guys in junior high and high school who are better athletes than I am, and right now they’re working back in Bakersfield. There are so many little breaks and so many things that can happen in your life that to believe it’s all you, that it’s all about what you did, is just foolish.
ES: You and your wife met at a Christian youth church camp.
DC: A church camp that I thought I was too old for, actually. It was my last year in high school, and my mom and dad told me I needed to go down there and hang out with my friends. I really didn’t want to go. I thought I was too busy. But thank God I went. We’ve been together ever since.
ES: And you have two boys, Austin and Tyler. Can Lampasas Carr be far behind?
DC: Or Nacogdoches? It won’t be Nacogdoches.
ES: What’s going to happen to you? Since you’re only 24, you could have a ten-year career, retire, and still be young enough to do something else. Do you think about that?
DC: Yeah, that’s crossed my mind. There are a lot of things I want to do in my life. Football is not really me; it’s just something I do right now. I want to stop playing while I can still enjoy my children. When they start playing ball themselves and doing whatever they want to do in life, I want to be there for that. And I want to play golf. And I want to travel with my wife. Right now I’m focused so much on winning a Super Bowl and winning football games. When this is all over, I’m going to miss it a lot. But I’ll have a life to live when I’m thirty-something years old.