David Carr  

Fairy tales can come true, they can happen to you, if you’re young David Carr. He fantasized about leading Fresno State to a bowl game and did it twice. He dreamed about quarterbacking an NFL team and finished his first pro season with 16 starts. Next on his wish list is getting through another season alive, and somewhere down the road, David is expecting a Super Bowl ring. This is his story…


David Carr was born on July 21, 1979, in Bakersfield, California. The oldest of Rodger and Sheryl Carr’s three boys—Darren and Derek round out the clan—David was a football fanatic from the time he was in diapers. His father had a lot to do with his passion for the sport. An excellent athlete in his own right, Rodger once played for Cal State-Bakersfield's basketball team, though hoops wasn’t his first love. Perhaps sensing something special in David, he left a football for him every year under the Christmas tree.

Rodger worked 12 hours a day—sometimes overnight—to support his family. Still, he always made time for his sons. That included tossing the football in the backyard. Sheryl had just as big an impact on David’s early athletic career. She was responsible for chauffeuring him to practices and games during the football, basketball and baseball seasons.

Sports were kept in perspective in the Carr home. Sheryl’s father was a pastor; Rodger rarely went a day without reading the bible. Spirituality naturally became an important part of David’s life, and remains so to this day. He regularly speaks at churches and to youth groups.

Growing up in the San Joaquin Valley had a huge impact on David. By his sixth birthday, he knew what he wanted to do when he got older. He dreamed of playing quarterback for the Fresno State Bulldogs and leading them to victory in a New Year’s Day bowl game.



David’s hero was Fresno State quarterback Trent Dilfer. Leading the Bulldogs to a 20-9 record in his three years as a starter, he helped the program gain national prominence in the early 1990s. Dilfer finished his career with 6,944 yards passing and 51 touchdowns, and once went 271 attempts without throwing an interception. Just the third Western Athletic Conference signal caller to be named an All-American, he guided Fresno State to bowl games in each of his last two seasons. David’s passing motion was a carbon copy of Dilfer’s.

Every summer and fall David begged his father to take him to Fresno State practices. The youngster watched each session intently, and collected autographs afterwards from any player who would sign. Sometimes, Rodger would sneak his son into Bulldog Stadium, where the two would play catch until they were exhausted.

David entered Stockdale High School in Bakersfield in the fall of 1993. He spent his first two years with the Mustangs learning the offense, then won the starting quarterback job as a junior. At more than six feet with a cannon for an arm, David emerged as one of California’s top prep passers. In 1995, he completed 160 of 276 passes for 2,050 yards and 21 touchdowns. The following fall his numbers dropped, but David still earned all-league honors and was tabbed honorable mention all-area by the Bakersfield Californian. In all he set 16 school records.

David was being recruited by college coaches up and down the West Coast. UCLA and Washington were among the biggest schools after him, but David still bled Fresno State cardinal-and-blue—even though the Bulldogs had fallen on hard times. After Dilfer’s departure for the NFL in 1994, the team suffered through three straight losing seasons. In an effort to turn things around, Fresno State hired Pat Hill as its new head coach. Coming off a five-year stint as offensive line coach for the Baltimore Ravens, Hill promised to bring a fresh attitude to the program. David couldn’t have been more excited about the opportunity in front of him.

That summer David embarked on an ambitious training program, waking up mornings at 5:30 to begin his workouts. His goal was to start all four years for the Bulldogs. But his plan hit a snag one afternoon when he spotted a cute 16-year-old girl at a Christian camp. Her name was Melody Tipton, and David was in love the minute he saw her. A talented musician, she also liked football. (Her favorite player was Troy Aikman.) After their first date, they were certain they were meant to be together.

When David arrived at the Fresno State campus in 1997, he was miserable. He missed Melody terribly, and his state of mind affected every part of his life. On the field, David wasn’t focused. More than once he showed up late for meetings, and he didn’t do nearly enough in practice to earn any serious playing time. The backup to starter Billy Volek, he appeared in just four games, hitting on five of 11 passes for 53 yards. Away from the gridiron, David was also a mess. Normally a good student, he got awful grades. He also racked up huge phone bills talking with Melody, and raced home at every opportunity to see her.

The situation didn’t improve much in David’s sophomore season. While he saw more game action—he passed for 228 yards and a score in seven games—he wasn’t close to fulfilling his immense potential. Coach Hill finally sat David down in his office for a heart-to-heart talk. The 19-year-old admitted that being apart from Melody was the source of all his problems. Hill advised him to forget about her, but David couldn’t. Within months, he and Melody were married. She then made plans to live with David in an off-campus apartment. Melody enrolled at nearby Fresno City College to study Child Development.


Trent Dilfer, 1994 Upper Deck


With all the emotional turmoil in David’s life, Hill chose to redshirt him for the 1999 campaign. At first, the junior toyed with the idea of going to Oregon, where a former coach, Jeff Tedford, was stationed. The Ducks had a underclassmen at quarterback named Joey Harrington, however, which helped David decide to stay. Besides, David didn’t consider himself a quitter, and Hill helped convince him that Fresno State was the right place with words of encouragement from several friends working in NFL front offices.

Despite having no chance of setting foot on the field in a game situation, David rededicated himself to football in '99. He stopped eating fast food, opting instead for a healthy diet that increased his energy level. He hit the weight room and became one of the team’s stronger players. In practice, David ran the offense of Fresno State’s upcoming opponent. At season’s end, his teammates voted him Scout Team Offensive Player of the Year. On game days, he accompanied offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig in the press box, where he learned the team’s playbook inside-out.

Heading into the 2000 campaign, David was a different man. Months earlier, Melody had given birth to their first child, a boy named Austin. For David, the experience was life-altering. Providing for his family became a major motivation. He knew a long and prosperous NFL career would keep his wife and child secure for the rest of their lives.

Fresno State had a lot riding on the '00 season. The previous year Hill had guided the team to its best record and first bowl appearance in six years. Now, with nine starters returning to a stingy defense, even more was expected. That put the pressure squarely on David’s shoulders—particularly since the Bulldogs faced one of the nation’s toughest schedules. Non-conference opponents included Ohio State, UCLA and California, while matchups against WAC rivals TCU and UTEP would be contested on the road.

The campaign started on a rocky note in Columbus, as the Buckeyes manhandled the Bulldogs 43-10. David had a rough day, throwing four interceptions and getting knocked to the turf 34 times. The fourth-year junior blamed himself afterward. David said he played nervous and forced too many passes.

The embarrassing loss, however, proved a turning point. David led Fresno State to victories in seven of its next 10 games, good for a third-place finish in the WAC. Along the way he emerged as one of the college game’s best passers. David lit up Cal for 325 yards through the air, and torched Tulsa with four scoring throws. In the regular season finale, he engineered a dramatic win over San Jose State to secure a berth in the Silicon Valley Football Classic against Air Force. Though the Bulldogs lost to the Falcons in a 37-34 barnburner, David grabbed the headlines, passing for 391 yards and five touchdowns in the defeat.

Based on his breakout season, David entered 2001 as a player to watch, both by college football fans and pro scouts. Again the Bulldogs would be tested by a murderous schedule—Hill knew the only way to gain national respect was to play against the big boys. The coach, however, was more optimistic about his team’s ability to compete at the highest level. Not only did David have a year’s experience under his belt, he had a dangerous group of receivers, including speed merchants Bernard Berrian and Rodney Wright. The defense suffered a hit when coordinator Kevin Coyle jumped to the NFL. But in tackle Alan Harper and safety Vernon Fox, the team boasted a pair of All-WAC performers who would provide valuable leadership.

Joey Harrington, 2002 SAGE

The year began again with a string of powerhouse, out-of-conference opponents. The difference was that Fresno State was better prepared for the challenge, and David was confident and in total command whenever he stepped on the field. In their opener, the Bulldogs extended their home winning streak to 16, upsetting Colorado 24-22. David threw for a score and ran for another in the win. Next up was No. 10 Oregon State. In a rousing win, David passed for 340 yards and four touchdowns, including a 70-yard bomb to Wright.

The victory over the Beavers earned Fresno State a lot of press, but the experts figured the team’s surprising run would end the following week in Wisconsin. When the Bulldogs fell behind by 10 points at intermission, they appeared to have come back to earth. But Berrian returned the second-half kickoff 96 yards to paydirt, changing the complexion of the contest. With David playing near-perfect football, Fresno State seized the momentum and won going away, 32-20.

Suddenly, the full glare of the spotlight shone on David and the Bulldogs, who climbed to the Top 10 in the polls. His name was mentioned in every discussion about the Heisman, and the media began postulating about Fresno State’s chances at an undefeated season and even a shot at the national championship.

The Bulldogs took their next two contests, beating Tulsa and Louisiana Tech. In both outings, David threw for more than 300 yards, completing nearly 70 percent of his attempts. Those victories set up an important game against Colorado State, probably the toughest foe left on Fresno State’s schedule. David was spectacular again, but the Bulldogs found themselves down by three points with 27 seconds remaining. Their leader wouldn’t let them lose. With three straight completions, David moved his team into field-goal range, then watched as kicker Asen Asparuhov knotted the contest. Several minutes later, the Bulldogs won the game, 25-22.

Riding a wave of emotion, Fresno State charged out of the gate the following week versus Boise State. But the team crashed in the second half, and the Broncos responded with three touchdowns of their own. Down 35-30, David guided the Bulldogs to the Boise State 5-yard line late in the final period. On fourth down, however, his protection failed, and a sack ended the game. Completely deflated, Fresno State fell in its next game to Hawaii. David amassed 400 yards and four scores through the air, but it was of little consolation. Any hope of a national title had slipped from his grasp.

Still, David didn’t throw in the towel. He paced the Bulldogs to five more victories to wind up the regular season at 11-2. Included in that stretch was a 432-yard, six-touchdown effort against Utah State. David’s last game in a Fresno State uniform came against Michigan State in the Silicon Valley Bowl. In a record-setting performance, he threw for 531 yards and four scores, though the Spartans claimed victory in a 41-35 shootout.

After the season, the honors flooded in. Named a first-team All-America by The NFL Draft Report, he was voted the Football News National Offensive Player of the Year. He also placed fifth in the Heisman balloting, and was a semifinalist for the Walter Camp Award. The WAC’s top quarterback, he completed 344 of 533 passes for 4,839 yards and 46 touchdowns (against only nine interceptions). In the process he broke nearly every significant Fresno State record, including a bunch held by Dilfer.

David Carr, 2001 Sports Illustrated


For David, the months leading up to the NFL draft were hectic to say the least. There were the physical and psychological tests administered by teams considering him. And the combines in Indianapolis, where he wowed scouts by running the 40-yard dash in 4.67 seconds, bench-pressing 390 pounds and posting a vertical leap of 35 inches. Fortunately, David had made a trusted friend in Dilfer, who had been through the grind already. Having a mentor who was genuinely interested in his well-being was a Godsend.

NFL evaluators also liked David’s mental makeup. Married with a young son, he was more mature than the typical college grad. His friendship with Dilfer was a positive too, because he obviously had a feel for what awaited him in the pros. In addition, David showed the ability to handle adversity off the field. In March, he, Melody and Austin were rear-ended while their car stood still. No one was injured, but the accident was a reality check for the entire family.

All these factors weighed heavily with the brass of the Houston Texans. The expansion club was preparing for its first season of play, and a successful draft was pivotal to the the franchise’s fortunes. Initially, David had not been at the top of Houston’s talent list. GM Charlie Casserly anticipated taking either John Henderson of Tennessee or Julius Peppers of North Carolina with the first pick. But when coach Dom Capers and offensive coordinator Chris Palmer suggested another option—finding a young quarterback to develop—the Texans reassessed their strategy. After working David out and talking with him, Houston realized he was too good to pass up. Though there were some concerns about his throwing mechanics, Palmer assured the rest of the front office that David was physically sound and very coachable.

David Carr, 2002 The Sporting News

On draft day, the Texans selected David with the first choice of the afternoon, a move which drew loud applause from the fans back in Houston. The team also received kudos for many of its later-round picks, including Florida receiver Jabar Gaffney, Tennessee center Fred Weary and Ohio State running back Jonathan Wells. Houston was hardly building a Super Bowl contender, but at least the club was assembling a decent talent pool. Among the NFL veterans already on the roster were Tony Boselli, Jermaine Lewis and Ryan Young for the offense, and Aaron Glenn, Jamie Sharper, and Gary Walker on defense.

Within weeks of being drafted, David signed a seven-year deal with incentives that could pay him as much as $60 million. Capers and Palmer, however, had no intentions of rushing him along. Having coached expansion teams in the past (Capers with the Carolina Panthers and Palmer with the Cleveland Browns), both knew the pitfalls of throwing a young passer to the wolves. With longtime quarterback Kent Graham in camp, they had the luxury of bringing David along slowly.

The rookie, however, blew that plan out of the water. In pre-season, he studied like an honors student and picked up things much quicker than anticipated. While David’s numbers weren’t eye-popping, the club clearly responded to him. Teammates appreciated his modest approach to the game and seemed to gain confidence when he took charge in the huddle. They also liked the toughness he displayed. When David bruised his right knee in Houston’s final exhibition game, he was back for practice the following Monday. The 23-year-old’s return didn’t go unnoticed by the other Houston players.

For the Texans—who had absolutely no playoff aspirations—their regular season opener was like the Super Bowl. In the first game in team history, Houston faced the Dallas Cowboys in a battle for state supremacy. To promote it s newest franchise, the NFL slated the contest for a Sunday night broadcast on ESPN. Reliant Stadium was electric before kickoff. Even David was caught up in the emotion. But he calmed down on his team’s first possession, and propelled the Texans down the field. On Houston’s third snap from scrimmage, David zipped a strike to tight end Billy Miller who cradled the ball for the team’s first touchdown. From there the contest settled into a defensive struggle until David found wide receiver Corey Bradford on a 65-yard scoring pass. When the final gun sounded, the Houston fans celebrated a 19-10 victory.

Over the next few weeks, the Texans played more like an expansion team. In three straight losses, they were outscored 82 to 23, and David became a tackling dummy in the pocket. In a mid-September defeat to the San Diego Chargers, he was sacked nine times.

Fortunately for David, Houston enjoyed a bye the following Sunday, giving him two weeks to recover from the San Diego beating. When the Texans returned to game action, Capers had them more focused and better prepared. Though the team dropped its next two contests, both were competitive and entertaining. While David was still getting pounded, the offense was showing more firepower. Against the Buffalo Bills, he connected with Bradford on a season-long 81-yard bomb. Later in the contest he rumbled 17 yards for the first rushing TD in franchise history. The following Sunday David completed 22 of 36 passes for 267 yards and a score versus the Browns.

The Texans broke through for their first road victory in October, a 21-19 triumph at Jacksonville. Though the Jaguars posted eight sacks, David maintained his composure, finishing his third game in a row without an interception. He ended the day with a quarterback rating of 114.1, the best single-game mark of his young career.

David Carr, 2002 Pro Football Weekly

After a 38-3 drubbing at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals, Houston stood at 2-6. All things considered, the team was making strides. The club’s most glaring weakness was the offensive line, which had been ravaged by injuries. David knew this better than anyone. In eight contests, he had been dropped 45 times, putting him on pace to shatter Randall Cunningham’s single-season mark of 72 sacks.

Houston’s final eight games pretty much mirrored their first eight. The team registered two more upsets, overcoming the New York Giants at home and shocking the Steelers in Pittsburgh. The Texans also looked pitiful at times. Indeed, in the last two games, they were able to muster a total of just 13 points.

David endured his share of highs and lows, too. In a 24-21 loss to Jacksonville, he was 22 of 30 for 228 yards and a touchdown. Against the Giants, he displayed late-game heroics, hitting on three passes to move the Texans into position for the winning field goal.

Of course, the sack record loomed over David and his pass blockers into December. Going into Houston’s second-to-last game, against Tennessee, his total stood at 70. When the Titans got to him three times, Cunningham’s mark was history. David and his teammate took the news in stride. Three more sacks against the Washington Redskins ran his final number to 76. His final stats were 2,592 yards passing and nine TDs in 16 starts.

For David, surviving his first year was an accomplishment in and of itself. He entered the 2003 campaign hoping it wouldn’t be nearly as punishing. Unfortunately, his second season was even worse.

It's not that the Texans didn't try to protect David. While Houston’s Boselli gambit went bust, the team added three veterans on the offensive line (Zach Wiegert, Greg Randall and Todd Washington) and rookie Seth Wand. The Texans also surrounded David with a more dangerous supporting cast of skill players, including receiver Andre Johnson of Miami.

Granted, no one thought Houston would become a title contender, but bettering their win total from '02 was a reasonable goal. The club got off on the right foot, splitting its first four games. David was spectacular in the season opener, a 21-20 shocker at Miami. In the victory, he threw for 266 yards and a touchdown, and posted a QB rating of 94.3.

The following Sunday, however, David took a beating by the Saints in New Orleans. In the 31-10 drubbing, he was sacked five times. A week later, after a 42-14 blowout at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs, David began to show his frustration, criticizing Capers and Palmer for their play-calling.

In October, the tension increased when the injury bug hit. First David hurt his right shoulder after a late hit by Tennessee’s Albert Haynesworth. Then he suffered a sprained ankle that forced him to miss a game against Jacksonville. Later in the season the pain in his shoulder resurfaced, and he sat out three more contests and saw limited action in two others.

Despite David’s injury problems, the fans in Houston still had reason to cheer. Johnson proved to be a gamebreaker on the outside, while fellow rookie Domanick Davis gave the Texans a real threat out of the backfield. After earning his first start in Week 7, he piled up more than 1000 yards and eight scores,. Houston, in turn, wound up at 5-11, topping their record from 2002 by one victory.

David's feelings after the campaign were mixed. He didn't develop as rapidly as anyone hoped, though injuries obviously had a lot to do with his performance (2,013 yards and nine TDs in 12 games). But David also lost his cool at times, something that surprised many onlookers.

Randall Cunningham,
1991 Collect-A-Book

For a third-year expansion team, 2004 was a potentially huge step for David and the Texans. The franchise hoped to improve on the previous year’s record, and also wanted to see continued development from its young signal caller. The '04 schedule was packed full of title contenders like the Colts, Vikings, and Chiefs, so the team knew that things were not going to come easy.

In the season opener against the Chargers, Houston played well for the first three quarters. With the score tied at 20, San Diego snapped the deadlock with a little under seven minutes left. Then, with the Texans driving, Davis fumbled in the red zone. The turnover effectively ended the game, a 27-20 loss for Houston.

The Texans looked to reverse their fortunes the following week in Detroit. David did his part, passing for 313 yards and two scores. But his counterpart, Harrington, put on an even better show for the Lions. His three touchdowns were enough for a 28-16 win. Again, turnovers played a big role. Houston fumbled twice and David threw an interception.

The Texans earned their first victory of the campaign a week later in Kansas City. David started slowly—he didn't complete his first pass until the second quarter. But the defense hung tough, as safety Marcus Coleman returned an interception 102 yards for a touchdown. David later found Gaffney on a 21-yard scoring strike to knot the game. With time running down, he engineered a final drive that ended with a game-winning field goal by Kris Brown.  

The following Sunday saw David win another one for Houston—and lose his hair. Earlier he had vowed to steer clear of barbers and stylists until the team recorded consecutive victories. Hosting the Raiders, the Texans handled Oakland with relative ease, 30-17. David passed for 228 yards and one touchdown, while running back Jonathan Davis came off the bench for to rush for 105 yards and a score. Johnson, David's top outside threat, also broke out with 115 yards receiving and a TD.

On the Monday after the win over the Raiders, David sat down in front of nearly 100 media members and had his long locks sheared. The event was broadcast live by two local television stations.  

David enjoyed several more moments in the spotlight during the '04 campaign. Against Minnesota, he threw for 372 yards and three touchdowns, including two scores in the final three minutes to send the contest into OT. Unfortunately, the Texans lost in the extra period on Daunte Culpepper's fifith TD toss of the day.

Houston followed the defeat with impressive wins over Tennessee and Jacksonville. While not spectacular in either W, David played the kind of smart football that Capers and his staff were demanding of him. The Texans and their QB couldn't maintain their consistency, however. They finished the year winning just three of their last nine to go 7-9 overall.

By then, the fans in Houston had lost their patience. The team's season-ending defeat at home to the lowly Browns brought a cascade of boos from the stands. David, who was sacked six times early in the contest, was the crowd's favorite target. But he took the harsh treatment in stride. Showing his maturity, he said afterwards that he didn't blame the fans for a second. He admitted, in fact, that he might have joined them!

All things considered, 2004 was a significant year in David's development. He bettered all of his numbers from the previous season, including completion percentage (61.2), passing yards (3,531), touchdowns (16) and QB rating (83.5). Even more important, David demonstrated the ability to lead his team in good times and bad. Indeed, his hair-cutting stunt helped galvanize the Texans, as did his willingness to stand up to criticism in the season finale.

David Carr, 2003 Score

Whatever progress the Texans make in the years to come, David will most assuredly have a major hand in it. While still young, he already has the type of single-minded focus that propels most great players. For example, when he came into the league, he told his management team that he wants to concentrate on his playing career, not endorsements. That’s why his only current deals are with Nike and Momentum, a local Texas car dealership.

David also has a perfect role model in Dilfer. Already he has topped his hero’s college exploits. Considering that Dilfer has led a team to a Super Bowl victory, it just might be that David has a couple of NFL titles in him.



David has all the tools to be a big-time quarterback. At 6-3 and nearly 230 pounds, he is big enough and strong enough to take a pounding—a point he illustrated all too vividly in 2002. Another asset is his ability to read defenses, which allows him to make good, quick decisions. Thanks to his powerful right arm, David can make any throw on the field, and also displays a feathery touch. Critics questioned his mechanics coming out of college, saying he dropped the ball to the side on his delivery. But that was a little habit he developed during his senior year at Fresno State. He has since corrected it.

Thanks to all the sacks, David’s mobility tends to get overlooked. He actually has quick feet for a man his size. He is also developing a better sense of when he should tuck the ball and run, and when he should throw it away.

David is a leader molded in the classic style. He’s tough and strong-willed—traits that command attention in the huddle. His dedication to his craft is unquestioned. No one spends more time studying the Houston offense or the tendencies of opponents. Despite being a first overall draft pick and the “savior” of an expansion franchise, David doesn’t separate himself from his teammates. That has earned him admiration and respect he’ll be able to bank on when the Texans start experiencing the plus side of .500.


David Carr, 2003 Topps Total
David Carr


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