Crutches? Derek Carr don’t need no stinking crutches.
Not when the best quarterback in Fresno State history returns to the scene of his greatest triumphs.
Less than a week ago, Carr hobbled off the field during the Oakland Raiders’ latest loss with sprained ankle and knee ligaments.
Friday night, Carr returned to Bulldog Stadium in the guise of honorary captain. Accompanied by wife Heather and their 1-year-old son, Dallas, he strolled to midfield for the pregame coin toss wearing a navy T-shirt (in keeping with the evening’s theme), designer jeans and the whitest of white sneakers.
No crutches, no brace (not even underneath his jeans) and just the barest trace of a limp.
“Honestly, the limp is just from getting worked on,” Carr said. “It’s not really the injury. I’m doing great. I feel if I had to play this Sunday, I’d be ready.”
Fortunately, the Raiders don’t have to play Sunday. They have a bye, giving the team a week to regroup from an 0-4 start and to adjust to a new head coach.
And for their rookie quarterback, it was a chance to revisit his past while reconnecting with former teammates, coaches and appreciative Bulldogs fans.
“I got to talk to the team and it felt like I was getting ready to play with them,” Carr said when I spoke to him 90 minutes before kickoff. “It’s a little different just knowing my role now. I’m alumni, which is so weird for me to say. It’s going to be cool just to be able to stand there and watch for once.”
Carr hasn’t done much of that lately.
Few NFL rookie quarterbacks (certainly none in this year’s class) get this kind of indoctrination — and the season is barely past the quarter pole.
• Win the starting job out of training camp? Check.
• Give a good account of yourself while your team goes 0-4? Check.
• Exit a game due to injury? Check.
• Have your head coach get fired? Check.
When the checklist is read to him, Carr laughs and shakes his head.
“No doubt,” he says. “I’m definitely happy that I’m playing because the experience you get on the field is something you can’t get just standing there.
“Being able to see it and experience it, I wouldn’t trade that for anything. There’s no doubt in my mind. Obviously we’re going through a process with a new coach. Who knows what’s going to happen now.”
Since the Raiders drafted Carr five months ago, all the joys and fears of those who cheered for him at Fresno State have already shown themselves.
Joys, because Carr gets to stay in California and play for a team with a strong local following.
Fears, because they’re the Raiders.
There isn’t enough space in the newspaper to chronicle how this franchise has floundered, mostly because of mismanagement, since the 2002 Super Bowl. (For their fans’ sake, I won’t.)
It’s enough to point out Tony Sparano, who replaced the 8-28 Dennis Allen earlier this week, is the Raiders’ eighth head coach during the past 12 seasons.
You probably change the filter on your air conditioner less frequently.
The Raiders’ coaching shuffle is matched only by their musical chairs at quarterback. I need only bring up JaMarcus Russell. Or Carson Palmer and the first- and second-round picks they gave up to get him. Or the $6.5 million General Manager Reggie McKenzie flushed on Matt Flynn.
I could go on but instead let’s hear from Rich Gannon, who this week ripped into his former team for its “commitment to mediocrity.”
“You need to change the culture and environment,” Gannon said on Sirius satellite radio. “You need to bring in some people who are capable of rooting out the issues. People who have been there and have done it, then maybe, things will change.”
Carr represents a significant chunk of that change. So far, though, he’s been swept up by the sameness. It’ll take more than a rookie quarterback with a super attitude and arm to turn this ship around.
Things will be a little different next week when the Raiders get back to work. Even Carr isn’t sure what to expect.
“I love Coach Sparano — he’s awesome,” he said. “He brings toughness, a certain mean streak to him. Which I like and is good for us.
“It’s hard to see a good man like Coach Allen lose his job, but it’s just business now. We have to turn the page. Things will be different. How? I don’t know yet. We’ll find out Monday.”
During a commercial break at the end of the first quarter, Carr was reintroduced to the Bulldog Stadium crowd. As the stadium announcer read a list of his accomplishments and his highlights played on the video screen, the cheers got louder and louder.
From a corner of the south end zone, Carr egged them on by waving his hands next to his ears, smiling and relishing the moment. Then he walked off. Just the slightest trace of a limp.