By sharing some of the football cards from my collection, my goal is to put a spotlight on defensive backs who may have become underrated or have been forgotten by history.
Mark Carrier, FS, Chicago Bears (Pro Set 1990)
If your name isn’t Dick Butkus or Brian Urlacher, and if you didn’t play on the 1985 championship team, it’s tough to carve out a legacy in Chicago and be remembered as one of the great defenders in the history of the Bears franchise.
Urlacher had to bring the athleticism of a college safety to the iconic Bears’ middle linebacker position, stay there for 13 years, win NFL Defensive Player of the Year and make the Pro Bowl eight times just to be considered — at best — the third-best middle ‘backer to have suited up for Chicago; well behind Butkus and Mike Singletary.
And for a franchise that is synonymous with brutally cold weather and bruising smash-mouth football, whose tradition is thick with gritty defensive linemen and linebackers, it’s especially tough for a defensive back to get into that conversation.
Which is probably why you haven’t heard more about Mark Carrier.
After winning the Jim Thorpe Award as college football’s best defensive back as a junior at USC, Carrier went pro and was chosen No. 6 overall in the 1990 NFL Draft. Carrier played seven of his 11 pro seasons as the Bears’ starting free safety.
Carrier was voted NFL Defensive Rookie of Year after putting together one of the most productive statistical seasons ever for a DB — let alone for a rookie — recording 122 tackles, 10 interceptions, five forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He made the Pro Bowl that year, and made it two more times while playing for Chicago.
Carrier didn’t miss a game for the first six of his seven seasons with the Bears, putting together a streak of 108 straight appearances. Before the 1997 season, he signed a free-agent deal with the Detroit Lions, where he was a starter for three years, and finished his career as a starter for Washington in 2000.
He retired with 32 career interceptions, 16 forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries, one defensive touchdown and 765 tackles.
For some franchises, Carrier would be a Ring-of-Honor type of player. He might have his jersey number retired. He would have a group of local fans start up a club whose goal was to advocate for his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
For the Chicago Bears, Carrier’s resume is only good enough to get him on the bubble of being recognized as one of the best defensive backs in team history.
The Bears have retired a little over a dozen jersey numbers in their 96-year history. They don’t have an official team Hall of Fame or an official Ring of Honor at Soldier Field, and don’t appear to have named any official anniversary teams. Those tasks have been left to the local media, fan sites and Bears bloggers.
Depending on which article you read, Carrier is sometimes mentioned and sometimes not. His competition includes former Bears safeties Dave Duerson and Gary Fencik, starters on the famous ’85 team; safety Doug Plank, for whom the famous “46” defense was named after (he wore No. 46); four-time Pro Bowl safety Richie Petitbon; two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman; and Hall of Fame legend Red Grange.
Carrier went into broadcasting after retiring as a player and later became a coach. He was the cornerbacks coach at Arizona State for two years, then worked in the NFL as a defensive assistant for the Ravens, Jets and Bengals.