Steelers' fill-in safety Carter won't tug on Superman's cape
Tennessee's Algie Crumpler rolled over Troy Polamalu's left knee after a blocked field goal Thursday night. Polamalu's MCL was sprained.
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This is nothing.
Following the Steelers' Superman at strong safety?
Assuming a position heretofore played to all-everything proportions by a man who makes one-handed interceptions, flying tackles and contortions that special-effects whizzes could not dream up?
Replacing Troy Polamalu and his sprained left MCL for an unspecified number of weeks, spanning games that entail staring into the eyes of Chicago's Jay Cutler, Cincinnati's Carson Palmer and San Diego's Philip Rivers, just for starters?
All in a day's life for Tyrone Carter.
He is a son who grew up without parents, drugs causing the five children to be removed from their custody and the two brothers placed with a grandmother who raised 15, including a pair of grandchildren.
He is a little brother whose big brother, Tank, enjoyed Super Bowl XL in Detroit before turning himself in to South Florida authorities, who promptly threw the book at him and threw him in prison for roughly four years more than he anticipated. And this for driving without proper licensing.
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He is a father -- has been one since his junior year of high school -- to four kids and is the husband of the wheelchair-bound April, who has been paralyzed since an all-terrain vehicle accident shortly before that Detroit Super Bowl.
"I can't be Troy. He's one of a kind, I tell you," Tyrone Carter was saying early Friday morning, after subbing for Polamalu in the second half of a 13-10 overtime victory by the Steelers against Tennessee Thursday night.
"All I can do is my own style."
And Tyrone Carter has endured as Tyrone Carter rather capably for 33 years and 10 NFL seasons, this being his sixth with the Steelers.
Carter is a 5-foot-8, 195-pound bundle of past and present, but mostly Steelers fans are fretting about his near future. See, Polamalu had been playing to "Matrix" proportions, bending and leaping and flitting and arriving at eye-blink speeds en route to six first-half tackles, two 15-yard penalties and one highlight-reel, left-handed interception despite a soft push in the back by intended receiver Kenny Britt. It seemed to be an even slightly higher plane than he usually ascends.
Then, the Steelers Nation lapsed into paroxysms of football fear when Polamalu went to the bench, then the locker room after his left knee was injured a scrum for a blocked Titans field goal, 262 pounds of Tennessee tight end Alge Crumpler rolling on and buckling the limb. It never is a good thing to fall underneath a guy named Crumpler.
Polamalu's wounded knee apparently will remain under the same diagnosis until tomorrow at least, pending further tests and examinations: sprained medial collateral ligament, anywhere from a three- to six-week absence.
"If anybody can play his way out of it, it's TP," free safety and backfield mate Ryan Clark said.
Yet, again, Clark reiterated, do not overlook the diminutive Carter.
He is, after all, the backup who replaced Clark so capably twice last season, when a shoulder injury prevented Clark from starting at Washington and in the season finale against Cleveland.
"You saw him last year," Clark said. "He started two games and had three interceptions, one for a touchdown. We have total confidence in him."
Carter has started 41 games in his decade-long sojourn around the NFL, from the Vikings -- in the city where his grandmother had sent him to the University of Minnesota, mostly to get far away from their Collier City neighborhood in Pompano Beach, Fla. -- to the New York Jets to, in 2004, the Steelers.
He compiled 42 tackles in 2005, 56 in 2007 and even a couple in a Super Bowl XLIII (Polamalu's number, remember) where his big brother, Tank, remained 67 miles away in a correctional institution deep into the five-year sentence given him for joining his little brother's run to Detroit rather than turning himself into authorities back in January 2005. Since the February championship game in Tampa, big brother has been moved to the Glades Work Camp, part of a prison at an old, working farm in Belle Glade, Fla.
He is scheduled for release Oct. 4, 2010, according to the Florida Department of Corrections Web site, though little brother hopes it could come months sooner.
Carter's wife has been confined to a wheelchair since flipping an ATV a few months before Super Bowl XL.
They have four children: sons Tyrone Jr., 14, Tyron, 10, and Tristan, 8, plus a daughter, Tyra, 2.
"At first, I thought, 'Why did this have to happen to me?' " he was quoted as telling Holistic Health Magazine about his wife. "But her spirit is so strong. Her legs have been stripped away from her, but she is independent and she gets around on her own and she raises the kids when I'm not there. She lost her legs and didn't give up; how can I think about giving up or losing hope after seeing that?"
Replacing Polamalu? Uniting a secondary that allowed two miscommunications to hastily turn into a 57-yard pass play followed by a 14-yard score, the only Tennessee touchdown they allowed?
Well, Clark claims the duty falls on more than just Carter: "When Troy's out, I got to step up and police that backfield [, too.] Nobody on this team is Troy. When God was making him, he touched him a couple more times than the rest of us."
"I look up to Troy. I love a guy like that," Carter added.
The injury "is unfortunate for him. He worked hard. You could see the big plays he made for us. If he's not in there, I look forward to stepping in. ... and keeping this thing going forward."
"TC," cornerback Deshea Townsend continued, "is able to excel in that role."
Perhaps because the other roles that Carter fulfills go beyond strong safety.
First Published September 13, 2009 12:00 am