LEXINGTON, Ky. — “Sometimes,” said David Carter, “I’m not sure I deserve this. But they gave me a ring, and I’m not going to give it back.”
The Lincoln graduate and former Western Kentucky University center, who went on to play 7 1/2 seasons with the Houston Oilers and 1 1/2 with the New Orleans Saints, said this in both the early-evening reception and then the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame induction program last Friday in the Lexington Opera House.
The 65-year-old Carter, who also starred in baseball at Lincoln and Western Kentucky, where a couple years ago he was named the center on the university’s all-time football team, became the first of five 2019 inductees into the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He was followed by New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame defensive lineman Joe Johnson; the late Lou Michaels, a Baltimore Colts defensive lineman; Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman Corey Peters; and 12-time Pro Bowl defensive back Champ Bailey who spent most of his career with the Denver Broncos.
Kentucky is the only state with a Pro Football Hall of Fame.
It was established in 2003, so Friday marked the 17th induction class.
The inductees received a ring in a Thursday night program, but the next night marked the official inductions and each Class of 2019 member received a bronze plaque.
Frank Minnifield, named a defensive back on the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team for his play with the Cleveland Browns, conducted Friday’s pre-program social hour and then much of the induction program.
Minnifield said Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame candidates must have been born in the state, played high school or college football in Kentucky, or lived in the state after retiring from football.
Bailey, who played for the University of Georgia after growing up in that state, said he has lived in Kentucky just 2 1/2 years, “but I feel that this is my state.”
In the social hour and again in the program, Minnifield introduced previously inducted Hall of Famers who attended Friday’s banquet.
They included Romeo Crenel and Dale Lindsey, who both preceded Carter through Western Kentucky, and former Mount Carmel standout Gil Mains, who went on to play defensive line for Murray State University and the Detroit Lions in the 1950s.
David Carter was featured not only in Friday’s inductee program, but shortly thereafter in a Western Kentucky University reception hosted by former sports information director Paul Just, who still works part-time for the Bowling Green school.
Attendees at both programs included wife Beth Carter, son Clay Carter, Clay’s fiance Danielle, sister and retired Evansville nurse Darla Plahn, and Darla’s husband Bill Plahn.
Plus, said the inductee, “three of my Vincennes buddies — Dan Clark and his wife Cindy, and John Delaney. John and I were high school football teammates. Scott Parschall, one of my Western Kentucky teammates, is here. So is another college buddy, Fred Kixmiller and his wife Candi.”
Beth Carter said the family made the trip from their Houston suburban Sugar Land, Texas, home in 20 hours — 12 hours one day and eight the next. They planned to head to Vincennes to visit friends before returning to Texas.
Carter was officially presented for induction by former Oilers teammate Carl Mauck, who was the Saints offensive line coach when the Vincennes protege finished his NFL career.
Mauck gave his presentation speech in the University of Nebraska sports information office — he did not travel to Lexington as planned because he felt it necessary to stay home with wife Vicky, who for the second time is fighting breast cancer that doctors hope will be erased by chemotherapy treatments.
Mauck said that Vicky wrote part of the speech that a Nebraska staffer recorded and sent to Lexington.
“Because David played on the same side of the ball as I did, we became good friends,” said Mauck, the Oilers starting center from 1975-through-midseason-1981 while Carter played offensive guard and did the long snapping. He succeeded Mauck at center and played that role until the rebuilding Oilers released him in midseason 1984, and he signed with the Saints.
“David worked hard at the game and was a solid player. He became one of the best,” Mauck said. “I remember our 1979 playoff game at San Diego, where as a pulling guard he made the block that freed Boobie Clark for the 4-yard touchdown run that put us ahead in a game we won.”
In the acceptance speech that followed, Carter paid tribute to parents John and Glenna.
“They taught me the importance of education,” he said. “I’m fortunate to have had coaches like Ray Mills at Vincennes Lincoln, Jimmy Feix at Western Kentucky and Bum Phillips with the Oilers. And Butch Gilbert, our line coach at Western Kentucky — he visited my home and impressed our family, and that influenced me to choose Western Kentucky. That and the fact I could play both football and baseball there.”
Lindsey, who starred as a Cleveland Browns linebacker and now is coach at San Diego University, has followed Western Kentucky football through the years.
“David was always very competitive and earned his role as starting center and long snapper,” said Lindsey, who added more when told that Feix once said Carter could get the long snap to the punter in six-tenths of a second.
“That’s pretty darn good!” said Lindsey.
Another Friday attendee was Bob Hyde, who made the drive from Tullahoma, Tenn., about halfway between Nashville and Chattanooga.
“I became a sports information intern with the Oilers in 1977, David’s rookie year,” said Hyde, who worked for the team several years in Houston, rejoined the franchise when it became the Tennessee Titans, and altogether worked 27 years for the franchise.
“I remember how competitive David was, how hard he worked in practice, and how quickly he and Carl Mauck became best friends,” said Hyde, whose wedding party included Mauck as best man.
“After practice he and Carl would head to a place called Red Rooster and have a brew. They’d talk about the practice they’d just finished and the team meeting that was coming up. They bonded so well together on and off the field, and they’re still great friends.”