Texans' Slave Quarterback Outshoots Cowboys

First in a series

HOUSTON, September 19, 2005 – The Houston Texans, led by newly enslaved quarterback David Carr, now known simply as "Rex," won Lone Star bragging rights last night, beating cross-state rival Dallas Cowboys 21-3 in their home opener. Having beaten the Titans 17-0 last week in Tennessee, the Texans are off to a 2-0 start for the first time in the franchise's history. And while the Texans' defense has yet to allow a touchdown, the big story is the quarterback controversy that never was.

When Texans owner Bob McNair exercised the enslavement clause in Carr's contract last May, it was expected to ignite the greatest quarterback controversy in the history of the game. But it never happened. "We just didn't know what to expect," McNair said. "It had never been done before - at least not to a player with as high a profile as David's. We weren't sure how the team would react, or the fans. All I can say is that we've been pleasantly surprised."

Texans GM Charley Casserly explained that the so called "Enslavement Clause" was adopted as part of the collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the NFL and the Players Association in 2004. It states that a player who engages in behavior "detrimental to the game" is in violation of his contract, and can be enslaved for the remaining term of that contract. Of course, any player has the option of striking the clause and accepting a lower salary. "Player salaries had been escalating at such a rate that something had to be done," Casserly said. "The League instituted the clause as a means of protecting the teams from these skyrocketing expenses."

Casserly went on to explain that many marginal players accepted the clause as a means of getting their one shot at the NFL, or extending a career on the wane. "We've had a few players fall into this trap before – but this is the first time one of the league's top players did this to himself."

Why Carr accepted the clause in his contract has never been explained. "Maybe his agent blew it," mused Casserly. "Or maybe he was just plain dumb."

The clause kicked in when Carr tested positive for steroids, marijuana, and cocaine. He insisted that he had never used steroids or any controlled substance, and demanded an independent blood test, which he also failed. "All I know is that I never took drugs in my life," Carr testified. "If drugs or steroids showed up in my blood test, then either the samples were tainted, or somebody dosed me without my knowledge." Texas Superior Court Judge Louis Calhoun issued the order of enslavement, stating that "the defendant's repeated denials are an affront to the intelligence of this court." Carr was sentenced to a term of enslavement of 39 months, the remaining term of his contract, and was released on bail to set his affairs in order.

However, the day before he was scheduled to turn himself in to authorities, Carr was caught attempting to cross the Canadian border with a substantial amount of cash. Upon his return to Texas, Judge Calhoun added 2 years to his term of enslavement. Few could forget the images of Carr standing in the dock – wearing the slave's shackles and collar and begging for leniency – while the magistrate handed down his decision. Carr was now literally the property of the Houston Texans Football Club for the next 63 months.

After his initial processing, the Texans sent Carr to Slave Technology Incorporated for training. STI is one of the best regarded – and most expensive – training facilities in the country. "Money was no object, really," said Casserly. "We were going to save millions by not having to pay his contract. But regardless of that, I also knew that if we got him fixed up right in the first place, we'd get a lot more out of him in the long run."

Carr's training was an intense, month's long program that lasted until the beginning of the team's summer camp. "I gotta hand it to them - they did a hell of a job," said Casserly. "When that boy showed up at training camp he was so obedient and polite... Wasn't much left of the cockiness and attitude that got him into all this trouble in the first place."

But that, of course, was only half of the problem. "It's one thing to get to get a cocky young jock like David all trained up as a slave, but another thing entirely to do that without destroying the part of him that made him such a valuable asset in the first place," said head coach Dom Capers. "We knew that this whole situation would cause us a truckload of trouble if we didn't get it right. The quarterback is supposed to be the team's leader - on the field and off. Here we had one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but we had no idea what we were going to do with him."

Capers' solution may prove to be ingenious. "The quarterback can't very well be the leader if nobody is going to listen to him, and I knew most of my players weren't going to take direction from a slave. There was no way it would work with him calling the plays on the field. So I figured, David wasn't much of a thinking quarterback to begin with – we had always just told him what plays to call over the radio. It occurred to me that if we had some other player calling the plays, there might not be a problem after all. David was already pretty good following directions, and would do whatever he was told."

That job fell to center Steve McKinney. An eight year veteran of the NFL, McKinney had already been considered to be the anchor of the Texans' offensive line. Capers felt that, more than anyone else on the squad, McKinney could become the team's leader, and step into the vacuum left by Carr.

And who better to help Carr into his new role. "I wasn't sure what was going to happen," McKinney said. "I guess the Coach just figured that it made sense to have me calling the plays since Dave and me had always worked well together. We always had a real good quarterback/center relationship."

As team captain and Capers' new field commander, McKinney logically served as one of Carr's chief overseers (the other being equipment manager Robb Flynn). His first task was to get the newly minted slave to accept his new status on the team. "Me and Dave had some problems at first. He kept figuring that he knew better than me, questioning the plays I was calling; not doing what he was told. Talking back. But we finally got him to understand who was in charge, and where he stood – lower than the greenest rookie on the squad."

."When Dave got back from his training he was just like a scared little puppy - all jumpy and nervous and eager to please," coach Dom Capers said. "It was a little hard to get the players to take him seriously on the field. It's one thing to go through all that conditioning to make you an obedient servant, but then to get thrown back into your old life with your old job and all your old buddies, only now being nothing but a slave – well, it had to be hard on the guy. I figure most slaves never have to deal with anything like that..."

The first thing Carr had to adjust to was a new name. "The people from STI said it would be best to give him a slave name, preferably something simple and direct," Casserly said. "I wasn't so sure at first - after all, we had a lot of name recognition tied up in the 'David Carr' brand. But they were the professionals, and that was why we were paying them so much."

Casserly's promotional department developed a list of possible names, and team owner Bob McNair made the final selection from that list. "Rex has a good strong sound to it," he said. "Besides, I had a horse called Rex when I was a boy, so I've always been partial to the name."

Asked if everyone was satisfied with the selection, Casserly chuckled. "I think the only person who had a negative opinion of it was [Bears quarterback Rex] Grossman."

"Old Rex was pretty messed up when he showed up at training camp the first day," McKinney said. "Everybody was glad to see him and everything. I even went up to him and gave him a big hug and said 'welcome back, Dave,' or something like that. But he was scared and seemed kind of confused – almost like he couldn't even remember his name. I just figured he was embarrassed about being a slave and all."

After being welcomed back by his teammates, STI personnel took Carr into Coach Capers' office. When McKinney was called in, Carr had been stripped, and was kneeling in front of the coaching staff. "So Coach tells me that Dave's new name is Rex, and that he won't answer to his old name anymore – that he probably doesn't even hardly remember his old name. I mean, those STI guys did a real number on him! Then he tells him I'm gonna be Rex's overseer, and that I'm responsible for his training. Like of course he has to listen to everybody on the team, but I'm the one who's gonna punish him when he screws up, so he better really listen to me."

The next weeks were painful for Rex. Adjusting to his new status, learning his new role on the team, both on and off the field, was difficult. And his frequent missteps were met with swift punishment. "It was a hard time for me, but it was an adjustment for everyone else too," Rex explained quietly. "Every time I blew a play or talked disrespectful, my Master had to take the time to correct me. It was a lot for him to have to do - lead the team, call all the plays, oversee my training..."

For all the difficulty, the system seems to be working quite well. Watching a Texans game, you might never guess that anything was different. On the field, only his uniform and facepaint would give it away. Rex wears an "S" instead of a number on his jersey - and his name reads simply "REX".

"One of the first things we realized is that we wanted Rex to always stand out from the rest of the team," Capers said. "Ordinarily, you want every player to fit in with the rest – no one player more important than the rest of the team. But Rex isn't part of the team like the rest of the players. He's more like another piece of equipment – like a horse in a polo match."

"The face paint started out when Rex was helping some of the guys apply the black greasepaint under their eyes before our first preseason game," said Kris Brown, the Texans' veteran kicker. "One of the guys – I think it was Payne - smeared a little on the end of Rex's nose, and thought it made him look kind of like a dog. Well, the guys all thought it was hilarious, and the next time everybody wanted a piece of him and his whole face was painted up like. I had the idea of doing him up like the team logo." Ever since, Rex is painted up like the Texans' mascot for every game, one side of his face blue, the other red. "It really sets him apart," Capers added.

It is interesting to note that while many of his teammates will give his backside a friendly swat after a good play, Rex does not reply in kind. "That sort of familiarity between a slave and his Masters just isn't acceptable," says McKinney. "Old Rex tried that once in the preseason, and I had to strip his pants off and tan his hide right there on the sideline."

Off the field, the fact that Rex is not just another quarterback is even more obvious. It isn't often that you see the starting quarterback running down the sideline to fetch some Gatorade for his backup, or stoop to tie the kicker's shoes. "Rex is great," said third-string quarterback Dave Ragone. "If he's not talking to Coach or Steve [ McKinney], we keep him busy. On a hot day, I bet Rex works harder on the sideline than he does on the field."

Defensive tackle Seth Payne says that the defense doesn't feel left out though. "Sure we get a little jealous sometimes," he said with a laugh. "There's plenty of Rex to go around though, and besides, I think he does his best service in the locker room."

The locker room is where Rex spends his time when he is not on the field or on the road at away games. It is quite literally his home. During the summer, while Rex was still in training with STI, the Texans renovated their locker room to provide appropriate facilities to house their new slave quarterback. A large column in the center of the room was outfitted with shackles. Called the "whipping post" by the players, it is here where Rex is secured for his punishments. His locker is located with the other players, next to that of Steve McKinney, his primary overseer. But what appears to be just another locker is in fact the entrance to Rex's quarters. The small cubby, approximately 8 foot square, contains a simple toilet (without a seat), a small sink, and a narrow shelf that serves as Rex's bed. Under the bed is storage for the few personal possessions he is permitted to keep. Rex's uniform and equipment hang above the bed. While spartan by NFL standards, it is positively luxurious as slave quarters go.

"My practice uniform is here, and this is the uniform I'll wear next week," Rex explained during a tour of what the other players refer to as his 'pen.' "The equipment manager only gives me the uniform I'll need for the coming weeks game. That's the only clothes they give me other than these shorts." When not in uniform, he usually wears nothing but his collar. Rex explained that the shorts he was wearing during our interview are "special," and that he only gets to wear them when press photos will be taken.

While Rex looks more or less like any other player with his uniform on, he couldn't look more different from the rest of the team in the locker room. His hair, always on the short side, is now cropped tight to his scalp – no more than a half-inch long. The rest of his body is completely smooth from his chin to the tips of his toes. And of course Rex is not generally permitted clothing in the locker room. "He doesn't need it," is Mckinney's simple explanation.

Steve McKinney takes Rex's grooming very seriously. Each week, he and Rex take some "special time," as he calls it. "Every Sunday before the game, I come in a little early and shave him down. I'm talking his whole body: chest, pits, legs, pubes, ass - everything. When I get through with him he's as smooth as the day he was born. Sorta reminds him who's calling the plays now," McKinney chuckled. "I remember the first time we did it – ol' Rex cried like a little girl. Begged me not to do it, didn't you Rexy?"

I had thought for a moment that McKinney was addressing me with that question – it is surprising how quickly one adapts to tuning slaves out of the picture, so to speak. During the entire interview, McKinney had been sitting with Rex at his feet, absently scratching the slave behind his ear, as one might a loyal dog.

"Yes Master..." replied Rex.

Many of the other players are surprised at the personal interest McKinney takes in Rex's grooming. "Seems kinda funny to me," says rookie quarterback BJ Symons. "I mean, why should anybody spend their time helping a slave clean himself up? Seems to me it ought to be the other way around."

But McKinney says that these activities are at the heart of his success with Rex. "I was born on a ranch outside of Houston – about 50 miles west of here – and I grew up with slaves. Not your fancy house slaves either. We worked 'em hard, but we cared about 'em too, because they were important to our operation.

"But there was more to it than that. We were a small operation, and our slaves were part of the family. We worked hand in hand with them a lot of the time. So it was important that ol' Rex and me really bonded. That's why I do a lot of stuff that other folks might look down their noses at. Like Rex's grooming. Most of the other guys on the team would tell you that a slave ought to be able to keep himself neatly groomed. They don't understand me and Rex's little routine, do they?"

"No, Master..." answered Rex.

"A lot of the guys don't get it," said tight end prospect Bennie Joppru, "but I think it's cool how Steve takes care of Rex - and you can tell just by looking at him that Rex totally digs it.

The care and storage of all equipment, and maintenance of the locker room and shower areas, are among Rex's regular duties. These duties must be performed every day, but Rex is often up all night after a game, when he must clear away the remains of the celebration, and gather up all the dirty towels and uniforms. When his chores are completed for the night, Rex is locked in his pen by means of a metal grate which slides out of the wall.

Losses are a different story. After the Texans' pre-season loss, caused in large measure by a fourth quarter interception thrown by Rex, he was chained to the whipping post and punished for his sloppy play. The players left Rex trussed up all night, and McKinney had to drive to the stadium the next morning to set him loose. "You should've seen it - I mean, old Rexie was so happy to see me I thought he'd pee himself. Well, I guess he'd already done that..." McKinney said with a grin.

Away games are a bit of a treat for Rex, as they are the only times during the season that he leaves Reliant Stadium. He is packed into his traveling crate and shipped out with the equipment the night before the players travel. On longer trips, Rex might spend as much as 18 hours in the cage before the team arrives, so in those cases he has to wear a travel diaper, similar to those used during flights by NASA astronauts. "It isn't ideal, and he sure doesn't like it," equipment manager Robb Flynn said. "But we can't very well have him fouling his cage every time we travel." The night before the game Rex has dinner with the team, although he isn't allowed to sit at the table. Instead, he takes his meal on the floor, by McKinney's feet.

Rex sleeps in McKinney's hotel room with him. "Oh, he's like a kid in a candy store. Most Southern cities have special slave suites, which is nice because then Rex has his own little room. Well, it's more like a closet with a mat on the floor – but otherwise he just sleeps on the floor at the foot of my bed when I'm done with him. He just gets so excited about everything on road trips…"

So while the season is still young, Houston has silenced many of the naysayers. The Texans have proven – thus far – that exploiting the enslavement clause can be a successful strategy, even when dealing with high profile players. What is as yet unclear is whether the Texans' experiment with Rex will serve as a model for other teams to follow.

To be continued