Carter returns to Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- Cris Carter returns to Minnesota and Emmitt Smith may play his final home game for the Dallas Cowboys in Week 16 of the NFL.

Carter came out of retirement in October to fulfill his Super Bowl dream. The script gets intriguing when Carter faces his former team in a pivotal game for the Miami Dolphins (9-5) on Saturday afternoon.


The Philadelphia Eagles (11-3), who clinched the NFC East title last week, will visit Smith and the Dallas Cowboys (5-9) on Saturday night.

The NFL's second all-time leading receiver with 1,100 catches and 130 touchdowns, Carter compiled most of those totals with the Minnesota Vikings from 1990-2001.

"It's going to be exciting. I'm going back to a place I called home for 12 years," said Carter, who also ranks fourth overall with 13,884 yards. "But I'm with a team now that I wanted to be with. At this point in my career, I want a chance to win it all."

The Dolphins, the only team to make the playoffs each of the last five years, are in position to achieve something they have not accomplished since 1992 - a bye in the first round. If they win Saturday at Minnesota and in the regular season finale at New England, the Dolphins would clinch their second AFC East title in three years under Dave Wannstedt. Miami also wins the division with a win Saturday coupled with a loss by New England Sunday night to the New York Jets.


But it may mean more than that to Carter, who often feuded on the sidelines with Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper and receiver Randy Moss during games last season. Ready to rebuild after a 5-11 campaign, the Vikings were not interested in re-signing the 37-year-old Carter and he was seeking to join a Super Bowl contender.

In his 12 years with Minnesota, Carter set a franchise record with 1,004 receptions for 12,383 yards and 100 touchdowns. His closest shot at a Super Bowl came in 1998 when the Vikings lost in the NFC championship game to Atlanta in overtime.

Carter was lured out of retirement by the Dolphins in late October, but was sidelined after playing in just one game due to a kidney abnormality. He returned in a Dec. 9 game against Chicago and made one of his patented one-handed touchdown catches in last week's 23-17 win over Oakland.

The NFL's all-time rushing leader with 17,119 yards, Smith has spent his entire 13-year career with the Cowboys, winning three Super Bowls and making nine Pro Bowls.

With one year left on his contract, the 33-year-old Smith is scheduled to count heavily against the Cowboys salary cap in 2003, meaning it is unlikely that he will see a 14th season in a Dallas uniform.


Owner Jerry Jones already has hinted in interviews that this could be Smith's last season in Dallas. Two years ago, Jones went through a similar ordeal with quarterback Troy Aikman, who won three Super Bowls with the Cowboys in the 1990s. Unlike Smith, Aikman was plagued by injuries near the end of his career, and Jones made the decision to cut him.

Smith still is a productive back and needs only 68 yards for his 12th straight 1,000-yard season.

The Eagles enter this contest with a five-game winning streak, tied with Tampa Bay and Green Bay for the NFL's best record, and need to win their final two games to gain home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Philadelphia closes the regular season next Saturday at the New York Giants.

Philadelphia's winning streak is even more impressive since it has gone 4-0 since quarterback Donovan McNabb went down with a fractured ankle.

The San Francisco 49ers (9-5), who clinched the NFC West title two weeks ago and are locked into the fourth playoff seed, will visit the Arizona Cardinals (5-9) in Saturday's other game.

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