A Long Island native who grew up 10 minutes from the Jets' facility at Hofstra, Rob Carpenter had to make a few turns after being chosen in the 1991 NFL Draft out of Syracuse before he found his way back home.
Selected in the fourth round by Cincinnati, the wide receiver was headed for New England seemingly before his cleats were broken in.
"It was just like I was back in college," Carpenter said. "(Current Patriots and former Syracuse Coach Dick) MacPherson was the one who put it out there to bring me over from the Bengals. The Bengals were trying to slide me through to being on the practice squad and Coach MacPherson was like, 'Nah, no thanks. We'll take him.'"
One problem. Carpenter and New England, in Seinfeld-esque, was like Elaine wearing an Orioles cap in George Steinbrenner's box seats at Yankee Stadium.
"This wasn't the Belichick, Brady Patriots. These were the Patriots who had a few years prior to that, come off the Super Bowl appearance against Chicago. That was a team that actually was in a rebuild at that point in time," Carpenter said.
"And I wasn't comfortable, to be honest. I really was not comfortable being in a New England uniform. I guess it was just a little bit of immaturity on my part, being a New Yorker.
"New England was a weird year. I ended up right back with a bunch of my old coaches from Syracuse. So it was a little weird in the fact that I felt like I was still in college, but was still trying to make the adjustment to the NFL."
Left unprotected by the Patriots in Plan B free agency in 1992, Plan A for Carpenter basically had a Green & White tint to it.
"There were a few teams that were interested in bringing me in. The one thing was, when I was doing my travels to visit other teams, the Jets were always there," Carpenter said. "They were the one team that I basically had a formal interview with. All the other teams, I went in and did workouts along with physicals.
"The Jets basically just saw what they saw on film, especially from being in the division. And took the word from a few of the guys that were on the team that knew me. In particular, Rob Moore, who was a college roommate, and we were playing on the same team for a few years at Syracuse.
"So they were always at the top of the list. And, of course, growing up being a Jets fan, I always thought it would be pretty cool to come back home, playing for a team that was basically in my hometown."
When Carpenter was five years old, his dad bought him a Jets helmet and a Joe Namath No. 12 jersey. And now, 19 years later, he was putting on a Jets jersey with his name and No. 82 on its back.
"It was a little surreal. I went through the offseason program and that was kind of a blur. I was right at home. I knew where everything was and had to make no adjustments to being in the area," Carpenter said.
"But the first time I did put on the jersey, it was like, 'Wow! I'm really here. I'm back at home. I'm playing for this team that I grew up watching, that I'm a fan of.' So you kind of get a little caught up in the nostalgia, but once the whistle blows and you're out there on the field, it's basically just back to playing football again."
In his first game as a Jet, the 1992 season opener in Atlanta, Carpenter had the game of his life with a team-leading six receptions for a game-high 109 yards.
"We didn't win, but that was probably one of the biggest games that I had in my career," Carpenter said. "It was the first game and there's a few things that come with that one game. Let alone me catching my first pass as a Jet, that was the first actual regular-season game in the Georgia Dome.
"Again, it was a little surreal at first. 'Alright, I went over the 100-yard mark in this game. We didn't get the win, but this is my first game as a Jet.' So that stands out a lot to me along with a couple games later, catching my first touchdown pass against the 49ers."
That first touchdown, a 7-yard pass from Ken O'Brien, was in the home opener at Giants Stadium. New York won, 31-14. The victory came in front of Jet fans, something Carpenter had been not that long ago. What is it that sets them apart?
"The want to win. That's one of the differences as far as Jet fans go," Carpenter said. "The fans will let you hear it. But as long as you're doing what you're supposed to be doing, everything is great and the fans will love you."
After three seasons with the Jets, Carpenter concluded his playing days with Philadelphia. What makes him most proud of his career?
"The fact that I lasted as long as I did when every so-called pundit and expert that was out there said my career would only last maybe one or two years. And it lasted six," Carpenter said. "And the fact that it probably would have been even longer if I didn't hurt my knee.
"At that point in time when my career was ending, I actually was looking forward to only playing one or two more years. I felt like my body was getting beat up. It was getting harder and harder to recover after the season and get myself ready for training camp."
Now making his home in New Jersey, Carpenter has five children: Robert, Christian, Justin, Adrianna, and a stepdaughter, Deirdre. Because of COVID, like many, Carpenter's career is in a holding pattern.
"Last year just before the pandemic hit, myself and two of my former college teammates were in the process of getting a youth sports program together," Carpenter said. "Gary McCummings and his sister (Dr. Ahada McCummings), run a youth sports program down in the Carolinas called Up2Us Sports. We wanted to bring it to this area. And another one of my former college teammates, Duane Kinnon, who runs the Duane Kinnon Group, basically transformed his area of Brooklyn with a lot of youth sports.
"We wanted to bring that together for girls and boys, in particular, girls, who don't have the outlet for sports in the area to get into. We're still going to be doing it, but we've got to wait until all this is over and everything gets back to normal before we start it back up again."