For most of the past 15 years, the Oakland Raiders have been among the worst teams in the NFL. Since 2002, when the league went to 32 teams, the Raiders have spent most of the time near the bottom of the AFC West, seldom coming anywhere near threatening to earn a playoff berth. So bleak were the Raiders’ prospects during that stretch that a 3-5 record at the season’s halfway mark would be seen as a real achievement.
But this year, that 4-5 start represents a disappointment for the Silver and Black, as they finally broke through last season and built themselves into a team with legitimate expectations of not only reaching the postseason, but winning an AFC West title.
One of the main reasons for hope for the Raiders has been Derek Carr, who helped Oakland to a 12-4 record in 2016 and has made the Raiders’ offense a powerful weapon when everything is clicking. But without his wife Heather, there’s a good chance Carr might never have reached the NFL in the first place.
Here are five things you need to know about Heather Carr.
1. She’s Originally From Fresno
When the Raiders make the move to Las Vegas in 2019, it’ll mark a significant change for the former Heather Neel, as it will mark the first time that she’s lived outside of Northern California. She was a graduate of Fresno Christian High School and chose to stay home for college when she selected Fresno State. Although Fresno isn’t considered part of the Bay Area, it is just 180 miles away from the East Bay and Oakland, which made it the closest NFL city to Fresno State when the Raiders selected Carr in 2014.
The move to Nevada will see the Carr family trade the winds of the East Bay for the desert of southern Nevada, but the positive side of things for Heather Carr is that she won’t be drastically far from her hometown. At 396 miles from Fresno, Las Vegas is a mere hour’s flight away, making her the rare athlete’s wife who gets to be with her husband without having to completely leave her past behind.
2. She Met Derek Carr While Working as a Waitress
While in high school and college, she began working at a BJ’s Brewhouse in Fresno to help bring in money while completing her studies. Little did she know that she’d end up meeting the man she’d marry — in a way that she never expected.
While working a shift, Carr was one of her customers and asked her why she only had one earring in her two ears. When she got a moment, she went off to check her diamond earrings to make sure that she hadn’t lost one…and realized that she had both of them in place. Carr had simply been messing with her to get her attention.
The ploy ended up working perfectly. Neel was surprised enough by Carr’s line that she went back and talked with him, and soon after, they set up a real date that was the beginning of their relationship.
3. She Changed Her Relationship With Derek Carr in a Letter
Even though Heather had the perfect situation on paper in terms of being able to date the most well-known athlete at Fresno State, things were far from perfect inside the relationship. The reason was simple: Heather Feel was a devout Christian who lived her faith every day of her life. Carr, well, didn’t.
Though he had grown up in a Christian family and had graduated from Bakersfield Christian High School, he was proving to be far more interested in living the life of a college partier than in developing his relationship with Jesus Christ. Compared to the man who had told Heather how much his faith supposedly meant to him, this was a drastic difference — and it wasn’t one that she could accept.
She chose to write him a letter that essentially said that the person Derek Carr presented himself as and the person Derek Carr actually was were two completely different people, and if he wanted her to stay with him, he had to fix that immediately.
Carr got the message, and nobody was happier about it than his family. Carr’s father Rodger had seen Derek stepping into the school where his older brother David had dominated, and he’d been letting the success go to his head.
“Had the last name, a quarterback and (figured), ‘I’m going to someday take the program over.’” his father said. “He was reaping everything he could. God had to straighten him out.”
It was Heather who ended up straightening out Carr, as he left the parties behind and developed into a top quarterback for the Bulldogs.
4. She’s Been Married to Derek Carr Since College
While Carr was developing into a top quarterback on the field at Fresno State, he was also becoming the kind of person Heather thought she was getting when she first met him. On July 10, 2012, Heather Neel officially became Heather Carr.
Not coincidentally, their marriage coincided with Carr’s two best seasons as a Bulldog. In his final two years at Fresno State, the newly married Carr tossed 87 touchdown passes against 15 interceptions and led Fresno State to a 20-6 record over that stretch.
5. She Has Two Children With Derek Carr
If Heather’s letter was the start of Derek Carr beginning to grow up, the birth of their first son, Dallas, was the completion of the process.
In August of 2013, Dallas was born and immediately had problems far beyond what was normal for an infant. The Carrs discovered that their son’s intestines were tangled and it was unclear if the baby would survive, needing three surgeries before he was able to finally go home for good. As he watched his son fight for his life, his prayers showed his wife that the man she saw was the man that she had always wanted to see him become.
Dallas did survive the operations and now lives a normal life for a 4-year-old. In 2016, he was joined by brother Deker.