Arguably the best player ever, the "King" was just that — a powerful monarch of the game, revered for a freakish ability that outshone his obvious character flaws.
Even after his very public fall from grace in 2002, when he was caught in an X-rated clinch with his best mate's wife and ousted by the club, the adoration continued.
"I've never seen that sort of admiration. It was real moth-to-a-flame stuff," says sports radio commentator Angela Pippos. "Both men and women would make a beeline for him wherever he went, wanting to shake his hand and tell him how good he was.
"I can imagine that would be quite intoxicating to be around if you were his girlfriend. You would feel, 'Wow, he's chosen me above all these others'."
It is an observation that sheds some light on the life of a WAG — a footballer's wife or girlfriend — and why some women pursue it at all costs.
Among Carey's latest and most damning indiscretions, unearthed this week, the allegation that he glassed girlfriend Kate Neilson in the face in a Miami hotel is the most serious.
While the aspiring actress and one-time grand prix grid girl has fled to her hometown of Launceston, it has been revealed she tried to withdraw the US charges and claimed she and Carey were just having fun.
She is also believed to have organised the bail with bondsman Joe Mastrapa that saw Carey released a day after his arrest.
In other words, Neilson is standing by her man, a scenario that occurs frequently in the history of elite sport.
The list is long of women who have famously turned a blind eye to unfaithful partners and even endured domestic violence at the hands of sports star partners.
On her MySpace site last year, Neilson said that loving Carey was like being on a roller-coaster of exhilarating highs and exasperating lows.
"Love, in short, is not a calm, simple emotion. But it is a wonderful one like no other," she wrote.
Vicarious fame, glamorous events, a luxury lifestyle and money to burn can be an enticing trap for young women, says Monash University professor of social work Thea Brown.
"Being the partner of a very famous person whose name is so well known must be very exciting and very confirming of your own worth," she says.
"Of course, no woman anticipates when they are attracted to a man that domestic violence is going to be a consequence. Even when they do see warning signs, the man is usually very adept at disguising or denying it or compensating for it and they soon get trapped and find it very hard to get out of the trap.
"Carey's girlfriend would be going to very exciting functions with him and (getting a) huge amount of press and attention. That lifestyle would be a very enticing trap."
The image of the faithful partner standing by her badly behaved man is par for the course in sporting culture.
Even after they split, Ben Cousins' girlfriend, Samantha Druce, remained loyal to the troubled Eagles star, visiting him in a Perth police station in October when he was arrested on drug charges.
And who can forget the cringe-inducing red carpet image of Victoria Beckham gripping husband David, frozen smile plastered across her face, after claims he had been sleeping with his personal assistant, Rebecca Loos?
Just last week, English footballer Ashley Cole was accused of cheating on his wife, Girls Aloud singer Cheryl. Three women have come forward claiming they have slept with the Chelsea star, including one who claims Cole paid her to have an abortion.
Sexual conquests and women willing to snare a footballer no matter the cost have long been part of the AFL culture.
Melbourne psychologist Alex Bartsch, a former detective who has worked extensively with elite sportsmen, says sexual excess has always been part of the culture of AFL football — especially in the past, before more stringent codes of behaviour applied.
It was common for promiscuous players to have had sexual relationships with several women concurrently — but there was a cultural shift against such behaviour among younger players in recent times.
"If you had hung around the Saints disco at Moorabbin in the 1980s, there would have been a scandal a week," he says.
Carey, of course, has form when it comes to infidelity and rampant casual sex. First there was the 2002 toilet cubicle incident with teammate Anthony Stevens' wife, Kelli, while Carey was married to wife Sally.
Despite the public humiliation, Sally stuck it out, only for Carey to leave her and two-month-old daughter Ella for Neilson in 2006.
Bartsch says that Carey's descent from the pedestal of sporting fame to eventual humiliation is "the narcissist's inevitable conclusion" — but about 10 years sooner than he would have predicted.
"As the thrill of getting constant praise dies away in sport or a career, the addiction to adulation doesn't get fed and is replaced with frustration," he says.
As Carey became more isolated and less popular because of his behaviour, it was possible he could spiral into a cycle of self-destructive depression, he says.
"When they fall, they fall a lot harder and further than the average person. As he sees it, he is being humiliated and persecuted — picked on because he's famous."
Carey's angry reaction to being rebuked was similar to broadcaster Alan Jones' indignant response after he was attacked in a public hearing for accepting "cash for comment".
"By the next day, Jones had turned it around into a rant about small-minded bureaucrats trying to cut down tall poppies," Bartsch says.
It is one thing to be a "larrikin", as a compulsive philanderer like Shane Warne could at best be painted, or a drug-taking party boy like Cousins, but a wife-beater is quite another.
England star footballer Paul Gascoigne took a sharp fall from grace in the 1990s when he admitted beating his wife, Sheryl.
They reportedly broke up six times before marrying in 1997. Soon after their honeymoon, she was photographed with a black eye, bruises, one arm in a sling and dislocated fingers.
Carey, too, has crossed the line from larrikin to violent drunk, a character flaw that has grown worse since age and injury forced him to give football away.
Neilson, presumably, must decide whether she will tolerate that violence or leave Carey and her WAG status for a quieter life, albeit with fewer "exhilarating highs and lows".
One AFL player's girlfriend says the reality of life as a WAG is not all it is cracked up to be anyway. "It's a misconception that being a footballer's girlfriend is all glamour," she says.
"Some of it is great in that way, but most of the time you don't have much of a social life because they're always training, they can't drink or have late nights.
"We're in bed by 10 most nights. Actually, most of the time it's really boring."