Has there been a better set of hands in the history of Pro Football?? How many ridiculous one handed catches did Cris Carter make during his great career with the Philadelphia Eagles and mainly with the Minnesota Vikings?? At first glance, the numbers stand out with 1,101 receptions for 13,899 yards and 130 touchdowns. Good for 2nd most in NFL history for receptions and receiving touchdowns at the time of his retirement. One of the greatest attributes is that he honed his skill amidst a myriad of pedestrian NFL quarterbacks.
Amazingly he came within inches of washing out after a few seasons in Philadelphia. After leaving THE Ohio State University, he was drafted by Buddy Ryan and the Eagles in 1987. In his three years there he played well but was undisciplined off the field. He was a young player who enjoyed the perks of stardom and indulged off the field in alcohol and partying and was wasting his talent away. He helped the Eagles and a growing Randall Cunningham to a 12-4 record and a 1988 NFC East Championship where he caught 39 receptions for 761 yards and 6 TDs for the season.
However it was the 1989 season where he didn’t show signs of maturity off the field. Despite the fact that he caught 45 passes, his play had regressed to where his effectiveness was relegated to catching passes in the redzone. He caught 11TDs but only gained 605 yards. Head Coach Buddy Ryan had lost faith in his receiver growing as a player and released him and drafted less talented receivers Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams in the 1990 draft. When asked why he released Carter he scoffed “All he does is catch touchdowns.” a line mimicked by Chris Berman and Tom Jackson on ESPN highlight shows for years to come.
The Vikings claimed Carter from the waiver wire for $100!! They nabbed a Hall of Fame wide receiver for half the price of a smartphone. Think about that for a second. With the humbling experience he rededicated himself and gave up his tempestuous ways and became a polished receiver with the Vikings. So polished that he thrived with moderate quarterbacking in Minnesota in the ensuing years. Do you realize that in just 12 years for the Norsemen he caught 1,004 receptions for 12,383 yards and 110 touchdowns?? Do you also realize he did most of this while catching passes from the likes of a moderately successful Sean Salisbury, a decade away from developing Rich Gannon, an eroding (with his fourth team) Jim McMahon, a developing Brad Johnson, and an on the downside late 30′s Warren Moon?? Now why didn’t we place an out of retirement Comeback Player of the Year Randall Cunningham with this group?? Because his three best years came before the famous 1998 Vikings everyone remembers with Cunningham & Randy Moss.
With the aforementioned quarterbacks in tow, Carter, along with Jerry Rice became the first receivers not named Sterling Sharpe to have 100 receptions in back to back seasons for 1994 & 1995. Carter caught 122 in ’94 then 122 in ’95 as compared to Rice’s 112 and 122 respectively. It was 1994-1996 where Carter did his best work. In 1994 his stat-line was 122 rec. for 1,256 yards and 7 TDs. He followed that up with 122 receptions for 1,371 yards and a career high 17 touchdowns in 1995. Lets compare these numbers with Hall of Famer Jerry Rice and should be Hall of Famer Sterling Sharpe over their best 3 year periods. Where Sharpe’s numbers are 1992-1994, Rice and Carter’s are both from 1994-1996.
- Cris Carter (1994-1996) 340 receptions, 3,790 yards & 34TDs
- Jerry Rice (1994-1996) 342 receptions, 4,601 yards & 36TDs
- Sterling Sharpe (1992-1994) 314 receptions, 3,854yards & 42 TDs
See?? You forgot how great he was. The difference between the three is Carter was not catching passes from a Hall of Fame quarterback in his prime. Carter was in the midst of writing his Hall of Fame credentials with 8 straight 1,000 yard seasons and 5 straight with 10 or more touchdowns. Where Sterling Sharpe was a big receiver who muscled smaller defensive backs, Carter got by on guile. He wasn’t a deep threat, he caught everything thrown his way with many one handed circus catches and was a sideline technician. He always got his feet in and could perform in a phone booth.
What’s forgotten is how he stepped in and mentored a young Randy Moss for Coach Denny Green before the 1998 season. That season the Minnesota Vikings became the highest scoring team in league history with 556 points besting the ’83 Redskins with 541. In that year where he acquiesced a ton of catches for the betterment of a 15-1 team that should have won the Super Bowl. Carter still went on to catch 78 receptions for 1,011 yards and 12 TDs. At the same time Randy Moss was in the midst of catching 69 rec. for 1,313 yds and 17TDs. The Vikings made the NFC Championship game twice in 1998 and 2000 yet fell short of winning it all.
Cris Carter finished his career in 2001, as one of the most respected players in the NFL and in 2000 won the NFL’s Man of the Year Award. He has gone on to speak at the Rookie Symposium every year to keep rookies from falling into the pits that can derail a young man’s career. His leadership was one he grew into and now works for ESPN covering the game he played so well for so long. When you think of a Hall of Famer, you think about an ambassador of the game along with one who was among the best to ever play. Isn’t this what Cris Carter is/ was?? One who made the game great while he played and was a mentor to players who play the game today. If that isn’t the mettle of what a Hall of Famer is, I don’t know what one looks like.
For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you “From THE Ohio St University” Cris Carter!