The days are growing cold and windy in Ann Arbor, and this year more than ever Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler is feeling the chill. Literally, because Anthony Carter's career with the Wolverines is coming to an end. Schembechler has another Rose Bowl team—his seventh in 14 years—but he won't ever have another Carter. Of that he's sure. So for the time being Schembechler is making the most of what he has got. On his angriest mornings the very mention of Carter's name will dissolve a Schembechler scowl into a beaming smile of the sort usually seen only on the faces of proud fathers, and he'll say, bet on it, "Anthony? Ahhh, isn't Anthony cute?"
Such an appraisal from Michigan's meanest man may come as a surprise—until one meets Carter. By golly, he is cute—and soft and warm and shy and funny. He is, in fact, one of those rare athletes who captivates admirers with his talent and turns them into idolators with his personality. And there is nothing illusory about Carter. He's the real thing, both on and off the field.
It would be difficult to ignore the Hope Diamond in a heap of pebbles. And so is Carter difficult to ignore in a Michigan football uniform—about as difficult to ignore as he is to defend against. He wears the number "1" on his back and covers his broomstick calves with long white stockings that seem to heighten his Bambiesque aspect, which is derived from being a shade under six feet tall and weighing a wispy 165 pounds. But it is what he does once the ball is snapped—what he has done since his days as a high school sensation in Riviera Beach, Fla. through his years at Michigan—that commands absolute attention. Watch him. You have to watch him.
Every time he runs a pass route, every time he positions himself to return a punt or kickoff, every time he reverses field and streaks around behind the quarterback to receive the football, Carter is a threat to score a touchdown. Every time. Consider: It's Oct. 27, 1979, Carter's freshman year at Michigan. The Wolverines, with a 6-1 record, 4-0 in the Big Ten, are tied 21-21 with Indiana. There are six seconds left to play and Michigan is 45 yards from the Hoosier goal line. Carter brings in from the bench what has to be the game's final play. He's painfully shy, a lonely kid from Florida, unhappy in the North, who rarely speaks, even to his teammates. He calls out the play, 66 post, and then shocks Quarterback John Wangler by saying, "Hey, Johnny. Throw the ball to me. I'm going to be open." Wangler remembers Ralph Clayton, then a senior and Michigan's leading receiver, raising his eyebrows on the other side of the huddle. "I couldn't believe A.C. said that," says Wangler, now a Wolverine graduate assistant coach. "But as soon as he did, I was going with Anthony all the way." Seconds later. Carter, sprinting left to right, meets Wangler's pass in a seam over the middle at the Hoosier 25. Never shifting speeds, he makes a one-step cutback to his left to say goodby to one defender and a quick shake back to the right to lose another. He crosses the goal line a few microseconds after the clock has run out of numbers. Michigan wins 27-21. "I still don't believe it happened," says Carter now. "But I know it did."
Segue ahead to last Saturday. It's Carter's last home game. Victory over Purdue means Michigan goes to the Rose Bowl again. Early in the first quarter Carter pulls in a 48-yard pass, splitting two defenders as he runs the remaining nine yards for a TD. In the last quarter he scores on a 62-yard pass play. In between he throws in a catch for a two-point conversion. Thus Carter breaks the 42-year-old Michigan scoring record held by the sainted Tom Harmon, 244 points to 237, and earns a thunderous ovation from the Ann Arbor crowd of 105,281 as Michigan wins 52-21.
The voice and the face—soft and appealing—fit in with the playing style of the man who outscored Harmon, although some of the freshman shyness remains. "You had to know him when he first got here," says Schembechler. "He had such a complex. I don't think he could trust anyone." Carter has made great strides, even if he still occasionally slips into the dialect of rural black Florida. He might say gooder for better or feets for feet. He also admits, with tongue in cheek, to being a bad speller. "When I sign autographs for kids," he says, "I always ask them to spell their names. Even kids named Dick." Can he spell touchdown? "Yes. That's TD, isn't it?" Despite the self-deprecation and the occasional verbal fumble. Carter can hack it in the classroom reasonably well. Majoring in recreation, he has a bit better than a C average. And he has promised Schembechler he'll graduate next year.
Forget the word average, though, when you turn to Carter on the field. There have been four seasons' worth of incredible catches—that's Bo's word, incredible. What's more, there have been catches and kick returns and reverses and even passes thrown. And Carter has excelled for a coach who has lived by the run and has not had a superior passing quarterback to make the best use of Carter's talents. His 149 receptions over four seasons, with two games to go, this Saturday at Ohio State and New Year's Day in Pasadena, work out to a scant 3.23 per game and leave him far behind Howard Twilley's NCAA career record of 261 set at Tulsa in 1963-65. But Carter's total of 33 touchdown catches (excluding bowl games) is just one short of Elmo Wright's NCAA record set at Houston in 1968-70. Do some arithmetic and consider this staggering statistic: Including bowl games, in which Carter has caught four TD passes, nearly one of every four passes to him has meant six points for the Wolverines.
"He has the ability to score a touchdown anytime he touches the ball," says Notre Dame Coach Gerry Faust, who was anytimed but good on Sept. 18 when Carter, though hobbled by a groin injury, returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown against the Irish. Catching passes, running reverses and returning kicks, Carter has averaged 18.2 yards each time he has touched the ball, bettering by nearly three yards the NCAA record set by Arizona's Theo Bell in 1972-75.
One can only wonder what kind of numbers Carter would have amassed had he been given the opportunity to play on a team with a passer like Stanford's John Elway. "I suspect he would have broken every pass-receiving record in the book," says Iowa Coach Hayden Fry. But Schembechler—and many others, it might be pointed out—argues that Michigan's offense is a perfect complement to Carter's talents. "Every play he makes for us is a big one," says Bo, "because teams that overload on Anthony are giving up the run. Teams overload on him anyway, and he still beats them."
Just how good is Carter? "I don't know that I'm gooder than a lot of receivers in the country," he says. He does know that he loves, no, yearns to handle the ball, and he makes the most of every opportunity.
In a playful mood one day, Carter said to Schembechler, "Bo, I think I'll forget about pro football and become a coach like you. Only I'm not going to have any running plays in my book. Only passes. And maybe a few end-arounds."
"Don't come here looking for a job when you're fired, Snake," said Bo. Carter pranced away laughing.
Before his junior season, Carter met Elway at a preseason gathering of Playboy magazine All-Americas at Lake Geneva, Wis. Elway took Carter's hand and said, "A.C., gee, I sure wish you and I could hook up."
"John," said Carter wistfully, "so do I. So do I."
"Elway is going to win the Super Bowl for the team that drafts him," says Dick Steinberg, director of player development for the New England Patriots. "But he's the only one in the draft who'll be able to do that. Then come the guys you know are winners. Carter's one." Some, but hardly all, of the NFL people are concerned about Carter's size, which could mean the difference between his being a low first-round pick and a high second-rounder. Grambling's Trumaine Johnson and Arkansas' Gary Anderson, both of whom are bigger, and Tennessee's Willie Gault, a world-class hurdler, could be chosen ahead of Carter.
Still, many scouts feel that in the NFL, with receivers protected from contact once they're five yards downfield, Carter will be even tougher to cover than he is in college. Says Tim Rooney, a Detroit Lions scout, "I'll compare him favorably right now with John Jefferson and James Lofton, and they're the best. Anthony's no more than 10 or 15 pounds lighter than Lynn Swann, and he has the same great hands and great moves and acrobatic flair—and more pure speed. I'll say this. If you're not going to draft Carter, you'd better draft somebody who can cover him."
"There are two things that set Anthony apart from every other receiver I've ever seen," says Wangler. "One is that he runs a 4.4 40, but he can run 4.4 sideways. The other thing is his ability to position himself to make the catch, no matter where the ball is thrown. You just throw it, there's Anthony, always open and gliding into it." Always open. And this despite repeated muggings by opponents who have had Carter's picture pinned to their lockers for four years and game plans concocted especially to cope with him. Nothing has stopped him because there are so many things he can do. "He can take the ball on the sweep, or run the reverse, or cut upfield, or cut across the short zones," says Fry.
"If you want a single-word capsulization of Carter," says UCLA Coach Terry Donahue, "you spell it p-h-e-n-o-m-e-n-a-l. In caps." Adds Purdue's Leon Burtnett, "We've tried double and triple coverage, and he still catches passes."
How? Carter gives a cute shrug. "Maybe it's this hook I have on my finger," he says smiling, holding up a meanly misshapen index finger on his left hand, the result of a high school football injury.
How does any superior receiver—a Swann, a Jefferson, a Lofton, yes, a Carter—catch balls lesser men can't handle? Carter's hands are of normal size by human—forget football—standards. The ball may come speeding at him like a bullet, yet there is no sense of impact when it meets his hands, nor is there any extraneous movement in his transition from receiver to ballcarrier. It is a physical puzzle that would confound Einstein. Carter says that in four years he has dropped only seven balls he should have caught, none of them in crucial situations. "Just sometimes when I'm lazy. Lackadaisy," he says.
"Truthfully, some of the things I do amaze me. I look at films and say, 'How did I do that?' I look awkward. Knock-kneeded. Both my feets be off the ground. I know it can't be true, but it shows up on the film like that."
Carter realizes that his one weakness is a tendency to cut his routes a bit shorter than he is supposed to. He has his reasons for this. For one thing, he doesn't trust current Quarterback Steve Smith's arm the way he trusted Wangler's. But mostly, he says, "It's 'cause I want the ball early. I'm out there wanting to yell at him, 'Give me the ball! I'm open! Now! Here! Give it to me now!' "
"He has that sense," says Schembechler. "He knows where everybody on the field is. I don't know how. And after he catches the ball"—Bo says this with maximum emphasis—"He's the best receiver I've ever seen in the open field."
Off the field you'd never take Carter for a guy who is shortly sure to become Michigan's second three-time football All-America (Bennie Oosterbaan was the first, 1925-1927). He doesn't mix into Ann Arbor's social whirl, has virtually no friends outside the football team and is one of the least likely candidates around for Big Man on Campus. "The guys on the team call me the Hermit," he says. A typical Carter evening consists of study and viewing the likes of That's Incredible!, Benny Hill and The Three Stooges on the tube. "And then I'm into bed. Every night," he says.
Carter gets along especially well with children. He enjoys the one day a week he works with handicapped youngsters at Ann Arbor's High Point School as part of the requirement for a course in special education.
Being the sixth in a family of eight children tends to give one the patience to do such work. His mother, Manita, who works as a chambermaid in a Palm Beach hotel, raised that brood all alone. Anthony was a bit of a problem to Manita at one time, skipping school to hang out at the Jiffy Pool Hall—"Jiffy University we called it," he says—until she sat him down one day. "I scared him up," she says. "Told him if he didn't go to school I'd put him in a children's home."
By the time he was in the ninth grade. Carter was on the Sun Coast High varsity football team, and soon word of his deeds spread through Florida and beyond. He scored 54 touchdowns in four years and the recruiters came in droves, hustling the not very worldly Carter with outrageous promises. Shirley Burgess, the dean of students at Sun Coast, helped him sort out the blatantly bogus from the merely enthusiastic and urged him to "go someplace where they'll like you as a person and not just a football player." That pared the list down quickly, and Michigan emerged as the winner, beating out Florida State and Texas.
Thus began the father-son relationship between Schembechler and Carter, one that nearly ended when Carter fled for home only three days after he arrived in Ann Arbor. "That was the funniest story of all," says Schembechler. "I had him on the phone and said, 'Now Anthony, you're not going to leave here without talking to me, are you?' 'Oh no, Coach. I'm not going to do anything without talking to you.' So I hung up the phone and the next thing I know he's in Florida! So I got him on the phone down there and said, 'You promised me you'd talk to me before you left here.' Anthony said, 'Oh yeah. I'm going to talk to you. I'm not going to do anything before I talk to you.' " Schembechler convulses in laughter telling the story. "Oh, he's beautiful, isn't he? Isn't he cute?"
Carter was on campus three days later, and since then Schembechler has personally monitored practically every move he has made. And when Carter does something Schembechler doesn't like, Schembechler lets him know about it in Bo-speak, which is to say, as bluntly as possible. The coach worries most about agents, crawling—in Schembechler's view—from under every rock, looking for an opportunity to get Carter's signature on the nearest dotted line. If any are trying, they are surely out-of-towners, because everyone who knows anything about Michigan football knows better than to trespass on Schembechler's lawn. The other day former President and Michigan Center Gerald Ford showed up at the Wolverines' practice field. A photographer asked for permission to pose Ford with a fellow Michigan MVP named Carter. "Christ," said Colonel Bob Barrett, Ford's aide, "he's on Bo's turf now. The President wouldn't go to the bathroom here without asking Bo's permission."
Schembechler is fiercely protective of Carter—whom the Michigan players have nicknamed Little Schemmy—and as with any father whose son is growing up too quickly, sometimes the relationship gets a little strained. Schembechler loudly disapproves, for instance, of Carter's year-old romantic relationship with Ortancis Thomas, a 32-year-old city councilwoman in Riviera Beach. Carter shrugs and says, "I didn't pick Bo's wife, Millie, for him."
Schembechler says that he's going to have "a lot of work to do" when the season is over, preparing Carter for life outside the nest. He intends to send Carter out as pure as he was when he arrived. Schembechler smiles when he says, "I've kept Anthony in poverty."
And just like a boy anxious to be a man, Carter says, "Sometimes Bo treats me like I'm still a freshman. He's got to learn that little Anthony has grown up."
Schembechler will. But letting go won't be made any easier by the fact that Carter's name will be engraved in memory alongside those of Harmon, Oosterbaan and Ron Kramer. As he thinks about Michigan football without Carter, Schembechler gazes skyward and then back toward earth. A beatific smile crumbles into his surliest General Patton scowl, and he says, "Replace Anthony? Hell! You can't replace Anthony!"
With his catches against Purdue, Carter broke the Michigan scoring mark.
A gathering of Wolverine legends at practice: former President Ford, Carter and Bo.
Carter's relationship with City Councilwoman Thomas has not won Schembechler's vote.