Everybody remembers the famous quote from then-Philadelphia Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan after the release of wide receiver Cris Carter. That "all he did was catch touchdowns." While Carter had 19 touchdown receptions as an Eagle (11 of which came the season before Philadelphia let him go), his yardage totals weren't terribly impressive, as he barely averaged 40 yards a game.
But Carter wasn't let go by Ryan and the Eagles because of what he was doing on the field. No, he was facing off-the-field issues instead, as he was abusing alcohol and, by his own admission, using large amounts of ecstasy and marijuana. On September 4, 1990, the Minnesota Vikings claimed Carter on waivers for the princely sum of $100, and Carter took the opportunity to turn his life around. He credits Ryan with helping him on that front, according to our friends at Bleeding Green Nation.
Though he was initially stuck behind Anthony Carter. . .no relation. . .and Hassan Jones on the depth chart at wide receiver, it didn't take long for Cris Carter to start making an impact. On October 15, 1990 in a Monday Night match-up against his former team, Carter had one of the best games of his young career, hauling in six passes for 151 yards and touchdowns of 42 and 78 yards from Rich Gannon. The Vikings ultimately lost the game, but it gave everyone a glimpse of what Cris Carter was capable of when he had his head screwed on straight.
And over the rest of his time in Minnesota, Carter put together what ultimately. . .finally. . .became a Hall of Fame career.
Starting in 1993, Carter put together eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, each of which culminated in a Pro Bowl berth for #80. He set an NFL record with 122 receptions in 1994, and then equaled that total the next season. Though he never led the NFL in receiving yards, he did lead in touchdown receptions three times, doing so in 1995 (17), 1997 (13), and 1999 (13). He had at least 73 catches in every season from 1993 until 2001. When he finally hung up his cleats after a short stint with the Miami Dolphins in 2002, he had more receptions, receiving yardage, and receiving touchdowns than any player in NFL history not named Jerry Rice. As it stands today, he is still fourth on the list for receptions and receiving touchdowns, though he has dropped to ninth on the yardage charts.
Personally, one of my first memories of Cris Carter as a Viking came in his second year with the team against the Atlanta Falcons (and it saddens me that I can't find any video of this play on YouTube anywhere, except as part of the montage below. . .it's at the 1:42 mark of the clip). It was back when the Falcons shared the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium with the Atlanta Braves, and the infield dirt was still visible near the end zones. The Vikings had a 14-10 lead in the fourth quarter, but needed a little more to put the Falcons away. From the Atlanta 39-yard line, Wade Wilson dropped back and lofted a pass towards Carter and. . .well, just go to the 1:42 mark of the clip and see for yourself.
(You know, just between you and me, I think Carter's toes might have gone out of bounds before he got the ball across the goal line on that one. Keep that under your hat.)
Keep in mind that Carter did all these things while not exactly having a Murderer's Row of quarterbacks throwing the football in his direction. In his 10 years as a member of the Vikings, the team had seven different quarterbacks lead the team in passing. They were Rich Gannon, Jim McMahon, Warren Moon, Brad Johnson, Randall Cunningham, Jeff George, and Daunte Culpepper. Sure, Moon's in the Hall of Fame. . .he also didn't get to Minnesota until he was 39 years old, and everyone knows his prime years were spent with the Houston Oilers. Cunningham and Culpepper each had one great season with Carter in the fold (with Culpepper blowing out his knee during Carter's final season with the Vikings and Cunningham eventually getting benched in favor of George), but I don't think Canton is going to be busting down the door for any of those other guys any time soon.
The fact that Carter had to wait until his sixth try to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is, as we've detailed numerous times before, nothing short of completely ridiculous. Frankly, if Cris Carter wasn't worthy of being a first-ballot Hall of Famer, then they just shouldn't have first-ballot Hall of Famers any more. Beyond the sheer numbers, which are impressive enough, Carter had hands that (as you can see from the video above) were unmatched in this league by anyone in any era. And nobody used the sidelines or the back line of the end zone as well as Carter did. He was consistently great for a long period of time, and though he waited longer than he needed to, he is finally getting his just desserts in a town not far from where he grew up in his home state of Ohio.
Congratulations to Cris Carter on finally reaching football immortality. It is a well-deserved recognition, and one that will never be forgotten in the annals of football history.
What are your favorite memories of Cris Carter? Feel free to share them below, and we will have an Open Thread for today's Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony starting at approximately 5:30 PM Central time (we're going to separate it from the thread for tonight's Vikings scrimmage after all).