I wasn't fortunate enough to be alive when Anthony Carter donned a Michigan uniform. In fact, my existence wasn't even a thought — his collegiate career ended in 1982, five years before I was born. I spent my formative years watching Toomer and Hayes, Terrell and Walker, Avant and Breaston and Edwards, remarkable talents all. The last among those, Braylon, had me convinced that no Wolverine before him could possibly have played the receiver position with more skill, impact, and style. In my youthful ignorance, Carter was simply one half of Wangler-to-Carter, playing a supporting role for Bob Ufer's ebullience.
Then came 2009, the midst of a dark age for both the program and its tradition of NFL-caliber receivers. The esteemed WolverineHistorian uploaded ten minutes of AC highlights — a reel even more impressive when considering that, before 1984, college football teams were limited to no more than six televised games in a given three-year span. Many of the clips below are from non-televised footage taken from the press box; I assume some of Carter's greatest exploits weren't captured on video at all:
Watching that video, I felt the same anticipative stirring of the Michigan Stadium crowd — or, on the road, the same petrified silence — when AC touched the ball that I've only experienced at Michigan with Denard Robinson; there's greatness, and then there's pure electricity, and each had them in abundance. That feeling alone captures more than numbers are capable, but the numbers still speak volumes:
In Carter's final three seasons, Michigan completed 366 passes as a team for 5,383 yards. Carter caught 124 of them, covering 2,219 yards. Of the Wolverines's 51 passing touchdowns in that span, Carter hauled in 26, more than half of the team's total. He was an All-American in each of those seasons.
Despite playing in a remarkably different era from those around him in the Michigan record book, Carter still ranks fourth in school history in receptions and second in both receiving yards and touchdowns. Of the top five players on each of those lists, only one played any part of his career before the 1990s: Desmond Howard, a freshman in 1989.
He also ranks as Michigan's second-most prolific kickoff and punt returner, trailing only Steve Breaston in both categories.
Carter recorded 14 100-yard receiving games in his career, a mark surpassed only by Braylon Edwards. Jack Clancy, the previous record-holder, set the mark in 1966 — at four.
AC still — still — holds the NCAA career record for average all-purpose yards gained per play: 17.4, with 5,197 career yards on 298 touches.
I could go on. Needless to say, my opinion on Michigan's greatest receiver has changed. From a pure football perspective, there's so much about his game to love, from his ability to reverse field in an instant... [click the still to open the GIF]
...to his fearlessness over the middle...
...to his Braylon-esque (or should I reverse that?) jump ball skills...
...to the way his speed took the top off even the best defenses...
...to his remarkable hand-eye coordination...
...and, of course, the fact that he could run a 15-yard post route in a tie game, with time expiring, and dance his way into the end zone.
Football exploits aside, even as someone who never experienced watching him live, it's easy to see why AC was — and is — so beloved; his effortless cool oozes from every pore, whether he's crossing the goal line with his signature high-kneed half step or casually flipping the ball to an official. I couldn't help but put together a supercut GIF of Carter's various, sometimes understated, occasionally exuberant, and forever imitable touchdown celebrations:
The next Michigan receiver to do the Carter high-step into the end zone will forever have a fan in me, even (especially?) if he draws a flag in doing so. Long live the definitive #1.