For seven seasons now, Harold Carmichael of the Philadelphia Eagles has been a player looked up to by defensive backs—usually after he has burned them with a pass reception that is the NFL's modern-day version of the Alley Oop play practiced by R. C. Owens in the 1950s. A 6'8" string bean, Carmichael is both the tallest receiver in the NFL and the most dependable. He has caught a minimum of 42 passes each year since 1973, and last Sunday he extended his consecutive-game receiving streak to 94 by catching four of Quarterback Ron Jaworski's passes in the Eagles' 28-27 loss to the Vikings on the Minnesota tundra. That is just 11 games short of the NFL record of 105 set by the retired Danny Abramowicz, who played for New Orleans and San Francisco.
During his streak, which began on Oct. 8, 1972 when he hauled down a 21-yard pass from John Reaves, Carmichael has caught a total of 328 passes for 4,768 yards and 46 touchdowns. He has been held to a single reception in a game only 11 times. His toughest opponent clearly has been Dallas. The Cowboys conceded him one catch for one piddling yard in 1972, and they permitted him just one for seven yards in a game last year.
Carmichael wasted no time Sunday getting his first reception in the 20� cold at Minnesota, which overnight had been hit by a 10-inch snowstorm. On Philadelphia's third play from scrimmage, after the Vikings had scored on a Fran Tarkenton to Sammy White pass for a 7-0 lead, Carmichael grabbed the first pass thrown by Jaworski and scored on a 56-yard play. On Philadelphia's third play of the second quarter, after the Vikings had regained the lead 14-7 on another Tarkenton pass to White, Carmichael and Jaworski again teamed up for the tying touchdown, this time from 21 yards out. In the end, a blocked extra point proved costly to the Eagles as Tarkenton moved the Vikings 90 yards to a touchdown and Rick Danmeier booted the winning extra point with only 1:49 to play in the game.
If Carmichael can manage a single reception in each of his final two games of the season, against Dallas and the New York Giants, he will pass Green Bay's legendary Don Hutson (95 games) and tie Lance Alworth, the former San Diego and Dallas receiver, for second place behind Abramowicz in the record book.
Carmichael admits that his height is an asset, but he denies that he survives in the NFL solely because of it. "I've been hearing that ever since I came into the league," says Carmichael, a native of Jacksonville, Fla., who attended Southern University and was a seventh-round draft choice of the Eagles in 1971. "But I really don't think that a man's size determines his ability. Pat Fischer was only 5'9", but he was one of the toughest cornerbacks I ever went against. Even when I'm going to be playing a guy 5'9", I don't say I'm going to have a field day. That guy may be able to jump pretty high, and we're not going to throw the ball high all the time. You can't use your height on every pass."
He uses it often enough. Against the Jets last month, he loped into the end zone, stopped suddenly and caught a six-yard touchdown pass from Jaworski without even bothering to jump. Bobby Jackson, the 5'9" Jet cornerback, had him well covered on the play—he was between Jaworski and Carmichael and so close to the Eagle receiver that their jerseys practically touched—but Carmichael calmly reached up and caught the ball, snaring it away from the leaping Jackson, and Philadelphia had a 17-9 victory.
The Eagles also occasionally use Carmichael to block extra-point and field-goal kicks; in that same Jet game he blocked Pat Leahy's attempt for an extra point that would have tied the score at 10-10 in the third period.
"He's a tremendous physical talent," says Jaworski. "In the goal-line area he's almost impossible to stop if you give him single coverage, even by someone as tall as 6'3". That's why we spend a lot of time in our goal-line preparation every week. Harold and I work all the time on the Alley Oop pass over the shorter guy and the quick out or quick slant. Once we see how the cornerback sets up, we instinctively know exactly what we're going to do. We've developed real confidence in each other. He knows where I'm going to throw the ball, and I know what type of route he's going to run."
Somewhat regrettably, the Eagles haven't come up with any exotic names for the plays designed to make use of Carmichael's height, although Jaworski must sometimes be tempted to sing out " Mount Everest Right" or "U-2 Left." His call for Carmichael on goal-line passes usually is simply "Quick 99."
For his part, Carmichael likewise has rejected the various nicknames people have tried to hang on him. Who wants to be known as the Towering Inferno, or the Stilt, or Hoagy.