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Don't wince. In Philadelphia that tired old locker-room cliché has become a rallying cry as game after battering game, season after endless season, Carmichael builds an NFL career record so vast in scope and achievement it seems to lead a charmed life of its very own. At Veterans Stadium it is referred to simply as The Streak, that unbroken chain Carmichael began forging before any of the other Eagles were in residence and that promises to endure long after all of them have departed.
The origins of The Streak are so far removed, in fact, that Carmichael has no recollection of the play that started it all. The records show, however, that it occurred on Oct. 8, 1972. As it developed, the only sure thing on that Sunday was that the winless Eagles would lose again. And so they did, 14-0 to the Washington Redskins in a game that proved memorable solely because an unheralded young receiver out of Southern University named Harold Carmichael caught one pass.
Last Sunday at the Vet, Carmichael prolonged his streak to 126 games when he caught four passes in the Eagles' 20-17 loss to Atlanta. The magnitude of Carmichael's streak—Travolta, take note—is such that no receiver in NFL history, not Don Hutson, Raymond Berry nor any of the Swanns and Pearsons before or since, has come close to matching it.
Carmichael claims that the best way to keep The Streak streaking is to ignore it. "I don't worry about it," he says. "My primary job is to catch passes, and if I do my job, The Streak will take care of itself." Nonetheless, as it has grown, so too has the burden of sustaining it. "This isn't just any record," says Danny Abramowicz, the receiver for the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers who set the previous mark of 105 before retiring in 1974. "A lot of records, some guy can have a great game and never do anything again. But this one, you have to do it day in and day out. You have to stay healthy. If you get hurt after one play, it's broken."
Considering the other problems today's receivers must contend with—gang coverage, rotating zones, artificial turf, longer seasons and bigger, faster defensive backs, not to mention weather variables and just plain bad luck—Abramowicz concludes, "I don't think anyone is going to break Harold Carmichael's record. Let's face it, Carmichael is devastating. He catches 'em high, catches 'em low, catches 'em double covered."
Certainly no one disputes the claim that Carmichael wears on one of his T shirts: TALLEST TARGET IN TOWN. Especially not Eagle Quarterback Ron Jaworski; in the heat of a heavy pass rush, he says, finding Harold is as easy as "throwing to a giraffe in a cherry picker." Trouble is, says Carmichael, "I'm just as big a target for the defense, too. They don't have to search for me. It's not like I get lost like a lot of those other receivers. I'm easier to pick out."
And gang up on with double and triple coverage. While that tactic tends to free the Eagles' other top pass receivers—Charles Smith, Keith Krepfle and Wilbert Montgomery coming out of the backfield—it also means that in many games the tallest target has only five or so passes thrown his way. "The multiple coverage makes it tough to get the ball," Carmichael admits. "I've faced all kinds—in and out, short and long, linebackers over my head. It's tough. Those guys are like nagging flies."
On 17 different occasions during The Streak, in fact, the swarm has held Carmichael to one catch. His closest call came last season when the Redskins' rangiest defensive back, 6'4" Joe Lavender, played him man to man and a freelancer or two covered him long. On Carmichael like a Siamese twin, Lavender had a shutout going until deep into the fourth quarter. Then, with just five minutes remaining, Carmichael slipped free long enough to grab a 26-yard "streak keeper."
Was Vermeil aware that The Streak was in jeopardy. "Heck yes," he says. "It's a very significant record."
In a similar situation, would he consider throwing a quick dump pass to Carmichael to keep The Streak alive? "Damn right I would," he says. "If you're going to throw the ball, why not throw it to your best receiver?"