Like, say, on a Quick 444 Stop, a play that calls for Carmichael to take one step forward, two steps back and then get the ball. Says Vermeil, "We get into that formation just for him because he's such a strong, physical runner. It's just a quick screen, but it's damn near surefire." Jaworski says, "If it boils down to a situation where he needs a catch, we'll get him the ball some way."
It came to that just three weeks ago when Lavender & Co. again blanked Carmichael through three quarters. Up by 21 points early in the final quarter, the Eagles could risk throwing into the crowd of hit men who were escorting Carmichael across the middle, and he responded with a reception for an 11-yard gain. PHEW; exclaimed the Philadelphia Journal. HAROLD KEEPS STREAK ALIVE.
"I'm coached not to throw into double coverage," says Jaworski. "But Coach Vermeil sent the play in and said, 'Stick it in there to Harold no matter what the coverage.' So I was happy to oblige. Hey, I'm much more aware of The Streak than Harold is. I sure wouldn't want to be the guy to snap The Streak by not getting the ball to him."
There are a lot of gunslingers who want to be the Guy Who Snapped the Streak. "The younger defensive backs, they're the ones anxious to get the rep, be the one who stops you," says Carmichael. "And they let you know it, saying, 'We're gonna shut you out today, Carmichael. We're gonna kick your butt.' Stuff like that." He replies not, figuring that the best squelcher is a timely reception. "That usually shuts them up."
Now if only all those other well-meaning folks would hush up about how much easier and more effective it would be if Jaworski would forget the hand-off business and just play toss with Gulliver all afternoon. The Eagles do have a play they call Geronimo. "It's a desperation thing," Jaworski says. "The receivers run to a designated area and I just heave it out there as high as I can and hope something happens. It can work, especially when you have somebody like Harold down there. It's like a jump ball in basketball and, with his height, he can make things happen."
Then there's the Alley Oop. A deadly efficient play inside the 10-yard line, it calls for Jaworski to lob the ball into the end zone and for Carmichael to demonstrate why they call football a game of inches. In full leap, Harold cuts an equally impressive figure in the air on the quick sideline patterns.
The problem is, those wily defenders like to do some fancy cutting of their own down around the knees, which explains why the Eagles don't throw the high pass to Carmichael 28 times a game. "Occasionally, you can do it," says Jaworski, "but any more than occasionally and Harold will be spending most of his time in the hospital."
In deference to his health, Carmichael hastens to add, "If we threw the Alley Oop all game long, I wouldn't be able to get up. People don't notice those defensive guys undercutting you, going for the knees, hitting on you. Plus, the lob pass is the riskiest of all. The defense has time to react, go for the ball, get a deflection. Spare me. I want to play the next down."
As it is, with more teams practicing the "Sequoia ax," a defensive ploy specifically designed to chop Carmichael down to size, he feels unnaturally "blessed" to have survived this long. Even so, the hurts are such that he and his wife, Bea, have been thinking about selling their two-story home in Cherry Hill, N.J. and finding something on one level. "After a game, when I'm sore, it's tough getting up and down those steps," he says.
Like all pro receivers, Carmichael has the cherished "good hands." Not the good hands of the Allstate Insurance people; one look and Allstate would never underwrite them. They are bumpy hands, bent, scraped and so "achy" because of the various cracked bones, bruised ligaments and dislocated fingers Carmichael has suffered over the years that he sometimes has trouble wringing out a washcloth. He also shies away from shaking hands; having once been broken, the joint of his right thumb is almost as big as a golf ball, and still sensitive. "I don't know," Carmichael says, "I always seem to be banging my fingers on somebody's helmet."