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Carmichael spent his first two seasons with the Eagles as a backup wide receiver and tight end. He didn't begin to refine his talents until 1973, when he became a fulltime starter and a charter member of the Fire High Gang. With Quarterback Roman Gabriel doing the firing, Carmichael teamed with Charle Young and Don Zimmerman, both in the 6'4" range, to form an unholy troika of receivers who would go to any heights to make their presence felt. Each tried to outdo the others with all manner of windmilling spikes and end-zone theatrics, a contest that the "H-Bomb," as Carmichael was called in those days, won in a walk.
Or, more precisely, a strut. One day, when he broke free and caught a pass with 40 yards of clear sailing ahead, Carmichael jubilantly held the ball aloft in one hand and then, for the pièce de résistance, turned around and strutted the last 10 yards backward. When they struck the set at Veterans Stadium that season, Carmichael was the league's leading receiver with 67 receptions.
Expected to repeat in 1974, he struggled under that burden and his receptions fell off to 56. But, he was playing the role of super receiver with flair, tooling around in a fire-engine-red Coupe de Ville with opera windows shaped like footballs and the license plate VIRGO 17—his zodiac sign and jersey number. He made the disco scene decked out in wide-brimmed hats, maxi coats and stacked heels that pushed his height over 7 feet.
Inevitably, there was talk that Carmichael's partying was affecting his game, especially in 1975, when the Eagles stumbled through a woeful 4-10 season. "When things go bad, people think that's the reason—he was out all night," Carmichael says. "There were times when I was out all night, but most were Mondays, and we had Tuesdays off. A majority of the young players in the league go through that kind of period, and I was no different."
As the Eagles' woes worsened, the fans vented their frustrations on the tallest target. For the first time, Carmichael heard boos from the stands. Signs were held up: CARMICHAEL COULDN'T CATCH A COLD. "People jumped all over me," he says. "They said that I dropped every ball thrown to me, that I was scared. It hurt. When I went out to play, I went out for myself and the fans. It was just like having a dog that you feed bite you. That was the time when I wanted to quit, leave Philadelphia. I didn't think I could play there anymore."
His confidence shaken, Carmichael's receptions slipped to 49 in 1975. "Nobody knew exactly what was going on with me, how much I was trying to work," he says. "That might have been my problem. I'd drop a ball, and I'd wonder if I'm doing my steps right, and there'd be 70,000 fans booing me—and I'd drop another one."
At the time, Eagle Coach Mike McCormack said of Carmichael, "Sooo, so sensitive. We try anything. Clink him, get on his back. Blow in his ear. Bench him. Start him again. I hope that maybe he can grow up." Enter Dick Vermeil in 1976. "I don't think Carmichael realizes what he can do, how devastating he can be," Vermeil said.
Thinking positively, Carmichael has since become a symbol of the resurgence of the Eagles. He is a new man. No big mystery, he says. "You get older. You mature a lot. Everybody has to do it sometime." Nevertheless, Carmichael was hurried along by five significant events in his life. He got married ("No. sports fans," the Journal reported, "Carmichael did not drop the ring"). He fathered a son, Lee, now 20 months. He was elected team captain. He became active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. And he signed with the Eagles through 1982, becoming their highest-paid player.
What's left? "My biggest goal is to go out with a Super Bowl ring," says Carmichael. "If we were to get to the Super Bowl, you can erase everything about The Streak." And if the tallest target were to score a touchdown in the big game? Well, he has this fantasy. "If I score," he vows, "I'm going to throw the ball out!" Out? "Yes, you know, over the wall, out of the stadium."
Carmichael has been practicing. Known for his prodigious arm, he can throw the ball 50 yards underhand and 35 yards behind his back. "I threw one 105 yards in college," he says, "and I can still put it out there 90, 95 even now."