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The days are growing cold and windy in Ann Arbor, and this year more than ever Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler is feeling the chill. Literally, because Anthony Carter's career with the Wolverines is coming to an end. Schembechler has another Rose Bowl team—his seventh in 14 years—but he won't ever have another Carter. Of that he's sure. So for the time being Schembechler is making the most of what he has got. On his angriest mornings the very mention of Carter's name will dissolve a Schembechler scowl into a beaming smile of the sort usually seen only on the faces of proud fathers, and he'll say, bet on it, "Anthony? Ahhh, isn't Anthony cute?"
Such an appraisal from Michigan's meanest man may come as a surprise—until one meets Carter. By golly, he is cute—and soft and warm and shy and funny. He is, in fact, one of those rare athletes who captivates admirers with his talent and turns them into idolators with his personality. And there is nothing illusory about Carter. He's the real thing, both on and off the field.
It would be difficult to ignore the Hope Diamond in a heap of pebbles. And so is Carter difficult to ignore in a Michigan football uniform—about as difficult to ignore as he is to defend against. He wears the number "1" on his back and covers his broomstick calves with long white stockings that seem to heighten his Bambiesque aspect, which is derived from being a shade under six feet tall and weighing a wispy 165 pounds. But it is what he does once the ball is snapped—what he has done since his days as a high school sensation in Riviera Beach, Fla. through his years at Michigan—that commands absolute attention. Watch him. You have to watch him.
Every time he runs a pass route, every time he positions himself to return a punt or kickoff, every time he reverses field and streaks around behind the quarterback to receive the football, Carter is a threat to score a touchdown. Every time. Consider: It's Oct. 27, 1979, Carter's freshman year at Michigan. The Wolverines, with a 6-1 record, 4-0 in the Big Ten, are tied 21-21 with Indiana. There are six seconds left to play and Michigan is 45 yards from the Hoosier goal line. Carter brings in from the bench what has to be the game's final play. He's painfully shy, a lonely kid from Florida, unhappy in the North, who rarely speaks, even to his teammates. He calls out the play, 66 post, and then shocks Quarterback John Wangler by saying, "Hey, Johnny. Throw the ball to me. I'm going to be open." Wangler remembers Ralph Clayton, then a senior and Michigan's leading receiver, raising his eyebrows on the other side of the huddle. "I couldn't believe A.C. said that," says Wangler, now a Wolverine graduate assistant coach. "But as soon as he did, I was going with Anthony all the way." Seconds later. Carter, sprinting left to right, meets Wangler's pass in a seam over the middle at the Hoosier 25. Never shifting speeds, he makes a one-step cutback to his left to say goodby to one defender and a quick shake back to the right to lose another. He crosses the goal line a few microseconds after the clock has run out of numbers. Michigan wins 27-21. "I still don't believe it happened," says Carter now. "But I know it did."
Segue ahead to last Saturday. It's Carter's last home game. Victory over Purdue means Michigan goes to the Rose Bowl again. Early in the first quarter Carter pulls in a 48-yard pass, splitting two defenders as he runs the remaining nine yards for a TD. In the last quarter he scores on a 62-yard pass play. In between he throws in a catch for a two-point conversion. Thus Carter breaks the 42-year-old Michigan scoring record held by the sainted Tom Harmon, 244 points to 237, and earns a thunderous ovation from the Ann Arbor crowd of 105,281 as Michigan wins 52-21.
The voice and the face—soft and appealing—fit in with the playing style of the man who outscored Harmon, although some of the freshman shyness remains. "You had to know him when he first got here," says Schembechler. "He had such a complex. I don't think he could trust anyone." Carter has made great strides, even if he still occasionally slips into the dialect of rural black Florida. He might say gooder for better or feets for feet. He also admits, with tongue in cheek, to being a bad speller. "When I sign autographs for kids," he says, "I always ask them to spell their names. Even kids named Dick." Can he spell touchdown? "Yes. That's TD, isn't it?" Despite the self-deprecation and the occasional verbal fumble. Carter can hack it in the classroom reasonably well. Majoring in recreation, he has a bit better than a C average. And he has promised Schembechler he'll graduate next year.
Forget the word average, though, when you turn to Carter on the field. There have been four seasons' worth of incredible catches—that's Bo's word, incredible. What's more, there have been catches and kick returns and reverses and even passes thrown. And Carter has excelled for a coach who has lived by the run and has not had a superior passing quarterback to make the best use of Carter's talents. His 149 receptions over four seasons, with two games to go, this Saturday at Ohio State and New Year's Day in Pasadena, work out to a scant 3.23 per game and leave him far behind Howard Twilley's NCAA career record of 261 set at Tulsa in 1963-65. But Carter's total of 33 touchdown catches (excluding bowl games) is just one short of Elmo Wright's NCAA record set at Houston in 1968-70. Do some arithmetic and consider this staggering statistic: Including bowl games, in which Carter has caught four TD passes, nearly one of every four passes to him has meant six points for the Wolverines.
"He has the ability to score a touchdown anytime he touches the ball," says Notre Dame Coach Gerry Faust, who was anytimed but good on Sept. 18 when Carter, though hobbled by a groin injury, returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown against the Irish. Catching passes, running reverses and returning kicks, Carter has averaged 18.2 yards each time he has touched the ball, bettering by nearly three yards the NCAA record set by Arizona's Theo Bell in 1972-75.
One can only wonder what kind of numbers Carter would have amassed had he been given the opportunity to play on a team with a passer like Stanford's John Elway. "I suspect he would have broken every pass-receiving record in the book," says Iowa Coach Hayden Fry. But Schembechler—and many others, it might be pointed out—argues that Michigan's offense is a perfect complement to Carter's talents. "Every play he makes for us is a big one," says Bo, "because teams that overload on Anthony are giving up the run. Teams overload on him anyway, and he still beats them."
Just how good is Carter? "I don't know that I'm gooder than a lot of receivers in the country," he says. He does know that he loves, no, yearns to handle the ball, and he makes the most of every opportunity.