One of the fascinations of watching an airplane on radar pick its way through the Bermuda Triangle is that sometimes, without warning, it will disappear off the screen.
That's pretty much the way defensive backs have come to feel about wide receiver Anthony Carter of the University of Michigan, a sophomore who was named to several All-America teams this season. One minute the defense has Anthony in its sights and the next time it looks as if he's acquired a football, usually off to one side where they can't reach him.
Although Carter didn't beat the University of Washington 23-6 all by himself in the 1981 Rose Bowl, he did provide the game with what sparkle it had. He also caught the only touchdown pass of the afternoon, his 14th of the season.
Because people keep writing that Carter is somewhere around 5 ft. 8 in. tall and weighs about as much as a $35 bag of groceries, you get the idea that he might need help opening doors. The fact is, Carter is the same height (5-11) and only about 12 pounds lighter (168) than wide receiver Stanley Morgan of the New England Patriots. He's not brittle, he doesn't break, and his shoulder pads did not have to be cut down to fit.
"In my opinion Anthony is not your usual small man," explained Wolverine Coach Bo Schembechler. "He's a tough kid physically, he's well built, and he plays with great intensity. Once he gets his hands on the football, nobody takes it away from him."
Schembechler also employs Carter's multiple talents in other ways. For example, Anthony led the nation in kickoff returns this year with an average of 24.9 yards per carry. He also runs back punts, and he carried the ball three times on end- around plays in the Rose Bowl for 32 yards.
Running out his pass routes at sea level, Carter is merely good. It's when he makes the cut that takes him across the middle of the field and he floats up to catch the football that you know you're seeing something extra special.
"What has probably helped me most as a pass receiver is studying pros like John Jefferson of the San Diego Chargers on television," Carter said. "The thing I've learned most from Jefferson is the way he buys time for himself and his quarterback so that he doesn't have a lot of defensive people draped all over him when he makes the catch."
"It's a little hard to explain, but one of the first things you have to learn as a pass receiver is patience," he continued. "If you try to get open too quickly, you just make things easier for the defensive man, because he doesn't have to stay with you as long. But if you run your full route and then make your cut and come back for the ball, you've got a much better chance of being open. During the regular season Carter caught 46 passes for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns. In the Rose Bowl against a Washington defense that stuck to him like glue, he really didn't get started until the second half, then wound up with five catches and one touchdown overall.
The way Schembechler uses Carter is much the same way the Pittsburgh Steelers often use Lynn Swann. They split Anthony wide left or wide right on almost every play, which makes it tough for the defensive man to delay him at the line of scrimmage. But unlike a lot of wide receivers who are limited to down-and-out patterns because they aren't very big, Anthony is also allowed to work the middle. Normally that kind of traffic, in close, anyway, is reserved only for tight ends who are built like tanks.
"Basically I'm involved in just two series of pass plays," Carter said. "They're relatively simple and probably close to what most college coaches use. But there are several options off each one, and that's what makes it tough for the defense. They might stake out an area ahead of time, but they still don't know which way I'm going to turn."
It is a measure of Carter's confidence that he someday expects to play in the National Football League. He doesn't consider himself too slight, and at this point he already feels that his speed and his moves are good enough. He also has two years remaining at Michigan in which to hone his talents.
By not being as big as most pass receivers, Carter has had to learn to play a smarter game. Although I talked with him only briefly, he seems to be a level-headed kid who knows what he wants and is willing to pay the price to get it. He also has the hands of a pickpocket, an essential for any wide receiver planning on playing professional football.