Why Cris Carter is a Hall of Famer

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Yesterday Cris Carter was passed over by Hall of Fame voters for the 4th straight year. In fact, Carter was eliminated when the 15 finalists were pared down 10. For those unfamiliar with the process, the voters start with 15, narrow it to 10 and then to 5. After that, they take a vote on the final 5 with 80% required for induction.

Widely regarded as a Hall of Fame lock as his career wound down a decade ago, voters seem to have developed amnesia. Here’s a refresher: Carter played 16 seasons (234 games), caught 1,101 passes for 13,899 yards and snared 130 touchdowns. Those totals rank 3rd, 8th and 4th all time. When he retired, Carter was 2nd all time in catches and TD receptions.

More than that, Carter set a single season record with 122 catches in 1994 (since broken), was an 8-time Pro Bowler, twice named 1st team All Pro and was selected to the 1990s All Decade 1st team. He finished in the top five in receptions 6 times and led the NFL touchdown catches 3 times, finishing in the top five 7 times. During the 1990s, he was the best wide receiver not named Jerry Rice.

More than any other receiver during his career (and maybe before or since), Carter was the identity of his team. Rice played with two Hall of Fame and MVP winning quarterbacks in Joe Montana and Steve Young, Michael Irvin had Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith and Andre Reed played 4th fiddle on the Bills to Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith.

Carter was the Vikings in the 1990s. The team rotated a new quarterback in almost annually (Rich Gannon, Sean Salisbury, Jim McMahon, Warren Moon, Brad Johnson, Randall Cunningham and Jeff George), had two injury prone running backs (Terry Allen and Robert Smith) and a mediocre defense.

From 1993 to Randy Moss’s arrival in 1998, the Vikings relied to Carter to move the chains and score touchdowns in the redzone. Even after Moss joined the fray, Carter remained the go-to-guy in the clutch. When it was 3rd and 6, the QB (whoever that was) locked in on CC.

Some of the credit for Moss’s early success has to go to Carter. His abilities complimented Moss’s perfectly and he acted as the mentor the young receiver with a checkered past needed. Without Carter on the roster, the Vikings might not have even drafted Moss.

Hall voters of course, are obsessed with Super Bowls. And we are all painfully aware Carter never played in, let alone won, a Super Bowl. As if a wide receiver - or any one player in an ultra-specialized sport like football - should be penalized for that. The fact the Vikings were perennial playoff participants and the best team in the 90s to not make the big game despite their instability at quarterback and their middling defense is a tribute to Carter’s greatness.

Lately Hall voters have lumped Carter in with Tim Brown and Andre Reed and excluded all three from the hallowed shrine. In some circles Reed has even surpassed Carter - he even made the cut to 10 yesterday. This is laughable. While each were in their primes during the 90s, nobody made that argument. Reed was never a 1st team All Pro, never led the NFL in catches, yards or touchdowns, was in the top five just twice in catches and yards and once in touchdowns and was not a member of the 1st or 2nd All 1990s teams. While he played in the same number of games as Carter, his 934 receptions, 13,188 yards and 87 touchdowns rank 10th, 11th and 12th all time.

Reed did however play in four consecutive Super Bowls - all losses - with the Buffalo Bills. While that is impressive and he was a very good player, he was not the driving force on that team. Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas - both Hall of Famers - carried their offense and opened things up for Reed. To rank Reed ahead of Carter is revisionist history and puts way too much stock in his Super Bowl appearances. If Carter were on the Bills and Reed were on the Vikings during that era, you could make a strong argument that the Bills would have been better and the Vikings worse.

Brown meanwhile, has a strong case for induction as well, but still does not measure up to Carter. Playing in 21more games he hauled in fewer catches (1,094) and touchdowns (100). Brown’s 14,934 yards (4th all time) are his saving grace. He was more of a deep threat than Carter, but was never a 1st team All Pro and finished in the top 5 in catches just three times, yards four times and touchdowns only twice. He led the NFL in receptions in 1997, but never topped the league in the other two categories and was 2nd team All 1990s.

Brown’s career did mirror Carter in that the Raiders operated a quarterback carousel in the 90s and he was his team’s best offensive player for a large portion of his career. I believe Carter was a better player, but understand the Brown argument much more Reed’s and would have no problem seeing Brown inducted along with Carter - just not before him.

Viking fans have endured an endless nightmare since Favre’s interception in the Super Dome 54 weeks ago, and it would have been nice to have seen Carter finally voted into the Hall of Fame yesterday. It didn’t happen and based on the way things have been going, none of us should have been surprised. Next year’s class of first time eligibles is weak however - Will Shields (highly doubtful), Tiki Barber (no way) and Bill Parcells (likely) lead the class - and some experts are predicting players like Carter, Brown and Reed may finally break through. So, wait until next year! If you’re a Vikings fan, you’re familiar with that refrain.

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