It didn’t matter if Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Anthony Carter stood just 5’11” and never weighed more than 181 pounds.
Carter was an electrifying and sure-handed wideout who had a penchant for making improbable catches.
Whether Carter ran a seam, post, or corner route blanketed by two – sometimes three – defenders, he’d still catch the football.
It shouldn’t surprise anybody, considering legendary Michigan Wolverines head football coach once said Anthony Carter was the greatest athlete he’d ever coached.
Plus, some football experts considered Carter one of the best players of the old United States Football League (USFL).
Carter eventually became a three-time Pro Bowler and one of the most underrated wide receivers in Minnesota Vikings franchise history.
Anthony Carter was born to parents Nate and Manita in Riviera Beach, FL on September 17, 1960.
Anthony was the sixth of their eight children. Their twenty-four nieces and nephews lived in the adjacent neighborhood.
According to Sports Illustrated’s Ralph Wiley, Nate Carter left his family when Anthony was just six years old in 1966.
Consequently, Manita raised her children by herself.
She worked as a chambermaid at a Keyco Hotel in Palm Beach, FL to make ends meet, per Sports Illustrated’s John Papanek.
Manita gave Anthony his first pair of football shoes when he was eleven years old.
Anthony stretched his mother’s patience when he regularly skipped school to hang out at the local Jiffy Pool Hall.
Carter told Papanek he and his friends called their hangout “Jiffy University.”
Fed up with her son’s shenanigans, Manita pulled him aside one day and told him she’d send him off to a children’s home if he didn’t get his act together.
To his credit, Anthony Carter heeded his mother’s stern warning.
Carter attended Suncoast Community High School. He played basketball and football for the Suncoast Chargers.
I'd also put Anthony Carter up there. At Suncoast HS in Riviera Beach, whether it was football or hoops, his athleticism was off the charts.
— Eugene Frenette (@GeneFrenette) February 7, 2018
Carter had a reputation for his incredible pass-catching abilities during his gridiron career. He attributed that to an index finger he injured during his high school football playing days.
“Maybe it’s this hook I have on my finger,” Carter told Papanek at the height of his college football career with the Michigan Wolverines in November 1982.
His fame spread far and wide after he caught an insane 54 touchdowns in four seasons at Suncoast High.
Recruiters from all parts of the country knocked on Carter’s door.
Shirley Burgess, Suncoast High’s dean of students, helped Carter whittle down his college choices to the Michigan Wolverines, Florida State Seminoles, and Texas Longhorns.
Burgess urged Carter to choose a university that valued him as an individual and not just a football player.
Carter almost chose Florida State. His mother Manita told Wiley in 1989 she didn’t like seeing one of the Seminoles assistants bringing an attractive young woman to help convince her son to attend FSU.
Manita Carter perished the thought of her son going to Florida State. She told him he couldn’t attend that school.
Anthony Carter eventually decided to attend the University of Michigan.
Before long, Anthony Carter’s game would reach unprecedented heights at one of the best college football programs in the country,
College Days With The Michigan Wolverines
Anthony Carter majored in recreation at the University of Michigan from 1979 to 1982.
He wore No. 1 for the Michigan Wolverines as a wide receiver and kickoff and punt return specialist during his four-year tenure in Ann Arbor, MI.
At the beginning of Carter’s stint on the college gridiron, Wolverines head football coach Bo Schembechler remembered talking to him for the first time when he set foot on the Michigan campus.
Schembechler did all of the talking at first. He then told Carter he was not leaving without talking to him.
The next thing Schembechler knew, his rookie wide receiver was in Florida. A stunned Schembechler reached out to Carter who said he didn’t do anything before talking to him.
Schembechler busted up laughing when he reminisced the story in 1982, per Papanek.
He went on to tell Sports Illustrated seven years later that Anthony Carter was the best athlete he ever coached at Michigan.
— TB (@tonybarnack) May 31, 2020
The Wolverines mentor was so protective of Carter, the other Wolverines players wound up calling him “Little Schemmy.”
Schembechler acted like the father Anthony Carter never had.
The Michigan head football coach openly disapproved of Carter’s relationship with Riviera Beach councilwoman Ortancis Thomas, who was a decade older than the Wolverines wide receiver.
Carter shrugged it off, telling Sports Illustrated, “I didn’t pick Bo’s wife, Millie, for him.”
Despite standing a shade under six feet and weighing just 165 pounds, Carter blossomed into one of the best wideouts in Wolverines program history.
“He has the ability to score a touchdown anytime he touches the ball,” Notre Dame Fighting Irish head football coach Gerry Faust told Sports Illustrated.
Carter’s performance against the Indiana Hoosiers in his eighth college football game was indicative of his greatness.
The scenario: the Wolverines and Hoosiers are tied at 21 with just six seconds left to play.
Carter called out the play, 66 post, to his quarterback John Wangler, per Papanek.
Michigan senior wide receiver Ralph Clayton raised his eyebrow when he heard Carter calling out the play.
Carter ran a seam route over the middle and caught Wangler’s pass at Indiana’s 25-yard line. He did a cutback and a juke to avoid several Hoosiers defenders on his way to the end zone as the clock ran out.
The Wolverines won in electrifying fashion, 27-21.
Wangler told Papanek some three years later that Carter was a great college wideout because he could run the 40-yard dash sideways.
Another intangible that made Carter a cut above the rest was his ability to position himself for the catch. No matter how improbable the situation was, Carter would somehow find a way to get to the ball.
Carter put those advantages to good use as a sophomore in the 1980 NCAA season when he had an incredible 14 touchdown receptions.
Consequently, his Wolverines teammates named him team MVP that year. It was the first time a Michigan sophomore earned that distinction.
Anthony Carter ended his college football career on a high note.
Carter had two touchdowns and a two-point conversion in the Wolverines’ 52-21 rout of the Purdue Boilermakers in November 1982.
He set a new Michigan scoring record with 244 points in his last home game before a crowd of 105,281. Carter broke the previous record Tom Harmon set in 1940.
Purdue head football coach Leon Burtnett told Papanek that he and his coaching staff threw double and triple coverages Carter’s way, to no avail.
Unfortunately, 19th-ranked Michigan lost to the fifth-ranked UCLA Bruins in the 1983 Rose Bowl, 24-14.
Anthony Carter ended his remarkable four-year stint at Michigan with 3,076 receiving yards and 37 touchdowns on 161 receptions. He also averaged 25.5 yards on his 66 kickoff returns.
At the time of Carter’s graduation from Michigan in 1982, he held school records for most career touchdowns (40), receptions (161), receiving yards (3,076), touchdown receptions (37), and punt returns (79).
Carter earned his second team MVP award and Big Ten MVP honors as a senior in 1982.
He also became just the second three-time All-American (1980-82) in Michigan Wolverines football program history.
When Carter played wide receiver at Michigan from 1979 to 1982, the Wolverines averaged nine victories per year.
They won a pair of Big Ten championships and a Rose Bowl title during that stretch.
Had Anthony Carter played for a great passer such as the Stanford Cardinal’s John Elway, experts predicted he would’ve reached even greater heights.
One such believer was Iowa Hawkeyes head football coach Hayden Fry. He told Papanek that Carter could’ve broken every conceivable pass-receiving record had he paired up with a great quarterback.
Elway and Carter even met at a gathering of Playboy All-Americas prior to the latter’s junior season at Michigan.
Both men shook hands and agreed they would’ve made a formidable tandem on the gridiron, per Sports Illustrated.
When Carter signed autographs for kids during his time at Michigan, he admitted he was bad at spelling. He asked them to spell out their names for him.
“When I sign autographs for kids,” Carter told Papanek in 1982. “I always ask them to spell their names. Even kids named Dick.”
During Anthony Carter’s days with the Michigan Wolverines, his teammates called him “Hermit” because he lived a secluded lifestyle.
According to Papanek, Carter’s regular evening routine consisted of hitting the books and watching “That’s Incredible!,” “Benny Hill,” and “The Three Stooges” on television, and going to bed.
Carter broke the monotony by working with handicapped children at High Point School in Ann Arbor, MI once a week. It was a prerequisite for his special education class at Michigan.
Once Anthony Carter was ripe for the picking, he’d become one of the best Minnesota Vikings wide receivers not named Cris Carter or Randy Moss.
Pro Football Career
Even before Anthony Carter began playing in the National Football League, scouts thought highly of him.
In fact, Detroit Lions scout Tim Rooney compared Carter to some of the best wideouts in the pro game.
“I’ll compare him favorably right now with John Jefferson and James Lofton, and they’re the best,” Rooney told Sports Illustrated in 1982. “Anthony’s no more than ten or fifteen pounds lighter than Lynn Swann, and he has the same great hands and great moves and acrobatic flair – and more pure speed.”
Rooney also advised NFL teams they’d better draft someone who can put the clamps on the highly-touted Michigan wide receiver if they’re not going to select him.
The Miami Dolphins eventually made Anthony Carter the 334th overall selection of the 1983 NFL Draft.
However, Carter decided to start his pro football career in the United States Football League (USFL).
He remained in The Wolverine State and signed a three-year with the Michigan Panthers in 1983.
Carter promptly picked up where left off at Michigan.
He was an integral part of a Panthers offense with 1,181 receiving yards and nine touchdown catches in the 1983 USFL season.
Behind Carter’s exploits, the Michigan Panthers won the first USFL title that year.
Carter caught the game-winning 48-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Bobby Hebert in the 24-22 win over the Philadelphia Stars.
Carter finished the title game with 179 receiving yards and a touchdown on just nine receptions.
He suited up in just six games in the 1984 USFL season due to a broken arm. The Panthers eventually merged with the Oakland Invaders prior to the 1985 USFL campaign.
Carter came back with a vengeance that year. He had 1,323 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns for the Invaders. He became an All-USFL selection for the second time in three seasons.
He signed with the Dolphins, the NFL team that drafted him, in the summer of 1985.
However, the Dolphins traded him to the Minnesota Vikings for linebacker Robin Sendlein and a second-round draft selection.
The Vikings received the raw end of that deal.
While Sendlein’s pro football career faded into oblivion, Carter became one of the most underrated wide receivers in Minnesota Vikings franchise history.
Carter enjoyed a prolific six-year stretch with the Vikings from 1985 to 1990.
He never had fewer than 686 receiving yards and four touchdowns during that span.
Carter racked up three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons from 1988 to 1990.
To nobody’s surprise, he earned three straight Pro Bowl nods from 1987 to 1989.
Minnesota averaged roughly nine wins per season at the pinnacle of Anthony Carter’s NFL career in the late 1980s.
His breakthrough moment came at the expense of the most dominant team of the 1980s: the San Francisco 49ers.
Carter played the game of his life against the 49ers in their NFC Divisional Round showdown on January 9, 1988.
Carter had 227 receiving yards on 10 receptions in the Vikings’ 36-24 upset victory over the 49ers.
While Carter didn’t haul in a touchdown pass, he caught almost every pass from Minnesota quarterback Wade Wilson.
Vikings on the Cover of Sports Illustrated Day at VikeFans – #10 of 17. Sadly, it took over 10 years between covers for the Vikings to appear on an SI cover, but On Jan 18, 198, phenom Anthony Carter was that person after his playoff record-breaking performance vs the 49ers. pic.twitter.com/OsJoUbxPgg
— VikeFans (@VikeFans) June 30, 2021
San Francisco offensive lineman Harris Barton was in awe of Carter’s performance. He recalled Carter making every kind of circus catch every time he looked at the replay on the big screen.
San Francisco defensive coordinator George Seifert was also in awe of the Vikings’ twenty-six-year-old wide receiver.
“He was like (Babe) Ruth pointing to the stands that day,” an impressed Seifert told Sports Illustrated in the summer of 1989.
Carter showed up future Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice that day. The latter had a rare off-day on the gridiron: he had 16 receiving yards on one reception.
It was unfathomable considering Rice had 22 touchdown receptions during the regular season when the 49ers won thirteen of fifteen games.
“Take nothing away from J.R.,” Carter spoke of Rice a year-and-a-half later. “But I don’t envy him. I know I can compete.”
Anthony Carter was also one of the reasons behind the most embarrassing loss in Bill Walsh’s legendary NFL coaching career.
“The playoff loss to the Vikings in ’87 was probably my most traumatic experience I’ve had in sports,” Walsh told NFL Films (via CBS Sports’ Bryan DeArdo). “Coming off the field, I was so embarrassed, so hurt, so humiliated.”
Despite the disappointing setback, Walsh and the 49ers won Super Bowl XXIII against the Cincinnati Bengals the following year.
It was the first of San Francisco’s back-to-back Super Bowl titles and their fourth Vince Lombardi trophy in the 1980s.
As for the Vikings, they lost to Doug Williams and the then-Washington Redskins (now known as the Washington Commanders) in the 1987 NFC Championship Game, 17-10.
Carter played three more seasons in Minnesota from 1991 to 1993. He had a combined 1,908 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns during that stretch.
The Vikings averaged nine wins and made two postseason appearances during that three-year period. However, they never made it past the NFC Wild Card Game.
Carter returned to the state of Michigan in 1994. He spent his final two NFL seasons with the Detroit Lions.
Carter battled through two injury-plagued seasons in Detroit. He had a combined 97 receiving yards and three touchdowns on eight receptions during his time in the Motor City.
The Lions averaged ten wins per season from 1994 to 1995. Regrettably, they lost in the NFC Wild Card Game each time.
Anthony Carter retired from the National Football League at the end of the 1995 season.
He finished his 11-year NFL career with 7,733 receiving yards and 55 touchdowns on 486 receptions.
Anthony Carter and his wife Kim have a son, Anthony, Jr.
According to The Detroit Free Press‘ Michael Rosenberg (via Chron.com), Anthony, Jr. has cerebral palsy.
Expensive health care for his son’s condition reportedly forced Carter to sell some of his various sports memorabilia (including his induction ring into the College Football Hall of Fame) in 2004.
Carter ran into trouble with the law several times during retirement.
Authorities arrested him in 1998 and 2000 on charges of domestic battery. He received one-year probation after the second arrest, per The Associated Press (via ESPN).
Carter pleaded guilty to aggravated assault three years later. Police initially charged him with domestic battery, assault with a firearm, and false imprisonment.
Fortunately, Carter avoided a felony conviction by pleading guilty to a lesser offense. He ended his three-year probation two years early in September 2006.
Carter’s attorney, Mitchell Beers, confirmed his good behavior during the probationary period to The Associated Press.
Carter was previously arrested on charges of disorderly conduct after he fought a Minnesota Vikings teammate in 1988.
@cfbhall Anthony Carter (born September 17, 1960) University of Michigan's all-time leading receiver, and played professionally for thirteen years Michigan Panthers & Minnesota VikingsHe is also known as 'AC'. In 2001 Carter was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. pic.twitter.com/RWyuCgediT
— Timothy C. Kulla (@TCKooo) September 18, 2019
The University of Michigan Hall of Honor inducted Carter in 2002.