The Hall of Fame Series: Cris Carter

Class of 2013

When it comes to the best bargains in Minnesota Vikings history, wide receiver Cris Carter sits near the top of the list. Claimed off of waivers for a mere 100 dollars prior to the 1990 NFL season, Carter’s life was changed forever when he moved to Minnesota. His first three seasons were spent in Philadelphia, and although he was productive (including 11 touchdown receptions in 1989), drug abuse and alcohol issues ultimately led to head coach Buddy Ryan cutting Carter before his fourth season.

Carter had a limited role in his first season wearing purple. He caught 27 passes for 413 yards and three touchdowns in 1990 while starting only five games. With a year under his belt, Carter appeared to be coming into his own in 1991, and he began embarking on one of the most dominating receiving decades in league history. He posted a career-high 962 yards on the season on 72 receptions for Minnesota. Following the 1991 season, Dennis Green took over as head coach when Jerry Burns retired.

After injuries kept him off of the field for four games in 1992, Carter would not miss a game over the next nine seasons. In his seventh season in the league, Carter finally cracked 1,000 yards receiving at the age of 28 to go along with nine touchdowns. In 1994, Carter set the NFL record with 122 receptions for 1,256 yards and seven touchdowns with fellow Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon at the helm. Carter was named first-team All-Pro for his efforts. 

A year later, Carter matched his 122 catches, this time going for 1,371 yards and a league-leading 17 touchdown receptions. Funny enough, Carter received second-team All-Pro in 1995 despite clearly having a better season than he did in 1994. This is because Jerry Rice also had 122 receptions but for 1,848 yards and 15 touchdown receptions. Then, the often-forgotten, underrated Lions receiver Herman Moore broke Carter’s record with 123 receptions for 1,686 yards and 14 touchdowns. Despite his great hands, Carter couldn’t catch a break in 1995.

Carter would continue his success for the next two seasons, catching 23 combined touchdowns in 1996 and 1997. He was reaching the 1,000-yard milestone and Pro Bowl every season while wow-ing fans with his spectacular one-handed catches and sideline acrobatics. 

Even with the underrated Jake Reed manning the other receiver spot, though, the Vikings couldn’t seem to break through. They had won only one playoff game under Dennis Green despite making appearances in five of his six seasons. Both Reed and Carter were also over 30, which in the NFL is the equivalent to a regular person turning 60 (sorry to offend any of our older readers).

A draft day fall from Randy Moss in 1998, however, changed the fortunes of many in Minnesota. It’s hard to say that any one person benefitted from Moss more than anyone else, but Carter was impacted as much as any (which is ironic as he was Moss’ mentor). For the first time since he first arrived in Minnesota, Cris Carter wasn’t the centerpiece of the Vikings’ offense. As Moss tilted the field and was at the forefront of defenses’ gameplans in 1998, Carter reached his sixth consecutive Pro Bowl, catching 78 receptions for 1,011 yards and 12 touchdowns. In fact, his 13 yards per reception, at age 33, were his most since the 1991 season. We don’t need to revisit how that season ended outside of Carter saying on the NFL Network’s Missing Rings special that he didn’t think he wanted to play after the conclusion of the 1998 NFC Championship Game.

Carter received first-team All-Pro honors for the second time in 1999. He caught 90 passes for 1,241 yards and a league-leading 13 touchdown receptions (the third time he led the league in touchdowns). That 13 yards-per-catch average in 1998 went up to 13.8 in 1999. Carter was aging like fine wine. He ended the decade with 835 receptions, second only to Jerry Rice (860). Carter was named to the 1990’s All-Decade Team.

At age 35, Carter made his final Pro Bowl appearance in 2000. He caught 96 passes for 1,274 yards and nine touchdowns. Late in the season, Carter caught his 1,000th pass (fittingly, for a touchdown), becoming only the second receiver in league history to eclipse the milestone (yes, Jerry Rice was the first).

The 2001 season was disappointing and tragic for a variety of reasons for Carter. He caught 73 passes, only going for 871 yards and six touchdowns, all totals that were his lowest since 1992. The Vikings missed the playoffs for the first time since 1995 and finished below .500 for the first time since 1990. Carter would part ways with Minnesota following the season.

Still, the 2001 season didn’t overshadow Carter’s accomplishments in purple. He left the team, and still remains, the all-time leader in receptions (1,004), receiving yards (12,383), and touchdowns (110). He had a brief stint in Miami to end the 2002 season, and when he retired, he was, and remains, one of the all-time leaders in most major receiving categories. His 1,101 receptions ranks sixth all-time. His 13,899 receiving yards are 13th all-time. Carter’s 130 touchdown receptions rank fourth all-time. Larry Fitzgerald is sixth all-time with 121, but as he remains unsigned, Carter should stay in the top four for a long time. It makes sense, of course. As Chris Berman said, “All he does is score touchdowns.”

Carter’s number 80 was retired by the Vikings in 2003. After missing out on enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame five times, Carter finally got inducted in 2013. Although it took him several years to be recognized for the NFL’s highest honor, his legacy in Minnesota will never be forgotten. He helped spawn a new era of Vikings fans, including yours truly. Growing up in the 90s as a Vikings fan meant trying to make that dazzling one-handed grab as you fell to the ground. It meant signaling a very profound first-down in front of your friends. And of course, it meant that if you catch the ball in that Saturday afternoon pickup game, you’d better be scoring touchdowns, because that’s all you do.