Thursday, March 30, 2023

Worth Remembering: Roger Carr's 'Magical Season'

By John Turney 
Only five receivers in NFL history averaged 25 yards or more yards per catch in a single season ... that is, only five with a minimum of 40 receptions ... and Roger Carr was one of them.

Wait. Who?

If you were watching the NFL in 1976, you know who. Because 1976 was a magical season for the Baltimore Colts' wide receiver.

Carr caught 43 passes that year, which wasn't exceptional. But he averaged 25.9 yards per reception, which was. It led the NFL. He also led the NFL in receiving yardage, which was noteworthy considering receivers like Drew Pearson and Cliff Branch had All-Pro years.

Dubbed "Louisiana Lightning" because of 4.3 40 speed, Carr had a career that lasted 10 years, with 271 receptions for 5,071 yards and 31 touchdowns - none of which are extraordinary. But look at his career average of 18.7 yards per catch. It's tied for 14th among receivers with 250 or more receptions.

He also had scores on bombs of 90, 89, 79 and 78 yards.

"There's only one person I ever saw who could accelerate to the football," former Colts' quarterback and 1976 league MVP Bert Jones told the Ruston Daily Leader, "and it was Roger."

But there's one season -- the 1976 season -- that stands out, and the envelope, please: He caught 43 passes for 1,112 yards and 11 touchdowns -- producing a 25.9-yard average that's so impressive only four others with 40 or more catches ever eclipsed a 25-yard average: 

-- Elbert Dubenion, Buffalo Bills - 27.1 in 1964

-- Warren Wells, Oakland Raiders - 26.8 in 1969

-- Flipper Anderson, Los Angeles Rams - 26.0 - 1989

-- Harlon Hill, Chicago Bears  - 25.0 - 1954

If you watched ABC's Monday Night Football for highlights, you saw Carr's 1976 season unfold as Howard Cosell narrated replays of him hauling in Bert Jones' passes, streaking into the end zone and punctuating scores with dunks over the crossbar.

It all started the second week of the season when Carr shredded the Cincinnati Bengals' secondary, catching six passes for 198 yards and three TDs (tying a club record) -- including two of 60 or more yards, with one over Hall-of-Famer Ken Riley.

"I thought I had him," Riley said afterward. "He started out quick . . . and once he got even, he got even quicker. There was no catching him."

The next month he had a five-catch, 210-yard afternoon with two more touchdowns vs. the New York Jets. One was a 79-yard TD; the other a 41-yard score. Then there was a 55-yarder that set up a field goal to produce 17 points in a 20-0 Baltimore victory.

Through that game (Week Seven), Carr was averaging 32.6 yards a catch on 18 receptions and six touchdowns. By comparison, his next six games look almost ordinary: 21 catches for 411 yards and four TDs. But prorate them over a 17-game season, and you have a 60-catch year for 1,164 yards and 11 TDs.

So they were outstanding.

He finished the season with a 114-yard game, pushing him past Branch and Hall-of-Famer Charlie Joiner to lead the league in receiving yards.

The Colts won the AFC East, while Carr was second-team All-Pro (the esteemed Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman named him first-team to his New York Post team), voted to the Pro Bowl and had one of the top seasons by any Colts' receiver - including those in Indianapolis.

Sadly, he was never able to duplicate his success after that season.

Contract disputes, leg injuries, injuries to Bert Jones, accusations of shying from contact and even a suspension kept him from ever coming close to his 1976 productivity. So did a contract dispute that in 1977 had him hold out of training camp and most of preseason on the advice of his agent, Howard Slusher. 

"I'm in my prime as an athlete," Carr told Bill McIntyer of the Shreveport Times at the beginning of his holdout. "I am as healthy as I'll ever be. I am fast as I ever was. You can count on one hand the guys who are deep threats, Curtis, Branch, Mel Gray in St. Louis, Ken Burrough, myself. I can get the deep six.

"I caught 43 passes and averaged 25.9 yards per catch. That led the league. I set a new Colts' record. Sometimes they can't believe it 'cause I'm a white guy, but it seems the good Lord gave me a knack for it."

Chalk up some politically incorrect points for Carr.

Alas, a knee injury cut short his 1977 season, reducing it to seven games, and Carr finished with 199 yards receiving - fewer than his top game in 1976 and only one yard more than his second-best effort, that 198-yard contest vs. the Bengals.

There were later flashes of '76 ... a big game here or there ... but nothing sustained for an entire season. The closest he came was 1980 when he had 61 grabs for 924 yards, but his yards per catch dropped to 15.1, not exactly emblematic of a big-time deep threat.

Ultimately, Carr was more successful as a small-college football player at Louisiana Tech than as a pro. He set several receiving records there and was voted into the school's Hall of Fame (also the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame).

He was a first-team Little All-American as a junior, a second-teamer as a senior and part of two Division II/College division national champions those seasons.

But Carr didn't go to Louisiana Tech to play football. He was a walk on ... as a punter. There on a track scholarship, he was a long jumper whose punting drew the attention of Bulldogs' coaches. Once he got on the field, though, he "was catching everything," according to former Tech assistant Mickey Slaughter.

And so began his collegiate football career as a receiver.
He led the team in receiving for three consecutive years and was so successful that he not only caught the eye of NFL scouts; one of them gave him his highest possible grade. The Colts swooped in during the 1974 draft, made him their first-round pick (24th overall) and paired him with a quarterback (Jones) who had the arm to reach a receiver with speed to stretch defenses.

It seemed the perfect match, and it was ... but not for long.

"(Carr) could run by anybody," former Colts' executive Ernie Accorsi told the Ruston Daily Leader. "Sometimes, longevity doesn't always define greatness. Roger wasn't in the league that long, but he was as good a deep receiver as I've ever seen."


  1. Wow I thought I was the only one who remembered Carr. That '76 season was amazing. It seemed every week he would have at least one 50+ yard td catch. Plus he was 6-3 unlike Gray or Branch who were 5-9/5-10

  2. From Brian wolf ...

    Similar to Don Maynard but taller.
    A great 76' season but lost momentum with injury filled 77 and 79 seasons. Its really amazing how well Jones and the Colts did in 1977 without him.
    A deep threat with too disappointing a career ...

  3. Carr was a blazer, no doubt about that....I have one indelible memory of the man....had the opportunity to be on the Colts sideline in Seattle, opening day 1977....first time I had ever actually been that close to the field...omigod, what an eye opener....the collisions sounded like Volkswagons crashing into each other, how guys manage to endure that carnage through a season is amazing....anyway, on this particular play, the Ruston Rifle unloads a high velocity shot, and "sssss!!"....that ball rockets across the field and "thopl!" comes to an abrupt and immediate stop as Carr snags it cleanly between two outstretched hands.....the grip strength of the guy had to be off the charts....