The tradition associated with college football has long been one of the sport's most endearing qualities. The rich history of the Michigan football program has brought forth many of the traditions that make following the Wolverines a unique experience. The winged helmets, the players touching the M Club banner after running out of the tunnel, and the singing of "The Victors" after every win are all things that are now synonymous with the Maize and Blue.
Another of Michigan's rich traditions is that of the #1 jersey. That special number rose in significance when a 5-11 160-pound receiver from Suncoast high school in Riviera Beach, Florida first set foot on campus back in 1979. That player was none other than Anthony Carter.
No one knew the slender wideout would develop into one of the greatest players college football history, but it didn't take long for him to show everyone how special he truly was. The first time Carter touched the ball as a Wolverine was on a punt that he returned 78 yards for a touchdown. By the time his career ended four years later, he had rewritten the receiving record books in Ann Arbor…setting new marks in touchdowns (40), points (244), receptions (161), yards (3,076), touchdown receptions in a season (14) and touchdown receptions in a career (37)….which was also a Big Ten record.
Carter's scintillating body of work still resonates in the minds of everyone that watched him play. That is certainly the case for Lloyd Carr. Michigan's current headman was a new assistant on the staff during Carter's sophomore campaign in 1980. Even now he remains in awe of the dynamic wideout's talent.
"He is, in my judgment, certainly the most exciting football player that I've ever seen," Carr said the Detroit Free Press back in 2002. "I mean, Anthony Carter had the ability that every time the ball was in the air towards him, everybody got to their feet, because they knew if they sat there they might miss something spectacular.
"Woodson was a great football player, and so was Desmond. But Anthony was just different. Anybody who saw him play. . . . He just made so many spectacular plays."
Carter's greatness made filling his jersey a very tall order for any player that chose to do so after him. When Carr secured a commitment from Braylon Edwards in the fall of 2001 the youngster informed his new coach that he wanted to wear the number of the receiver he grew up idolizing…Anthony Carter's #1. For years his dad, former Michigan fullback Stanley Edwards, had drilled into his offspring that Carter was quintessential example of a receiver and was the best to ever have set foot on a college football field. Braylon wanted to emulate that, but Carr sensed the youngster was not ready for all that would entail. The message to Braylon was simple; you can have it, but you have to earn it first. Much to Carr's delight, Edwards eventually did just that.
"It was the pressure that's going to come from the media…'why do you want #1 and all of the things that go with it,' " Carr said recalling why he made Edwards wait to wear the vaunted number. "What (Braylon) did in those two years with that jersey I'm sure made Anthony Carter proud because Braylon did many of the same things that Anthony did."
Edwards strengthened the symbolism of the jersey with his own stellar career. In his final year wearing the winged helmet he caught 97 balls for 1,330 yards and 15 touchdowns and was the Biletnikoff Award winner as college football's top receiver. He finished his time as a Wolverine as Michigan's all-time leader in receptions (252), receiving yards (3,542), touchdowns (39) and 100-yard receiving games (16). As gaudy as those numbers are, Carr was just as impressed with Edwards when he wasn't catching passes.
"He was a devastating guy without the football…a great blocker," Carr recalled. "He wanted to win and he wanted to compete. He had great pride in being the very best he could be. I think going forward, the guy that wears that jersey…he's got big shoes to fill. As a matter of fact we're out there trying to find somebody to do that right now."
With his decision to endow a scholarship for the player that wears the #1 jersey, Edwards has further immortalized it. In the future Carr sees gestures like Edwards' being the means by which major college athletics programs are funded.
"The future, when you're talking 50 or 100 years from now, God only knows what tuition is going to cost," lamented Carr. "I've felt for a long time that the future of Michigan athletics is going to be tied to the endowment we can build. Right now, every time tuition goes up, the athletic department budget is impacted immensely, because we have to pay for every out of state tuition athlete that comes here."
"It sends a message…something that obviously as an athletic department we're pleased that he's doing," continued Carr. "Any time a high profile guy does something like that, there are other people who may consider doing the same thing. With the number of scholarship athletes we have in this department, endowing all of those scholarships is the only way we can solidify the future of Michigan athletics."
Carr's comment about sending a message is definitely in line with one
of the goals Edwards put forth after deciding to donate $500,000 for the scholarship.
According to the University of Michigan's official release,
"The gift is the largest pledged to the department by a current professional athlete and links the Braylon Edwards Foundation to the No. 1 jersey. The new endowment will be awarded to the Michigan football player who wears the No. 1 jersey. If no player currently wears the No. 1 jersey then the award will be granted to another player who exhibits exceptional off-field behavior and conducts himself as a team player."
"I am the first, as they say to do this, but I won't be the last," said Edwards in a speech given at the ceremony. "There are a lot of guys that are in the back of the room that are good guys that are going to continue on the legacy. I see you in the back. This is what it should be like guys. This is what it should be like. Mike (Hart), Morgan (Trent), Steve (Breaston)… this is what it should be like in the future. I love you all. Go Blue!"
To view Edwards' speech in its entirety, check out the next issue
of GoBlueWolverine The Magazine.