NEW ORLEANS - If you're making Cris Carter's case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, your three talking points are touchdowns, touchdowns and more touchdowns.
The former Vikings receiver scored 130 of them during a 16-year career that included 12 seasons (1990 to 2001) in Minnesota. That's more TDs than all but one of the 21 modern-era receivers in the Hall of Fame. Even when adjusted to account for longer seasons, Carter's touchdown average per game (.556) is better than 18 of those 21 Hall of Famers.
In some cases, it's not even close. Hall of Famer Charlie Joiner played five more games than Carter (239-234) and had half as many touchdowns (130-65). Hall of Famer James Lofton played one fewer game than Carter but caught 55 fewer touchdowns.
Carter had 72. That's the most ever by a receiver and second overall behind only tight end Tony Gonzalez (78).
Carter had eight of them in 14 games. Only four of the 21 Hall of Famers had more. Hall of Famer Bob Hayes had two in 14 games. Lofton had one in 13 games. Joiner and Hall of Famer Steve Largent had five and four, respectively, and, like Carter, never played in a Super Bowl.
Of the 21 modern-era receivers in the Hall of Fame, four played the majority of their careers in the 1950s, five played most of their careers in the 1960s, six in the 1970s and four in the 1980s. Yet only two of them -- Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin -- played the bulk of their careers in the 1990s.
The four receivers on the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 1990s were Rice, Irvin, Carter and Tim Brown. Rice stands alone (sorry, Randy). Irvin had only half as many touchdowns (65) as Carter but rightfully reached the Hall of Fame as a playmaker on a Dallas Cowboys team that won three Super Bowls in the 1990s.
Considering receivers became a bigger part of the game and no previous modern-era decade had fewer than four Hall of Fame receivers, it stands to reason that there's room for at least two more receivers from the 1990s.
Three receivers from that decade -- Carter, Brown and Andre Reed -- have been stuck in a logjam for some time now. Saturday marks the fourth consecutive year that the Hall of Fame selectors -- of which I am a member -- will consider all three receivers together.
Brown had 30 fewer touchdowns than Carter, while Reed had 43 fewer. Carter was a two-time All-Pro first-teamer in the 1990s. Brown and Reed never made first-team All-Pro.
In postseason play, Carter averaged more catches (4.5) for more yards (62.1) than Reed (4.1, 58.5) and Brown (3.8, 48.4). Brown had only three touchdowns in 12 postseason games, while Reed had nine touchdowns but played in seven more games than Carter.
Carter also led the NFL in third-down catches (297) and third-down conversions (81 percent) from 1991-2000. In 1995, 80 percent of his league-high 122 catches went for a first down or a touchdown. Carter also led the league in red zone touchdowns four straight seasons from 1995 to 1998.
Moss and Terrell Owens have surpassed Carter's touchdown total, but they belong to the next decade of Hall of Fame consideration. Also, of the top 32 current leaders in career receptions who aren't already in the Hall of Fame, Carter's touchdown average per game is better than all but Moss, Owens and Marvin Harrison (.674), another consideration for the 2000s.
It's obvious that Carter isn't happy that he now has been in this same position for six consecutive years. But he accepts that it's out of his hands.
"I have zero frustration with the Hall of Fame," he said this week in New Orleans. "I just don't like people to say, 'Oh, you're going to get in [eventually].' That's not the best thing that I've ever heard. You score 130 touchdowns, why would you have to wait?"
Mark Craig firstname.lastname@example.org