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Carter Wants to Put Bengals in Their Place

You begin to feel like Nero. Fiddling with a football game while Miami burns.

But the National Football League is a good, game promoter. Rather like that impresario in San Francisco who hung out the haughty sign in the 1906 fire: “Carmen was announced. Carmen will be sung.”

The Super Bowl will be played. When it is, one of the problems Michael Carter, nose tackle of the San Francisco 49ers, will have is to remember not to take the quarterback and heave him through the air in the general direction of the seats. The “in the grasp” quick whistle is a good idea when Michael gets to the quarterback.

Big Daddy Lipscomb once reduced defensive line play to its basic minimum when he explained, “You wade in and pick everybody up in your way till you find the one with the ball. Him, you keep.”

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Michael Carter has to keep telling himself that. Because his instinct is to throw things in the general direction of the horizon when he picks them up.

If you were to mention to European sports fans the names of Joe Montana, Boomer Esiason, Ickey Woods or Roger Craig, they would yawn. But if you would mention Michael Carter, their eyes would get round. “Michael Carter! You mean the Olympic shotputter?”

You might think Bo Jackson has a tough sports double--football and baseball--and he does. But being an Olympic silver medalist and a Super Bowl football player may be an even greater feat. Shotputters are big and strong and agile. So are football players. The trouble is, shotputting today takes almost all the athletic concentration you can muster. The great Parry O’Brien had to give up football to take up the shot. So did all the others.

So, in a manner of speaking, did Michael Carter. It happened in his senior year at Southern Methodist University. Michael quit football briefly because he had this dream of winning in the Olympic Games. His defection only lasted a matter of days, though. He returned to football, continued with the shot and excelled in both disciplines.

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Putting the shot looks easy, a sport for a guy who pulls locomotives for a lark or lifts Volkswagens. And it was a massive strength sport until O’Brien turned it into a speed sport, adding spin and technique to power.

If Michael Carter were just another bulky body in football, someone sent in on third and long yardage to chase the quarterback, or a guy on the kickoff team, his double would still be remarkable.

But he is, as it happens, probably the very best nose tackle in pro football. His opponents think so. They salute him every game with the sincerest kind of flattery--a double- or even triple- team. When Michael Carter lines up his considerable hulk--he’s 6-foot-2 and 285 pounds--over the center, other teams counter with two bodies to contain him and a third standing by in case that’s not enough. It usually isn’t.

Nose tackles in the mumbo-jumbo 3-man defenses of the NFL aren’t specifically supposed to make tackles. They just create a kind of freeway pileup on the line or behind it and let the linebackers, cornerbacks and even safety men come up and make the stop.

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Michael Carter not only does this better than an overturned truck on an off-ramp, he also makes the tackles.

He had 6 tackles, including 2 sacks, and forced a fumble in the opening game of the season. In fact, he had 12 tackles and 3 sacks in the important New Orleans Saints games, the ones the 49ers had to win to get to the Super Bowl. He made 4 tackles and batted down a pass in the playoffs.

So, just dropping some little spindly ballcarrier to the ground and not having to put him next to his neck, spin and launch him toward the moon is like a day off to Michael Carter.

He may be the greatest thing to happen to the 49ers since the covered wagon. They got him as a lowly fifth-round draft choice, largely because his career in the shotput ring had interfered with his collegiate spring football. He was not considered a finished football player, even though he had racked up 238 tackles in his college career.

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He was also celebrated in college because he roomed with Eric Dickerson, no less.

“He was the ladies’ man, I was the square,” Carter said.

But he was best known for putting the shot 81 feet 3 1/4 inches in high school, a world record for the 12-pound shot, and for throwing the discus 204-8, a Texas high school mark.

He was even late reporting to the 49ers because he had a more presing engagement--the 1984 Olympics in which he finished second with a throw 2 feet short of his all-time best of 71-4 3/4.

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The Cincinnati Bengals, bigger, heavier than the 49ers, may try to shove Michael Carter into positions where lanes will open for their running backs. It is a job for tow trucks and moving cranes, not guys in pads.

Michael Carter, who looks at a line of scrimmage with the eyes of a drowsy lion, considers any task where he doesn’t have to heave a railroad ball bearing 70 feet in the air to be a day at the soda fountain.

Any sport where you get 10 other guys to help you--and at most 3 trying to stop you--is cream-puff stuff to an old shotputter.

Cincinnati might as well put in turnstiles. And hope Carter remembers only to sack, not put, the quarterback.

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