Carlos Carson, a blur in cleats, was a game-changing wide receiver for the Chiefs of the 1980s.
Carson burned cornerbacks deep, had the trusty hands to grasp anything thrown his way, and the instincts to convert third downs and score touchdowns.
And on Sunday night at the annual 101 Awards banquet at the Westin Crown Center Hotel, the man his teammates called “Speedy” was introduced by Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt as the 47th member of the Chiefs Hall of Fame.
Carson, 58, is just the third wide receiver whose name will adorn the Ring of Honor at Arrowhead Stadium, joining Chris Burford (1975) and Otis Taylor (1982). He caught 351 passes for 6,360 yards and 33 touchdowns during 1980-89 and was a member of the Chiefs’ 40th Anniversary Team chosen by club founder Lamar Hunt in 1999.
“This validates all the hard work you put in,” Carson said. “My rookie year, I remember catching 300 passes a day from (equipment manager) Allen Wright … catching passes from Bill Kenney … and it all paid off.”
Nearly 30 years after Carson played in his last game for the Chiefs in 1989, he still holds the franchise record for yards per catch at 18.1.
“We called him Speedy for a reason,” said former Chiefs cornerback Jayice Pearson, who drew the unenviable role of defending Carson in practice in the mid-to-late 1980s. “Not only could he run, but he ran great routes. He ran real precise routes, could catch, but the thing that struck me playing against him in practice every day was how good he was with his hands.
“We played a lot of bump-and-run back in the day, and he was so good with his hands, getting our hands off of him, so we could never get a really good jam on him.”
Carson earned the first of his two Pro Bowl berths in 1983 when his 80 catches shattered a 21-year-old club record of 69 receptions by Burford in 1962 and his 1,351 receiving yards broke Taylor’s mark of 1,297 yards in 1966. Carson’s yardage led the AFC and ranked second in the NFL, and his six 100-yard games in 1983 tied for the league lead and matched Taylor’s club record set in 1966.
Carson’s second Pro Bowl berth came in 1987, when he caught 55 passes for an AFC-most 1,044 yards (19.0-yard average) and seven touchdowns in a strike-shortened season and became the first wide receiver to be selected as the Chiefs MVP in a vote by his teammates.
Carson, a fifth-round draft pick by the Chiefs in 1980, starred at LSU, where he set an NCAA record in 1977 by catching six consecutive passes for touchdowns, including five against Rice in his very first game.
“The greatest thrill I had in becoming a Chief was seeing Otis Taylor coming to scout our seniors when I was at LSU,” Carson said of the franchise’s most celebrated wide receiver, who scouted for the club after retiring. “And to get a phone call from him saying, ‘We’re going to draft you in the fifth round …’
“And here’s Otis Taylor, one of greatest wide receivers I ever saw while growing up, to get a chance to be taught by him, to work with him, was truly a blessing for me. … After 30-some years, I never thought this would happen … I’m happy to be up there with Otis Taylor and Chris Burford.”
Carson served mostly as a kick returner and caught just 39 passes during his first three seasons with the Chiefs.
“I had to wait my turn,” Carson said. “I wanted to play, but I didn’t feel like I was ready. But I had some great teachers in (veteran receivers) Henry Marshall and J.T. Smith, and I learned the NFL, how to beat bump-and-run, how to run routes against great defenders each week.
“It helped playing against one of the best secondaries in the league, practicing every day against Kevin Ross and Albert Lewis and Deron Cherry and Lloyd Burruss.”
Carson’s career blossomed in 1983 in a passing attack installed by new coach John Mackovic and directed by Kenney, who threw for a then club-record 4,348 yards, still the second-most in franchise history.
“John Mackovic came in and said every position was open to compete, and that’s exactly what I did,” said Carson, a 5-11, 190 pounder. “I got an opportunity to play … I was blessed to have Bill Kenney, who was kind of like in my situation, too, working to be in the starting lineup. We both got there and formed a great chemistry, and I was his go-to guy.”
In 1984, Carson caught 57 passes for 1,078 yards and became the first receiver in Chiefs history to record back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
“The guy who made me compete and made me better was the emergence of Stephone Paige,” Carson said of the receiver who signed with the Chiefs as a college free agent in 1983 and started during 1985-90. “Stephone came in hungry and was catching everything.
“I said, ‘Hey, ‘This is a guy who is going to make me young again.’ He drew a lot of coverages, and we both benefited from one another.”
At the time of his retirement, Carson’s three 1,000-yard seasons were a club record, which would be broken later, along with most of the team’s other receiving marks, by tight end Tony Gonzalez, who wore the same No. 88 jersey as Carson.
“I used to judge other defensive backs, like Oakland’s Lester Hayes, off of how Carlos did against them, and Carlos started beating him and the other Pro Bowl corners he went against,” said Kevin Ross, a Chiefs Hall of Fame cornerback and now secondary coach for the Arizona Cardinals.
“For the most part, he got the best of every last one of them. I don’t remember a guy shutting him down.”
Carson’s one regret is the Chiefs only qualified for the playoffs once during his career, when they went 10-6 in 1986 and lost a wild-card game to the New York Jets. Carson missed six full games and parts of three others that season because of foot and ankle injuries, limiting him to just 21 receptions for 497 yards (a 23.7-yard average) and four touchdowns.
“That was frustrating,” Carson said of the club’s lack of success in the 1980s. “We could never put it together as a team. One year, the offense would be great … one year the defense was great, and all of a sudden the year I was kind of hurt, everything came together. The special teams were scoring points, the defense was stopping people, and the offense was making enough plays to help the team, and we jelled together as a playoff team.
“But it was a tough era. We had some good talent, but we didn’t put it together as a team, and that was disappointing.”
Carson, a native of Lake Worth, Fla., remained in the Kansas City area after retiring following the 1989 season. He became a successful businessman and owns three McDonald’s restaurants in Independence.
Carson donated 10 percent of sales from his restaurants on Feb. 17 to benefit the three children of Yadira Gomez, a one-time employee of his, who was murdered in her home on Jan. 29.
“That donation was very important to me and my wife, Pam,” said Carson, a father of four. “There are a lot of not-so-good things happening in that community, and I knew there are a lot of people there who really care.
“I just wanted to be part of something that was positive, and what better way to do that was to say, ‘Here’s an opportunity for the community of Independence to do something great,’ and I will be willing to help out to donate 10 percent of sales to a special-needs family.”