HAROLD CARMICHAEL: "Wasn't Sure I Was Good Enough"
It took 36 years for Harold Carmichael to make into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but it was the 48 hours after he got that call that may have been an even more difficult achievement.
After Hall of Fame president Dave Baker delivered the news by phone on Monday, Carmichael was asked not to tell anyone until Wednesday when word would officially be released.
Carmichael couldn’t tell his former coach, Dick Vermeil, when the two of them had dinner together for about three hours along with 160 other guests at a function where Vermeil was promoting one of his wines on Tuesday night. Vermeil was talking about his disappointment over not getting that same call, and Carmichael stayed mum.
“It was killing me,” said Carmichael on a Thursday afternoon conference call.
Carmichael avoided the topic as best he could when one of the 160 guests would ask him if he heard anything.
“I didn’t want to lie to anybody,” said Carmichael.
He didn’t respond to any of the 400-plus text messages over those 48 hours. His voicemail quickly filled up.
“I want to apologize to friends and family trying to get a response from me,” said Carmichael, who played his last game, ironically, with the Dallas Cowboys in 1984. “You just gotta have patience like I did for 36 years.”
Carmichael couldn’t tell his son, Lee, “because we thought my granddaughter would hear and she’d get on social media and say something.”
There was one person he told, and that was his wife.
Carmichael was upstairs at his home, watching The Rifleman on television all by himself when the call came. His wife remained downstairs because, as Carmichael said, “she doesn’t care for that show.”
There were no cameras, no people, no fuss, whatsoever when the phone rang.
Carmichael, 70, thought it was a local radio station playing a prank on him.
“It was going through my mind, are they trying to punk me here?” said Carmichael. “I still didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it until I saw the commissioner (Roger Goodell on Wednesday). I thought they were still punking me. It’s so big of an accomplishment it’s hard to believe sometimes.”
Carmichael wasn’t sure he belonged in the Hall.
“In the beginning, didn’t know if I deserved to be in there,” he said. “I really wasn’t looking at numbers. I didn’t know exactly how they went about doing the selection.
"It’s been 36 years since I’ve been out of game, but just listening to the people telling me what my numbers are and telling me I should be in there, I’ve been hearing I should be in there for past 30 something years. It wasn’t a lock for me. I wasn’t sure I was good enough.”
After he hung up the phone with Baker, Carmichael sat alone, collecting his thoughts on how to tell his wife.
He had flashbacks to his days growing up in Jacksonville, Fla., about everyone that supported him then and continue to now. To his days of playing two-hand touch football in the streets and tackle in the grass, and those football games he would play in bowling alleys.
Carmichael thought back to his days at Southern University, where he walked-on to the football team. He was a safety his senior year in high school. Nobody quite knew what to do with him, mostly because he was 6-foot-8.
The Eagles shuttled him between receiver and tight end after they selected him in the seventh round of the 1971 NFL Draft, and it wasn’t until the team hired Boyd Dowler in 1973 to be the receivers coach that Carmichael’s career took off.
“We had Harold Jackson and Ben Hawkins as the starting receivers here,” said Carmichael. “Coming into the league with them being veterans and me trying to learn how to be a football player and questioning myself whether I could play in the National Football League, watching these guys, I was trying to do everything they were doing.
“I was stumbling, not getting to the right depth, or getting too deep and the ball had been thrown past me. I had to kind of break down and adjust to that when Dowler came in and said, ‘Harold, you can’t run little patterns like a wide receiver, your strides are too long. You have to do it this way. We’re going to tweak the pass patterns a little bit for you, so we can get the ball to you on time and you’re making your cut at right time.’”
At his height, Carmichael was better suited to play basketball, and Carmichael did all through high school and for two years at Southern.
“Basketball, I thought I could have shot at playing that, but I just couldn’t dribble,” said Carmichael.
Everyone who knew Carmichael then thought baseball was going to be his sport. He had a tryout with the Pittsburgh Pirates during his senior year at Raines High School.
At Southern, however, he was a teammate of Mel Blount, who would go on to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989 after a stellar career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Carmichael credited Blount for making him into an NFL player during those practices against each other at Southern.
“Mel Blount got me ready,” said Carmichael. “Every time I’d run a pattern, another player would catch the ball, he would two-hand touch him. When I caught the ball, he wanted to clothesline me and forearm me for some reason. I didn’t understand why. I thought about it and I used to date his cousin in high school, and I think she probably said something to him because he wanted to beat me up every day in practice.
“I think he played me tougher than anybody else on the practice field. He was one of toughest defensive backs I went against. Lester Hayes, a bunch of guys I went against that are very tough, but Mel Blount, he got me ready for the NFL.”
Done flashing back and thoughts collected, Carmichael descended the stairs to tell his wife. He walked sullenly into the room, looking full of dread, and burst out, “Babe, I’m in.”
She started screaming in jubilation and when things settled down, the Carmichaels sat down to celebrate with some Crown Royal Apple.
On Sept. 17 in Canton, Ohio, Carmichael will be enshrined in the Hall and the celebration will begin anew.