Mark Gastineau might never have had a chance to play in the NFL let alone be a standout defensive end for the New York Jets had it not been for a series of circumstances in the lead-up to the Senior Bowl.
All the events that conspired for Gastineau to eventually become an NFL Draft selection of the Jets would mean nothing if not for the diligence and foresight of a trailblazing scout within the organization.
Connie Carberg, the first female scout in the history of the NFL, is one of the main reasons why Gastineau would end up with the Jets. It was 1979 and Carberg was working for the Jets in the role of a scout where she traveled to games and graded film. Jets head coach Walt Michaels and staff were to coach the Senior Bowl that year.
It was a big deal for the Jets coaching staff to be involved in the Senior Bowl, which at the time was the most prestigious all-star game for college players. The week of coaching gave the Jets access to the players, a unique insight ahead of the draft.
The Jets were 8-8 in 1978, an improvement on their 3-11 record the season before. They were improving but still needed talent. In particular, they needed an impact pass rusher.
In the week prior to the Senior Bowl, Carberg received a phone call from Mike Holovak, the Jets director of player personnel. The call set Gastineau on a collision course with the organization and got the Jets a generational pass rusher.
Holovak told Carberg that defensive linemen Mike Stensrud, part of the Senior Bowl roster, was hurt. A replacement was needed.
“My boss called and asked me to choose one,” Carberg told SportsIllustrated.com.
“At the time, we had no computers - just reports and some films and narrowed to five candidates. I decided to call them - no cell phones so not as easy to get in touch. One was faster but small school. Most would be drafted in the fourth through seventh round. All were nice but one loaded was with enthusiasm and passion and ready to jump on plane immediately- it was guy named Mark Gastineau. I didn’t know he’d be great but loved his attitude and his speed on film.”
Gastineau wasn’t exactly on many team’s radars, despite 27 sacks in his college career. The issue was that Gastineau played in the middle of nowhere for East Central Oklahoma State.
No one knew or had heard of him let alone his team. Except of course for a football junkie within the Jets organization.
The daughter of Dr. Cal Nicholas, one of the team’s doctors when they were originally the New York Titans, Carberg has always been around football and loved it. When she went to Ohio State for college, she befriended legendary coach Woody Hayes, who allowed her in to practice to watch the team.
Impressed with not just her passion for the game but also her knowledge, Carberg was granted access even to closed practices. She sat there with a notebook and wrote down impressions on the team as she watched from the bleachers.
Hayes would frequently talk with Carberg, not just to encourage her passion in football but also to explain his system and scheme used with the Buckeyes. He encouraged her to pursue her passion for the game, this despite there being virtually no women working in football at the time.
After college, she found a job with the Jets as a receptionist and a scouting secretary.
From there, her role expanded to include scouting duties.
Gastineau, Carberg recalls, jumped at the opportunity to play at the Senior Bowl. Turns out, her vision and his enthusiasm led to a tremendous week for the under the radar pass rusher.
The Jets certainly noticed as the coaching staff was buzzing about the player with all the vowels in his name.
The unknown defensive end stood out in practice at the Senior Bowl and would go on to be named the game’s top defensive lineman. He took that performance – and the Jets took this insider knowledge that their coaching staff witnessed of the small-time college prospect – and Gastineau would become a second round pick in that spring’s draft.
He would total 107.5 sacks over his career, including twice leading the league in sacks. Five times, he was both a Pro Bowl and an All-Pro selection. He is a member of the team's Ring of Honor.
With the Jets, he found a dominant core of fellow defensive linemen that allowed him to come off the edge and get after the quarterback. As perhaps the most visible of all the members of the ‘New York Sack Exchange,’ Gastineau’s career could have turned out very differently had it not been for Carberg.
One call. A quick scan of the files. Watching some film. Falling in love with Gastineau’s ability at a small college.
A decision that Carberg remembers fondly, a friendship that was born with that first phone call.
“Mark gives me credit - he’s been my friend for 40 years and through his ups and downs,” Carberg said.
“He’s married to a wonderful woman JoAnn and they sang in the choir at Times Square Church for many years. Recently he’s been through chemo and radiation for colon cancer but doing well now.”