Harold Carmichael’s a Hall of Fame Player and Person
For years, the running joke amongst the Eagles' media contingent was that their best wide receiver was eligible for Medicare and hadn't played in the NFL since 1984.
And we weren't wrong.
With apologies to Irving Fryar, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and others, anyone who watched Harold Carmichael in action during an Eagles practice over the last 25 years couldn't help but be awed.
Carmichael, who finally received his just due Wednesday by being selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, worked in the front office until 2015 but spent his spare time on the practice fields.
He'd stroll out wearing a bucket hat, gym shorts, t-shirt and a pair of extra-large gloves. For the next 20 minutes, Carmichael would catch warmup passes from Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, Kevin Kolb, Nick Foles and others, making one-handed grabs as if those gloves had suction cups in the palms.
During his playing career, those mitt-sized hands caught more passes than any other player in franchise history. His 589 receptions still top the Eagles' alltime list, to go with 8,978 yards and 79 touchdowns.
When he retired in 1984, Carmichael ranked fifth in NFL history in receptions, seventh in yards and seven in TDs. The four players who had more receptions at that point than him - Charlie Joyner, Charley Taylor, Don Maynard, Raymond Berry - are already in the Hall.
Now he gets to join them as a member of the Hall's Centennial Class.
"Oh wow, oh boy," Carmichael said in a statement. "This is so much of an honor, oh gosh. Never thought this would happen. But thank you, God. I feel like I’m dreaming. I don’t know what to feel. I feel so numb."
It should have happened years ago.
During his 13-year playing career with the Eagles from 1971-83, he was considered among the best wide receivers in that era. He was tall (6-foot-8), fast and physical. Yet, the Hall of Fame continually passed him by.
"Harold revolutionized the wide receiver position and became one of the most productive players of his era and in the history of our franchise," Eagles owner Jeffrey Lure said.
"But Harold's true contributions to our game extend far beyond his on-field accomplishments."
Off the field, Carmichael was voted the NFL's Man of the Year in 1980 for his work in conjunction with the Eagles' "Fly for Leukemia" charity.
Over the years, he's donated his time and money to numerous other causes, all the while conducting himself with the utmost dignity.
"The Hall of Fame made the right call with this one," former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski told WPVI-Channel 6 Wednesday. "Not only was Harold a great football player, but a man of great character. I couldn't be happier for him."
Over the last 25 years or so, I've gotten to know Harold a bit. He never turned down an interview request, even when it meant discussing the lowest point of his career.
He had caught a pass in 129 consecutive games when Dallas safety Dennis Thurman delivered a crushing hit in the first quarter of a 1980 game that knocked Carmichael out of the game. Four seasons later, after getting waived by the Eagles, he appeared in two games for the Cowboys.
"Having my streak end was hard enough to deal with," Harold said told me a few years back.
"But having to put on that helmet with the star on the side was even tougher."
He breaks into a wide smile whenever I bring up his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla. My daughter is a proud Jacksonville University graduate, which also happens to be the alma mater of one of his good friends, former NBA star Artis Gilmore. In 1970, which was Harold's senior year at Southern University, Gilmore led J.U. to the NCAA Finals, where they lost to 80-69 to coach John Wooden and UCLA.
Although he settled in South Jersey after his playing career, Carmichael always tries to find time to make it back to Jacksonville at least once a year.
Before his sister passed away a few years ago, he would host a giant barbecue each summer at the family home for a group of close friends that includes Gilmore and some former classmates at Jacksonville's Raines High School.
Interestingly, Carmichael was the first of three former Eagles to play at Raines, including fellow Pro Football Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins and former cornerback Lito Sheppard.
"Same home town Jacksonville," Dawkins wrote on Twitter Wednesday. "Same High School Raines. Same NFL Team Eagles. Now, same place in the Pro Football HOF! Congrats Harold. You helped pave the way for me for greater success, because I saw your excellence, coming out of Duval (County)!"
Carmichael is 70 now. His hair is sprinkled with specks of gray. He still does work for the team, but doesn't come to practices as often.
But when he does, it's still an incredible sight.
All these years later, he's still the best wide receiver on the team.
Not to mention one of its best people.