CANTON, Ohio — Thirty-seven years after catching the last pass of his NFL career, Harold Carmichael received the ultimate validation of greatness Saturday night when he was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The former Eagles wide receiver actually was voted into the Hall last year as a member of the class of 2020. But last summer’s enshrinement ceremony was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing him to wait another year.
“You don’t know how much this means to me today,” Carmichael said. “What a journey.”
Carmichael is just the 11th player, coach or executive to enter the Hall of Fame as an Eagle, and only the fifth in the last 38 years. The other four: Brian Dawkins (2018), Reggie White (2006), Bob Brown (2004) and Tommy McDonald (1998).
Carmichael was one of 19 players, coaches and executives from the class of 2020 who received their bronze busts Saturday. The 2021 class will be enshrined Sunday night.
Nine others from the class of 2020-21, including NFL Films president Steve Sabol, were enshrined posthumously in a separate ceremony in April. Sabol, a Philadelphia native who died in 2012, joined his father, a 2011 enshrinee, in the Hall of Fame.
Because of the large number of enshrinees, the Hall of Fame asked them to keep their speeches to no longer than eight minutes. Carmichael got in well under the wire, taking just 6 ½ minutes to say his thank-yous.
He thanked everyone from his teammates on the Baby Robins softball team he played on as a youngster in Jacksonville — “that’s where my competitive drive started” — to his coaches at Raines High School and Southern University, to Dick Vermeil and his Eagles teammates, to yes, Eagles fans.
“EaglesNation, thank you for welcoming a 22-year-old kid from Jacksonville and accepting me as one of your own. Thank you for your support. Thank you for your relentless passion, energy, and pride.
“To me, you’re the best fans in the world.”
Carmichael thanked his good friend Vermeil for giving him an invaluable piece of advice that he has used in both football and life.
“Dick said, ‘Do your job better than anybody else. And surround yourself with good people,’” he said. “I think I’ve done that all throughout my career.”
Carmichael also used some of his speech to campaign for Vermeil, who is one of the finalists in the coaching category for the Hall’s class of 2022. The selectors will meet on Aug. 24 and choose one nominee, who will be voted on by the entire selection committee next February.
“Coach,” Carmichael said, “I hope you’re in the next class of inductees. You deserve it. And you’ve got a lot of guys here that are pulling for you right now.”
A number of Carmichael’s former Eagles teammates made the trip to Canton for the enshrinement ceremony. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and president Don Smolenski also were there.
Carmichael was one of 10 “senior” players who were part of the Hall of Fame’s expanded 100th anniversary class last year. The others were offensive tackles Jim Covert, Winston Hill and Duke Slater, safeties Cliff Harris, Donnie Shell and Bobby Dillon, defensive tackle Alex Karras, defensive end Ed Sprinkle, and end Mac Speedie.
Carmichael was a seventh-round pick of the Eagles in 1971 out of Southern University. He played 14 seasons, 13 of them with the Eagles. He still holds the franchise records for receptions (589), receiving yards (8,978), and touchdown catches (79).
He was a four-time Pro Bowler and an All-Decade selection (’70s). He had nine touchdown catches and averaged 17.0 yards per catch in 1980 when the Eagles made their first Super Bowl appearance.
From 1973 through 1981, he didn’t miss a game, playing in a club-record 162 consecutive games.
“He was just a dominant guy,” said Eagles radio analyst Mike Quick, who succeeded Carmichael as the Eagles’ No. 1 receiver. “He was so imposing. At that position, there was nobody bigger. With those long arms of his, he was able to stiff-arm and push off people.
“Just to watch him work, and maybe more importantly, to watch the way he handled people, was good for a young player like me to see.”
Carmichael had a streak of 127 consecutive games with at least one catch, which was an NFL record until 1986 when future Hall of Famer Steve Largent put together a 128-game streak. Jerry Rice shattered that mark for eternity during his career, catching a pass in 274 straight games.
“I remember I got a trophy for the 127-game streak,” Carmichael said last week with a smile. “They put it in the Hall of Fame back then, but it’s not there anymore. It was like 22 feet tall. I’m going to ask them where it went. Did they use it for firewood or what?”
Carmichael was released by the Eagles after the ‘83 season as they began to purge many of the veteran players that Vermeil had built his Super Bowl team around. He signed with the Dallas Cowboys in September of 1984, two weeks shy of his 35th birthday.
He ended up playing in just two games for the Cowboys and catching one pass, the last one of his career. It was a 7-yard completion from Danny White late in a 22-3 win over the Indianapolis Colts.
The Cowboys cut him two weeks later. Shortly after that, Carmichael announced his retirement.
Carmichael was the winner of the NFL’s Man of the Year award in 1980 for his off-the-field work with organizations such as Eagles Fly For Leukemia, the United Way, Boy Scouts of America, and the Fellowship Commission of Philadelphia.
After he retired as a player, he spent nearly 20 years in the Eagles’ front office as their director of player and community relations. He still serves as a club ambassador for the team.
Carmichael’s NFL career got off to a slow start. Thumb and knee injuries limited him to nine games as a rookie. He caught just 20 passes, none for a touchdown. He managed to stay healthy his second year, but still was backing up starters Ben Hawkins and Harold Jackson, and once again had just 20 catches with two TDs.
Things changed in his third year when former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Boyd Dowler arrived as the team’s receivers coach. The 6-5 Dowler understood how to coach a 6-8 wideout and knew what routes were most effective with a bigger guy like Carmichael.
Under Dowler’s tutelage, Carmichael led the league in receptions (67) and receiving yards (1,116) in ‘73 and earned his first Pro Bowl invitation.
“A lot of people didn’t think he was very fast,” said Vermeil. “But after he got 10 yards down field, those next 10 yards, he was as fast as anybody.
“I never did know what he ran forty-wise coming into the league. I didn’t want to know. I couldn’t care less. But I know this. Once he got downfield, people had a hard time running with him. And if it was even, he was going to win.”