During the 31 years he waited to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Harold Carmichael never once expressed anger or outrage over his annual snubs by the selection committee.
Disappointment? Absolutely. And it was warranted.
He was one of the NFL’s most prolific pass-catchers during his 14-year career. He was an all-decade player in the ’70s. He caught more passes for more yards and more touchdowns than any player in Eagles history. He should have had a bronze bust in Canton a long time ago.
Yet, he watched 15 wideouts, including six whose careers overlapped with his, get into the Hall of Fame before he did since he became eligible in 1989.
Brian Dawkins was so mad when he didn’t get into Canton in his first year of eligibility that he suggested the entire selection process should be blown up. Carmichael, ever the gentleman, kept his frustration locked behind closed doors.
His long wait finally ended in January, when he was one of 10 senior players elected to the Hall of Fame’s 20-member Centennial class.
But as with weddings, graduations, first Holy Communions, bar- and bat mitzvahs, and most other gatherings of more than eight people during this COVID-19 pandemic, the enshrinement ceremonies for the class of 2020 have been postponed until next August.
“I waited 31 years,” Carmichael said this week in a telephone interview. “Another year won’t hurt.”
Carmichael was notified late last month by Hall of Fame president David Baker that the ceremony had been canceled. The news hardly came as a surprise.
“I knew for a while it was going to happen,” he said. “They couldn’t hold the ceremony right now. I’ve been to several previous ceremonies. You’ve got thousands of people there. Everybody’s close. I wouldn’t have been comfortable with it.”
One potential consolation of the ceremony’s being pushed back is that he might get the opportunity to go into the Hall of Fame with one of his dearest friends and former coach, Dick Vermeil.
Vermeil was a finalist this year in the head-coaching category. Two coaches — Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson — were selected ahead of him. The Hall of Fame is planning to add one “senior” coach to the Hall in each of the next four years. The four top candidates are Vermeil, Mike Holmgren, Tom Flores, and Don Coryell.
“I was hoping for that this year,” Carmichael said of Vermeil. “It would have been even more special going in with Dick. I felt bad when he didn’t make it. I’m going to push for him this year as much as I can. He deserves to be in. He was an incredible football coach.”
Carmichael found out he made the Hall of Fame two days before the official announcement. He was sworn to secrecy by Baker, which put him in an awkward spot.
The night after he found out, he attended a charity function with Vermeil and couldn’t tell him.
“I was at the head table sitting right next to Dick,” he said. “People were coming up for autographs and telling us they hoped we’d get in. I’m sitting there thinking, I’m already in, but I can’t tell anybody. My wife was the only other person who knew. Not to be able to tell my son, that was brutal. I guess I at least proved I can be trusted with a secret.”
The enshrinement ceremony for the class of 2020 has been rescheduled for August 7 of next year. The class of 2021, which will be selected in January, will be enshrined at a separate ceremony that same weekend.
Like most of us, Carmichael has been staying close to home, in Glassboro, during the pandemic. He will turn 71 on Sept. 22. He’s in very good health but is well aware that he and his wife, B, are in the age bracket that is most vulnerable to the COVID virus.
“I’ve been going with the science,” he said. “I’m at that age now where when I go out to the mailbox I hold my breath.
“I have to be very careful. People want to come up to you and congratulate you. I haven’t been to the grocery store since this started. We get them delivered.
“I keep a mask and gloves in my car just in case something happens. We have a pretty big back yard. Have automatic sprinklers, but they’re not working. Guy who fixes them would’ve had to come in the house. I decided I’d just do it by hand for now instead.
“I said, how can I let him in? I don’t even let my son come in. My son’s been very good about that. We’ll go out and stand on the front porch when he visits with our granddaughter. He’ll stand in the driveway or under the tree. Or we’ll go to their house and we’ll stay in the car and they’ll stand nearby.
“We haven’t hugged our granddaughter in nearly six months. That’s been the toughest part about this. But we’re just trying to stay safe so we can be here for our loved ones.”
Carmichael’s daily routine doesn’t waver much these days. He and B wake up early — before 5 a.m.— so they can beat the heat — and people — and get in a 2 ½-mile walk around their neighborhood.
Later in the morning, he settles in to watch his favorite TV shows — The Rifleman, Gunsmoke, and, of course, Perry Mason. The black-and-white original with Raymond Burr, not the new one on HBO.
Later in the day, he and B hop into their car and go for a 45-minute drive to nowhere in particular.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “We take the back roads. The wilderness. We go by beautiful farm areas. We do it just to get out of the house, then we come right home.
“We’ll go someplace different every day. The other day, we got lost in the Pinelands. That was a little scary. We were on a one-lane road. Got to a military training facility when the road gave out. I looked over and saw a sign that said: Keep Out. No Trespassing.”
The Eagles are scheduled to open their COVID-19 edition of training camp in days. Carmichael, who retired after the 1984 season, rejoined the Eagles in 1998 as the team’s director of player and community relations. He retired in 2015 but has served as a team ambassador since then and was a nearly daily visitor to training camp during the summer. This summer, though, he’s not sure he’s going to make it over to NovaCare.
“I really enjoyed watching training camp practices,” he said. “When it would get really hot, I’d watch from the cafeteria. Enjoyed talking with the players and coaches and everybody else.
“But I’m quite sure there are going to be restrictions this summer because of the virus. I would have to get tested. I don’t really want to take chances.”
No he doesn’t. After waiting more than three decades to get into the Hall of Fame, he’d really rather not get enshrined posthumously next summer.