Harold Carmichael was upstairs watching The Rifleman on Monday afternoon, when he got the call that he had been waiting more than three decades for; the call informing him that he had made the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
His initial reaction, however, was suspicion rather than joy.
“First thing I thought, there are these radio stations that will punk you,’’ the former Eagles wide receiver said. “They have somebody pretend to be somebody you know.
“When [Hall of Fame president] Dave Baker called, that was going through my mind. Is somebody trying to punk me here? He kept talking and telling me I had been selected. But I still didn’t believe it.’’
Baker finally convinced Carmichael that the call was on the up-and-up. But there was a catch: Carmichael couldn’t tell anyone but his wife, B (short for Beatrice), until Wednesday morning, when the official announcement of 13 members of the 20-member centennial class of 2020 was made on the NFL Network.
For the better part of 40 hours, the only people who knew Carmichael had made the Hall of Fame were Harold, his wife, and Chuck Connors.
“That was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do in my life,’’ Carmichael said. “I apologize to a lot of my friends and family for not saying anything.’’
He didn’t even tell his son, because he was afraid he would tell their granddaughter, who then might spill the beans on social media.
Hardest of all, though, was keeping it from one of his closest friends, Dick Vermeil.
Vermeil, the former Eagles coach, also had been a finalist for the Hall of Fame this year. He found out over the weekend that he didn’t get in when Baker told Jimmy Johnson and Bill Cowher on national TV that they were the two coaches in the class of 2020.
On Tuesday night, Carmichael spent three hours at a dinner promoting Vermeil Wines with his former coach and more than 160 other people.
“I sat with him and couldn’t say anything to him,’’ Carmichael said. “It was killing me. It was very tough. I told him later how disappointed I was that he didn’t get in. He’s been an inspiration to me for years. I love the guy.
“It would have been great if he had gone in this year with me and [late NFL Films president] Steve Sabol. Canton would have been crazy. I think we’re still going to have a lot of people there from Philadelphia" for the ceremony.
Because of the uniquely large class this year for the NFL centennial -- 10 seniors; three contributors, including Sabol; the two coaches; and five yet-to-be-selected modern-era candidates -- some of the class, including Carmichael and the rest of the seniors, will be inducted at a separate ceremony in Canton on Sept. 17. The modern-era candidates will be inducted in early August.
Carmichael, who has been eligible for the Hall of Fame since 1989, was hopeful that he would make it this year because they will induct 10 seniors rather than the usual one or two. But he also was prepared to be disappointed again.
“I’m 100 years old now,’’ said Carmichael, who actually is 70. “You want to be able to enjoy it. But you don’t know" if you’re ever going to get in.
“It’s been 36 years since I’d been out of the game. People have been telling me for a long time that I should be in there," he said. "But I didn’t know if I was good enough. I tried to play my best and be the best that I could. But it was not for me to say I should be in the Hall of Fame. It was only for me to put the numbers up and be the person that they would want to see in the Hall of Fame.’’
Former Cowboys wide receiver Drew Pearson, whose career overlapped with Carmichael’s, clearly felt he was going to be one of the 10 seniors selected. He invited friends and family to his home in Plano, Texas, Wednesday morning to watch the Hall of Fame announcement on TV. He even invited a local TV station.
When he realized he didn’t get in, he was distraught. “They broke my heart,’’ Pearson said. “They broke my heart. And they did it like this! They strung it out like this.’’ Then he walked off.
Carmichael said he feels bad for Pearson.
“Maybe he heard something that gave him the impression he was [getting in]. I don’t know,’’ Carmichael said.
“They had asked me to have cameras at my house to see my reaction. But I would never have done that. If I didn’t know for sure, I wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t want anyone to see my reaction [if I didn’t get in].