It all kind of comes full circle for Harold Carmichael in 2021, and maybe that's a harbinger of great things to come for the Philadelphia Eagles. Selected in the seventh round (161st overall) of the 1971 NFL Draft (50 years ago!), Carmichael is prepping, finally, for his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He received his Hall of Fame jacket recently, fighting back tears of joy as he opened the package and tried it on and, just like his life, the jacket was a perfect fit.
"It was so exciting. I know I fumbled around with it, but I was so nervous, shaking because it was such an exciting time for me," Carmichael said. "They texted us and let us know we were going to get our jackets, but mine took a little longer to arrive than everybody else's. Again, patience.
"To look at the jacket, to touch it, and then to put it on for the first time, and it was so comfortable. I always worried about having the right length for my arms because they are so long, and that's the first thing I checked out. It was perfect."
Fifty years ago … the NFL was a different world then, and so was the NFL Draft. For starters, it was held in late January (the 28th and 29th, to be exact) at the Belmont Plaza Hotel in New York City. As an interesting parallel to what could very well happen on Thursday night in Cleveland, that 1971 draft featured for the first time three quarterbacks selected with the first three picks – Jim Plunkett to the Boston Patriots (renamed the New England Patriots after the draft), Archie Manning to New Orleans, and Dan Pastorini to Houston. The Eagles selected defensive end Richard Harris from Grambling with the fifth overall pick.
For Carmichael, the road to the Pro Football Hall of Fame – by the way, the Draft Class of 1971 featured future Hall of Famers in linebacker Jack Ham, running back John Riggins, offensive lineman Dan Dierdorf, and defensive end Jack Youngblood, along with Carmichael – started in humble territory. He lasted until the seventh round, even though his agent told him that Carmichael could go as early as the second or third round. Carmichael watched the draft on a "console TV" in his dorm room and friends drifted by to watch and join in a celebration that never came. The seventh round wasn't shown on television, so Carmichael figured he would go for a walk on the campus of Southern University. His friends pranked him by telling him his agent called him on a pay phone outside the dormitory, but nobody was on the line when Carmichael rushed to pick up the phone.
Finally, the real call came. The Eagles had selected him and, well, the rest is history. Carmichael received a $5,000 bonus when his contract arrived in the mail a few days after the draft.
"I think the postage was more than the contract was worth," Carmichael said, laughing. For the record, per Carmichael, the contract was worth $13,000 and it was one of the best investments the Eagles have ever made. He went on, of course, to catch 589 passes for 8,978 yards and 79 touchdowns in an Eagles career that ended in 1983. Remarkably, those numbers still stand as franchise records even as the NFL has gone so pass-happy and receivers' numbers have blown up.
Looking back, looking ahead, these are the best of times for Harold Carmichael.
"To be able to celebrate this with my family and my friends and Eagles fans who have been so supportive of me through the years makes this such a special time for me," Carmichael said. "We all can't wait for the induction in August, and we're making plans and preparing for this. I waited a long time – right around 35 years after my playing days were over to get the call. Then we've had the pandemic and there was no ceremony last summer, so here I am. I thank God for giving me the patience to wait and really get through this. This is God's work.
"The day that I can celebrate with Philadelphia and with the fans, it's gonna be awesome."
Carmichael will be part of the Eagles' 2021 NFL Draft this weekend as he will announce the team's selections on Day 3 if the opportunity presents itself. Maybe one of the names he calls out will have the kind of success he had in his storied career.
"Just to be around it, it's going to be a lot of fun, a lot of excitement," Carmichael said. "You get drafted and you have a chance to achieve your dreams in the NFL. You need to get your chance. Then it's up to you to make the most of it."
Fifty years ago, Carmichael did just that, and now he's continuing to enjoy a career that started small and grew into something special.