Harold Carmichael never saw this coming. A Hall of Fame-caliber football career as an Eagle? For a seventh-round draft pick? A second career overseeing the organization's player development program? Dream on. Living for 45 years in Philadelphia, his home away from Jacksonville? It could never happen. But it has happened. All of it, and more.
"It's been such a blessing. I think about it all and I just am so fortunate to be here and to have had so much and to have so much more to look forward to," Carmichael says.
Carmichael is making another transition in his career, one that began in 1972 when the Eagles selected him 171st overall in the 1971 draft from Southern University. He's going to from a full-time Eagles employee to a still-very-busy role of ambassador and giant personality to meet and mingle with fans and represent the organization in a variety of functions in and around Philadelphia.
"I have so many memories. I grew up as a football player in this City and with this team and it was special. We developed a great bond from those teams that exists to this day. Then I came back to the organization after being away from the game - but I was still involved with the organization and the fans - and worked in player development in 1998 and created another series of memories," Carmichael said. "It's all been very special. I've been blessed so many times over. Now I'm going to move to another phase of my relationship with the Philadelphia Eagles, just not in a full-time role. I still am an asset. I still have value and I'm looking forward to this next step.
"The game has changed so much. The daily routine of players is completely different than it was when I played. We had three-hour practices twice a day in Training Camp. The players now have less contact and no more two-a-day practices where you go all out. The game is different on and off the field. On the field the rules are so much more different. Football is still violent, but not as violent as it used to be. Now there is specialization in the game. There are players who have one job and who play only a few snaps a game. The coaching staffs are huge now. The business of football has blown up. It's crazy how much attention is paid to the NFL now as opposed to when it was when I came into the league."
Said Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie: "Harold is one of the legendary figures in Eagles history. But as outstanding as he was as a player for this organization, I believe he was equally if not more impactful as a role model and a mentor to our players. He bleeds Eagles green and it was not hard to sense his passion to help younger players who needed some sort of assistance, guidance or just a friendly set of ears. I wish him and his wife, Bea, and his entire family all the best in his retirement."
We celebrate the career of the greatest wide receivers in NFL history and longtime ambassador of the Philadelphia Eagles, Harold Carmichael ...
Lee Harold Carmichael was something of an oddity when the Eagles took a flier on him in the '71 draft. He was an unknown coming out of Southern and it took the 6-8 Carmichael a season or two to gain his footing as an Eagle. He earned $13,000 as a rookie, including a $5,000 bonus check that he used to buy a car, and Carmichael slept on fellow receiver Harold Jackson's sofa and learned in the ins and outs of the game from the veteran, who to this day Carmichael calls "a mentor."
When it all came together and clicked for the big fella, Carmichael's career took off. He played 13 seasons with the Eagles through 1983 (finishing his career with one season in Dallas) and caught 579 passes for 8,978 yards and 79 touchdowns. Those numbers still stand as franchise records. Carmichael was inducted into the team's Hall of Fame in 1987.
There were some rough times early. The Eagles were not a good football team. Carmichael was an easy target for the media and the fans. He was big and gangly and made things look easy. When he dropped a pass, the fans let him have it and the media was tough on No. 17.
Carmichael kept his focus. Kept working hard. Eventually he became the greatest receiver in the history of the franchise.
"Philadelphia can be a tough place to play, but you have to understand that the fans just want to see players do the right thing," Carmichael said. "I didn't understand fans at the beginning. They didn't know me. They didn't know that I was trying my hardest. It made me put too much pressure on myself to make big plays and to help turn the team around. I heard the boos. They hurt. It took some time to understand what it all meant. You can't do it all by yourself, and once I did that, and just focused on my job, I played a lot better and the boos went away.
"I wanted to be good. I wanted to be respected on the football field. I put a lot of work into improving my game.
Once his playing career ended, Carmichael stayed in the area and was connected to the team through a series of appearances and visits on gamedays. He kept busy operating a steel fabrication business. In 1998, Carmichael approached Lurie about starting a player development program, and Carmichael was hired.
He's seen the game from the quieter days of the 1970s through the explosion in popularity of today.
"Free agency has changed a lot of the game. There isn't as much loyalty to a city as we had. That's why there is such a special connection with my teammates from the 1970s and 1980s. We cared about each other. We were here to play a game we love and to make a living, but it's nothing like today," Carmichael said. "The money is so different. It's changed things for players. My priority was to be the best that I could be, and then money came second. I don't think that's the way it is for a lot of these players today.
"I never thought I would spend the rest of my life in Philadelphia. I knew I had to get out of Jacksonville. It was time for me to get out of there and grow up – there was not a whole lot to offer there for me. I had been to Philadelphia and the area when I was much younger to see some family, but when I got here to play with the Eagles, it was quite a transition. From my fourth year on, it became my home. This is where I've raised my family and I couldn't be happier about it."
Carmichael moved from the player development role to a job as a Fan Engagement Liaison in 2014 and is now ready for his next transition.
"I'm going to do as much as I can to stay a part of the team because I want to be an asset for the team and for the City of Philadelphia. I'm excited about it," he said. "I will be at Training Camp walking the sidelines and talking to the fans and explaining as much of what's going on as I can. I will still be a part of the organization. I'm always going to be a part of the family. It's in my blood and always will be. I will always support the team and the organization and the City of Philadelphia. This is my home. I love the great city of Jacksonville, but this is where I want to stay."