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Didinger: Harold Carmichael finally gets his due

It was the seventh round of the 1971 NFL Draft. At that point, there was no ESPN and no one had heard of Mel Kiper, Jr. The NFL Draft was not the media colossus that it is today.

As a reporter covering the draft for the Philadelphia Bulletin, I was in the press room at Veterans Stadium when Jim Gallagher, the Eagles' publicity director, came through distributing one-page bios on the team's latest draft pick. It was some kid named Harold Carmichael.

I glanced at the sheet and immediately saw what appeared to be a mistake.

"Hey, Jim," I said. "This has to be wrong. It says here this guy is 6-foot-8."

"That's what they told us," Jim said. "I called the school just to be sure. They said he's 6-8."

It sounded crazy. A 6-8 receiver? And he's a seventh-round draft pick? The 161st selection overall? It seemed unlikely. And given the Eagles' history in recent drafts, it didn't come with great expectations.

A few days later, Carmichael walked onto the Veterans Stadium turf for the first time and jaws dropped. He was every bit of 6-8 and, amazingly enough, he could actually run and catch. OK, we thought, maybe he will make the team after all.

Well, Harold Carmichael did a lot more than that.

He played 13 seasons for the Eagles. He caught more passes (589) for more yards (8,978) and scored more touchdowns (79) than any other receiver in franchise history. He played a total of 180 regular-season games, 162 of them in a row.

Now he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Today, they announced the Centennial Slate for the Class of 2020 and Carmichael was part of it along with another all-time great with Philly connections, the late Steve Sabol, who was the president and driving force of NFL Films for more than 50 years.

I'm delighted for Carmichael because I was there the day he was drafted and I saw him every step of the way through his career with the Eagles. I tried many times in my days as a Hall of Fame selector to make the case for his induction and I was disappointed that it fell short. But the wait is finally over.

I was with Carmichael last night at an event at the NaBrasa Brazilian Steakhouse in Horsham, Pennsylvania. It was a Q&A sponsored by SportsRadio WIP with former head coach Dick Vermeil and Carmichael celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Eagles' first Super Bowl team, 1980. It was a fun night with lots of memories and lots of love for both Vermeil and Carmichael.

The Hall of Fame vote made it very timely. Vermeil was a nominee for one of the two coaching spots in this year's class. He learned over the weekend that those spots went to Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson. I actually think Dick was more deserving but he said he wasn't surprised nor was he upset.

He talked more about how much he wanted this honor for Carmichael, a player he said "is like a son to me." I know that's true. Dick was a coach who wore his heart on his sleeve and became close to his players. It was particularly true for Carmichael, who was emotionally beaten down when Dick took the Eagles' job in 1976.

"We were losing and I was getting booed," Carmichael said. "I didn't like it. It hurt me. I always tried my best but it seemed like we weren't getting any better. The best thing that happened was Dick coming in. He built my confidence back up. If it wasn't for him, I never would've had the career I had."

"No matter what happens tomorrow," Carmichael said, referring to the Hall of Fame vote, "I owe everything to this guy." He pointed at the 83-year-old coach sitting next to him.

I don't know why it took so long for the voters to recognize Carmichael's achievements. When he retired in 1984, Carmichael ranked among the top 10 receivers in NFL history. He held 11 Eagles records and he had a streak of 127 consecutive games with a reception. That was an NFL record until Steve Largent, another Hall of Famer, finally surpassed it.

An interesting footnote to Carmichael's selection: The last two Eagles voted into the Hall of Fame (Carmichael and Brian Dawkins) are both graduates of William Raines High School in Jacksonville, Florida. Lito Sheppard, the Pro Bowl cornerback, also went to that school. Note to executive vice president/general manager Howie Roseman: You might want to start scouting more games at William Raines High.

In addition to his record-setting career on the field, Carmichael worked for the organization for 20 years as director of player development and alumni affairs. He was always there, towering over the crowd, as a symbol of what it meant to be a Philadelphia Eagle. He was voted NFL Man of the Year in 1980 and he is still very active in the community even in retirement.

"I was born and raised in Jacksonville," he told the crowd last night, "but this is home for me. I love the people in Philadelphia."

I have a feeling there will be a lot of people from Philadelphia sharing that love with him this summer in Canton, Ohio.

An award-winning writer and producer, Ray Didinger was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995. He has also won six Emmy Awards for his work as a writer and producer at NFL Films. The five-time Pennsylvania Sportswriter of the Year is a writer and analyst for NBC Sports Philadelphia. Didinger will provide Eagles fans a unique historical perspective on the team throughout the year for You can read all of hisEagles History columns here.He is also the author ofThe Eagles Encyclopedia: Champions Edition which is in bookstores now.

Take a look at the best photos from Harold Carmichael's Hall-of-Fame career.

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