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After a long wait, Harold Carmichael reflects on his football 'journey'

Dave Spadaro On the Inside 1920

CANTON, Ohio – The wait was worth it. Every painstaking moment from 18 additional months of waiting to step to the dais and deliver his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech evaporated for Harold Carmichael on Saturday here. His dream came true.

Harold Carmichael is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a football "journey," as he called it in his induction speech, complete.

"I can't describe what this means for me and my family and the fans who have supported me through all of these years," Carmichael said after he was honored second after the late Steve Sabol from NFL Films was inducted. "It's been a journey and I'm just so blessed to be here enjoying this moment. God has given me the patience. He told me, 'Just wait, Harold.' I waited, and here I am. I prayed for this day. I prayed for the moment. He got me through it. I was kind of shaking. My whole insides were shaking up there (on stage)."

Every step of his Canton experience has been treasured: mingling with the rest of the Centennial Class and the Class of 2021 (28 players were inducted into the Hall of Fame this weekend, three times the usual number), seeing the Eagles fans and the Eagles brass (Jeffrey Lurie and Don Smolenski were among those from the organization on hand), sharing the experience with a large number of former teammates, taking part in the Gold Jacket Ceremony on Friday, seeing his bust displayed on the Hall of Fame stage ... every bit of it.

Worth the wait? Oh, and then some.

"I was calm and cool for 18 months until the Gold Jacket Ceremony and then it hit me like a ton of bricks," Carmichael said. "I was crying. I was trying to be cool, wiping my tears away like it was sweat. But I was breaking down. All of my emotions came flowing through."

Presented by his agent and longtime friend Jim Solano, Carmichael thanked all of those who helped him along the way as he delivered his acceptance speech. He reached out to the fans who were in attendance in Canton and those in Philadelphia and around the world. He thanked his family. He thanked his teammates and former Head Coach Dick Vermeil. He thanked everyone – and still left people out, no doubt.

It's been that kind of weekend. It's been that kind of 18 months since the COVID-19 pandemic upended everyone's lives. Truthfully, Carmichael has been waiting since his career ended in 1984, when his 590 career receptions ranked sixth in NFL history. Since then, of course, offensive inflation has made his numbers relatively pedestrian (his 590 career receptions are now 89th most in league history), but time hasn't erased the impact Carmichael made on the Eagles or the wide receiver position. He was always larger than life, both in stature (6-feet-8) and performance.

"I played the game the way I was taught to play it," Carmichael said. "I loved it. I played hard and gave it everything I had. That's the way we did it. Every day you come in to work and you work your tail off. Gosh, it was so much fun. I wouldn't take any of it back. We had some tough seasons and that made our winning even sweeter. I heard it from people at times in the media, the fans, and that's just the nature of the fan base and the City of Philadelphia. They wanted to win and it took us some time to get on the right track."

As a remarkable test of time, Carmichael's 589 catches, 8,978 yards, and 79 touchdowns still stand as Eagles franchise records. His presence on and off the football field is his legacy. Now he's immortal in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"This is everything I hoped it would be and even more," he said. "I've got my family here with me. Friends and former teammates are here. The Eagles are here. Fans are here. All of this was a long wait and I had to be patient and take it one day at a time, but now that it's here and I'm in Canton, I'm loving every second of it."

Carmichael was a shy young man from Florida and Southern University when the Eagles made him a seventh-round draft pick in 1971. Thirteen seasons later, he was a legend. Fifty years later, he's in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

A journey, indeed.

"The fans, they are so special. The best in the world," Carmichael said. "They welcomed me in Philadelphia, a 22-year-old kid who had never been to a big city. Nobody knew who I was. They said, 'Who's that lanky guy? He's never going to make it. He's going to get beat up and broken up.' After we started mingling with each other and we had a chance to get to know each other, they embraced me and God knows I embraced the Philadelphia fan base. They've been super to me over the years and I give all my thanks to them for being Philadelphia fans. It's meant so much to me."

And he has meant so much to the Eagles, both as a player and later in his career as an administrator who oversaw the team's player relations department. He's been a pillar in the community. He's been a role model all the way. And after all of it, the ups and downs and the long wait, he's among the best of the best of the best.

"It took a long time, but it's still so sweet," he said. "The birth of my son, my marriage, a few other times breaking some records ... this is the ultimate thing. The very best. It's such a special, special night."

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