Shortly after being drafted by Green Bay in 1970, Southern’s Ken Ellis arrived on campus with his latest purchase: an MG convertible sports car.
Among the Jaguar players Ellis took for a ride was his junior teammate Harold Carmichael, who folded his 6-foot-8 frame into the passenger seat as best he could.
“He was like a sardine in a tin can,” Ellis laughed, remembering the moment. “Her head was up and her knees were in her chest… we laughed about it all the time. It was quite a spectacle – funny, really.
Carmichael has never had a problem standing out.
He arrived in Baton Rouge from his Jacksonville, Florida home with no scholarship or dormitory assignment, but his size gave him an obvious cachet. He turned his stature, physical abilities and work ethic into a four-year starter role – and he was far from done.
A year after his cramped drive, the Philadelphia Eagles drafted Carmichael in the seventh round. He went from standing out in the crowd to being a true NFL star. On Sunday, he will put a 6-foot-8 exclamation mark on his career when he is inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame.
Carmichael was elected to Hall with the 2020 class, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the two classes will enter together on the same weekend.
“If it’s a dream, I don’t want to wake up,” Carmichael said upon receiving the news. “I thought about all these things, the short and short trips. It’s the ultimate honor you can get in the NFL.
It didn’t take long for Carmichael to become a household name. He ended his career (1971-84) with 590 catches for 8,985 yards and 79 touchdowns. From 1972 to 1980, he set the NFL record for consecutive games with at least one catch (127).
But as Carmichael has flown under the radar through high school and college, he points out how impossible his trip would have been without the friends he made growing up in his neighborhood, Magnolia Gardens, and a collection of extraordinarily talented teammates at Southern, including Ellis and Pro Bowlers Mel Blount and the late Isaiah Robertson.
At Magnolia Gardens there was plenty of football, basketball and baseball to keep the kids busy. When it rained, Carmichael said, they would play in an abandoned bowling alley.
“We had the first domed stadium,” he joked.
Basketball was his best sport, the one he would play in Southern, along with the javelin and discus throwing on the track. But he also participated in a baseball trial with the Pittsburgh Pirates during his senior year at Raines High School.
Football did not come so quickly. It took him two years to handle conditioning, and in his senior year, he was probably Florida’s tallest high school quarterback.
College interest came most in basketball, but Carmichael followed a teammate to Southern.
“We got off the train and the (guy) said, ‘When I call your name, throw your bag on the cart,’” Carmichael recalls. “I was the last one standing there. He asked me, “How do you spell it? He said, ‘I can’t leave you here; throw your bags on the truck. I was the last (waiting for a key). He told me to go see the head coach, who remembered me from Jacksonville. He said, ‘Just tell them to give you a room.’ “
Southern coach Alva Tabor was glad he did. An injury saw Carmichael enter the roster as a rookie where he remained for the rest of his career, beating Robertson, who made a name for himself as a star linebacker with the Los Angeles Rams.
“We had a lot of talent on this team, and it shows in the guys drafted in 1970 and 1971,” Ellis said. “Harold was a great teammate. He worked hard at his craft, was attentive to detail, competitive even in practice. He was a very jovial guy who laughed a lot.
It wasn’t always fun playing against Blount, the Steelers All-Pro cornerback, drafted in 1970.
“He was hitting everyone except me with both hands with a clothesline,” Carmichael said with a smile in an internal Eagles video feature. “He’s the guy who got me ready for the NFL in practice every day.”
Blount said it was not that one-sided.
“The first thing you think of is he must be a basketball player. What is he doing here?” Said Blount. “Then you see him riding the roads. He was different. “He was different, and if the ball was anywhere in his zone he was going to catch it. We clashed and got better.
Carmichael has not forgotten his roots. Southern athletic director Roman Banks said he’s always been there to lend a helping hand, either financially or with advice for his old school.
“He’s been very good for our sports department and our university,” Banks said. “I try to be respectful to all of our former athletes, but I really appreciate his opinion.”
The hometown team feels like he never left Magnolia Gardens, even though Carmichael made Philadelphia their home.
“With each accomplishment we have felt a sense of pride that it is our Harold,” said childhood friend Justine Freeman. “He was a very good friend to us. His character never changed.