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HBCU Heroes

For Philadelphia Eagles’ Harold Carmichael, NFL dreams first took flight at Southern University

The Hall of Fame inductee once held the NFL record of 127 consecutive games with a catch

When Harold Carmichael is enshrined as a member of the 15-person Centennial Slate for the Class of 2020 in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it will be a huge accomplishment for one of the game’s tallest wide receivers. Carmichael, at 6 feet, 8 inches, had size, length and speed, which made him one of the toughest assignments for NFL defensive backs.

Carmichael played with the Philadelphia Eagles from 1971-1983, when he made a great catch after great catch. He caught 590 passes for 8,985 yards and 59 touchdowns in his NFL career. During his playing days, he used his height and quickness to set a then-NFL record of 127 consecutive games with a reception from 1972-1980. He ended his career as the Eagles’ all-time franchise leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.

Harold Carmichael (right) of the Philadelphia Eagles, pulls away from Lyle Alzado (left) of the Cleveland Browns after catching a pass early in the game in Philadelphia Nov. 5, 1979. The catch broke an NFL record for passes caught in consecutive games at 106 games. Gene Puskar/AP Photo

“That’s what they paid me for,” Carmichael said. “That’s why I was playing football. That’s what I was here to do was catch passes. A lot of people thought I would catch one pass to keep the streak going. We put this play in. It was a quick screen. They call it a bubble screen now. That was a play I averaged 18 yards a catch on. It was not just to get a catch, but to make plays.”

That’s what Carmichael did throughout his NFL career. In 1971, he was drafted in the seventh round by the Eagles out of Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Carmichael showed flashes of brilliance his first two seasons, but it was in 1973 when he really blossomed into a tremendous receiver. He had 67 catches for 1,116 yards and nine touchdowns and was selected for the Pro Bowl. Carmichael played with tight end Charle Young, wide receiver Don Zimmerman, quarterback Roman Gabriel and running back Tom Sullivan.

“Harold revolutionized the wide receiver position and became one of the most productive players of his era and in the history of our franchise,” said Eagles chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie. “He was inducted into the Eagles Hall of Fame in 1987 and his records will always rank among the all-time greats, but Harold’s true contributions to our game extend far beyond his on-field accomplishments.”

“A lot of times you’re as good as the people around you,” Carmichael said. “I was around some very good ballplayers like Charle Young, Roman Gabriel and Tom Sullivan. We’re a part of that group they used to call the ‘Fire High Gang.‘ ” (Because the receivers were all tall, Gabriel could “fire high.”)

“With that we played off each other. You know, pushing each other, encouraging each other to do good. When you have good people around you, it tends to kind of boost you a lot. That happened to me. Being around good people is always going to be good for me.”

Harold Carmichael of the Philadelphia Eagles is shown during a game against the St. Louis Cardinals in Philadelphia Dec. 14, 1980.

AP Photo/Clem Murray

Carmichael was a huge factor in helping the Eagles land four consecutive playoff appearances from 1978-1981. In 1980, he was a key player in guiding the Eagles to the organization’s first Super Bowl appearance. The Eagles won the NFC East Division and defeated the Dallas Cowboys 20-7 to win the conference to get to the Super Bowl.

The Oakland Raiders beat the Eagles 27-10 to win the Super Bowl. The Eagles finished with a 13-4 record that year.

“That was one of the highlights, going to the Super Bowl,” said Carmichael, who had 48 receptions for 815 yards and nine touchdowns that season. “Unfortunately, we didn’t win, but that was part of my journey when people ask about some of my highlights, that would be the thing.

“Dick Vermeil [former Eagles head coach] coming in and putting together a team, bringing [quarterback Ron] Jaworski with [running back] Wilbert Montgomery and that offensive line that we had. The defense, we had some really good ballplayers. It was really a special team that I always think about and always remember.”

Carmichael will be going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame with two other players from historically black colleges and universities: Donnie Shell of the Pittsburgh Steelers and South Carolina State, and Winston Hill, who played with New York Jets, Los Angeles Rams and Texas Southern.

The Eagles had a lot of players from historically black schools on the Super Bowl team as well as other squads. Carmichael, who is a member of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) Hall of Fame and Black College Football Hall of Fame, remembers some of these great players.

“We had Claude Humphrey [Tennessee State], John Outlaw [Jackson State], Charlie Smith [Grambling State], Joe ‘Turkey’ Jones [Tennessee State] and so many others,” Carmichael said. “Eagles had a bunch of black college players. It was always good to these guys who went to HBCU schools.”

Carmichael grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, where he played football at William M. Raines High School. After his scholastic career, Carmichael went to Southern, where he played football, basketball and track and field. During his college career, he played with defensive back Mel Blount, a four-time Super Bowl champion with the Pittsburgh Steelers and a Pro Football Hall of Famer.

Donnie Shell (left) and Harold Carmichael (right) embrace after being selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame 2020 Centennial Class during the NFL Honors awards presentation at Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami. Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

“Mel Blount was one of my college teammates,” said Carmichael, who played for the Jaguars from 1967-70 and earned All-SWAC honors his senior year. “He prepared me to come to the NFL. We played together for three years at Southern. It was a great competitive situation there. He was one of my favorite people. My three years with him was awesome.”

Carmichael, who went on to serve as the team’s director of player and community relations from 1998-2017, was named the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1970s. He was chosen as the NFL Man of the Year in 1980. After 13 years with the Eagles, he finished his career with the Dallas Cowboys in 1984.

“It’s a great feeling right now,” Carmichael said. “It’s still kind of sinking in a little bit. It’s the ultimate goal that you can get in the NFL. Right now, it’s no other feeling that you can have a great and humble feeling.”

Carmichael will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in September in Canton, Ohio.

Donald Hunt, a writer for the Philadelphia Tribune, is a longtime ESPN contributor who has covered Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Follow him on Twitter at @DHUNTTRIB.