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Bayou Classic

Harold Carmichael says major sports networks need to get behind HBCUs

Carmichael, a 2018 Black College Football Hall of Fame inductee, enjoyed his first Bayou Classic in over two decades

Harold Carmichael addressed a crowd of student-athletes, staff, managers and coaches during the annual Bayou Classic Coaches Luncheon. It was the first time Carmichael was able to enjoy the weekend festivities in more than 20 years.

Through the days, Carmichael reminisced with old friends and created memories with new ones. Being around former and current players from Southern University gave Carmichael the opportunity to reflect on his own career. The Southern University alum began his journey as a walk-on and one of the tallest members of the team. He worked his way up from a third-string wide receiver and proved himself enough to be recognized as Freshman of the Year by the end of the 1969 season.

The same tenacity and drive that Carmichael brought to Southern were displayed in his 14-season NFL career. After being drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles as a seventh-round pick in 1971, Carmichael went on to have a successful 13 seasons with the team, and one season, his very last, with the Dallas Cowboys. Besides playing 182 regular-season games with 590 receptions, 8,985 receiving yards and 79 touchdowns with the Eagles, Carmichael also represented the team in four Pro Bowls. At 6-foot-8, Carmichael remains the tallest wide receiver in the history of the NFL.

Carmichael, now 68, worked several seasons in the Eagles’ front office and is now enjoying retirement. However, the former receiver is still active in the football world and still helps the Eagles during special events. He is one of five former historically black college and university (HBCU) players and one coach who will be going into the Black College Football Hall of Fame (BCFHOF) in 2018.

Although his Jaguars lost to Grambling in this year’s Bayou Classic, he believes HBCU football can benefit from high-profile games such as the 2018 Celebration Bowl. The Undefeated caught up with Carmichael during Bayou Classic weekend in New Orleans to discuss his induction into the 2018 BCFHOF class, the Bayou Classic and the Philadelphia Eagles’ impressive season.

You’re back at the Bayou Classic, speaking at the coaches luncheon and still celebrating your Hall of Fame selection. How are you taking all of this in?

The past couple of months have been really, really an honor for me. Being selected to be inducted into the Black College Football Hall of Fame, and then a little before that, they’re telling me to come here for this event at the Bayou Classic. This has been a really, really great honor for me. I’ve been so excited about coming down here. I’ve been trying to get back down here for the past 20-something years for the Bayou Classic, but work wouldn’t let me. I’ve been in New Orleans hundreds of times, but I could not get to the Bayou Classic but once. Now that I’m retired I can do it, and I will be back.

How do you feel about the Bayou Classic today? Does it still hold the same reverence?

Well, when we played it was not the Bayou Classic. We were going from Southern to Grambling, and I see it’s gotten so big. I always remember how big it had gotten around my senior year, that they just didn’t have enough space to put everybody, so I can see why they put it in a bigger venue. Coming to New Orleans was one of the greatest things. This is the second one I was able to attend. This is a great event, and I wish more people had been able to experience this. I tell people to come and see the football game, and people talk about the bands. The bands are great, and they talk about Grambling’s band, but nobody tops the Human Jukebox [of Southern University].

You may be a little biased!

I tell you what, one of the years we beat Grambling, one of the greatest chills that I got is when we beat them, and we had all these tubas and they brought out No matter how hard you try, you can’t stop this now [‘Renegades of Funk’ by Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force]. I got chills. I’ll never forget that moment, how I felt about beating Grambling.

Hampton University made the decision to exit the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, which was huge. What could that potentially mean for other HBCU programs?

I can’t really talk about it because I don’t know a whole lot about that, but we need to get stronger as HBCUs because it’s so important for the communities to be part of that. We need to find a way to get stronger. We need to get more people to be supportive of it. I want to do as much as I can to make it better.

What do you think HBCUs can do to help recruit top players?

We have to get that exposure from television: ESPN, and even the NFL Network. All of the sports networks need to get behind that. I think about this all the time. They have thousands of cameras. They need to put five or six at these HBCU games and expose them. They have all these channels. They can put them on at least one of these channels for the same amount of times other schools get.

How did Southern prepare you for your NFL career?

Some of the guys I played with at Southern — Mel Blount, Robert Bennett, Kenny Ellis, Isiah Robertson — there’s been so many guys, my roommates Howard Hall and Donnell Smith, these guys have really helped to mold me into what I am right now. Mel Blount, again, was one of the people who took me under his wing, along with Robert Bennett, when I was a freshman at Southern. They really helped me to develop my skills. Mel Blount made it tough on me, but most of all it got me ready for the NFL.

Some players are hesitant to choose HBCUs because they’re afraid of being overlooked. What would you say to them?

Well, you gotta be good anyway. Any school you go to, people are going to see you. There’s a lot of other schools where scouts go all over, and it’s not just limited to big universities. They do come to black colleges. If you’re good, you’ll be OK. It’s just up to that player. I know you don’t get a lot of television time, which a lot of other guys get, but there are scouts that come out and see all of these players and try to figure out whether they want them to be on the team.

Are you still an ambassador for the Eagles?

A little bit. I do a few things for the team and special events for them, which hopefully I’ll be doing more. I do a little other specialty things for the players, so that keeps me over at the practice field just about every day.

It’s been 13 years since the Eagles’ last Super Bowl appearance, and they look like they’re trying to go back again. How does that feel for you?

I tell you, the whole city is jacked up right now. Our whole team is doing a great job. Everybody’s talking about Carson Wentz, who’s doing a phenomenal job. I tell you what, being an offensive player, I can’t only talk about the offense. Our defense has been great, led by Fletcher Cox and Malcolm Jenkins. He came to Philadelphia and he’s making a mark on the city, not only on the football field but in the community. … Malcolm and the other guys are doing a fantastic job in Philadelphia, which makes it really exciting now in Philadelphia. If you’ve never been there during a time like this, you’re missing a lot.

How far do you think the Eagles are going this year?

Well, we want to win [the next game]. We win [the next game], then we worry about the following week.

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.