Harry Carson: media luncheon transcript
Pre Hall of Fame Induction Press Conference
Gallagher's Steak House
New York, New York
Folks, we have got a collection of humanity that rivals none in the other room, which is making its way in here right now.
The formal part of this program will be Bill Parcells will say a few words. Willie Jeffries, Harry's college coach at South Carolina State, will say a few words. George Martin, because we can't bring 15 players up here and George played with Harry longer than any of his former teammates, George will say a few words, then Harry will say a few words.
Once Harry is done up here, we'll pull this podium out of here so we can spread this front table out a little bit, and we'll have an open Q and A with the whole cast of characters here.
Coach Parcells will lead off, set the tone.
I appreciate all of you players showing up here to pay tribute to Harry. When Pat asked me to do that, to say a few words, I told him this would be an easy one for me.
Over the past several years, five or six years, I've been getting calls every time the vote for the Hall of Fame came up from different media members, former players, friends, everybody that was interested in Harry. They always asked me, "Bill, you think Harry has a chance?"
My answer was always the same to them. I said, "Well, it will be a cinch."
They would respond by saying, "He was one of your players, you're prejudiced." I would agree with that. I would say, "Yeah, I am prejudiced."
They would say, "He has good talent." I'd say, "Yeah, but talent is a common thing." Look at all these guys right here; every one of them had talent, okay? It's like getting the lemons; you still have to make the lemonade. He did it.
Here are the reasons why I think Harry has some special qualities that are unique, and I think those are the only people that should be in the Hall of Fame, are the ones with unique qualities.
One, not many people know this, Marty knows, we were talking about it before the luncheon, Harry made a transition that was very difficult in professional football. He was a small college player, he never played on his feet in college, he was a defensive lineman. His college coach, Willie Jeffries, prepared him well. Marty Schottenheimer must have had the vision, because he got him started.
I can only think of two other players in my tenure in the National Football League that have played with any success that made the same transition, and that's Matt Millen and a guy name LeVon Kirkland, defensive tackle to 9 time Pro Bowl linebacker.
The other thing is he stood the test of time. He stood the test of time. He had to walk down that tunnel on a lot of icy Sundays in the Meadowlands when he wasn't feeling pretty good, probably wondering how he was going to get through these games he had to play. But he was there for all of us, most every Sunday for upwards of 12 years.
It wasn't like he didn't have good players around him. Take a look at these guys right here. He was able to separate himself from good players on a good team. He was a vital part. He was a key part to very successful defenses sometimes great defenses for a sustained period of years.
Here's some things you don't know. He's a good practice player. He's a team leader. He's a defensive signal caller. He served as captain. Those jobs aren't available to people that are selfish. They're only available to guys that are good teammates, good players, good leaders.
The only thing about the son of a gun he couldn't do is he couldn't win a coin toss. I sent him out there for a hundred coin tosses, I bet you he didn't win 20 (smiling).
Every time I would talk to members of the media about Harry, I told them, I said, Why don't you ask some guys that really know, call Schottenheimer or Bill Belichick, or guys who spent their lives studying film and evaluating players, guys that really know. I guess they finally listened, talked to somebody.
So in a couple weeks, Harry, you're going to join your buddy, Taylor. That's a nice pair, a pair I'm very proud of. It's a pair that might beat any full house that I know. You're going to join him.
I want to commend you on your career, on how you helped me personally. I think all of us in this room that were with you at any period of time, probably our futures wouldn't have been the same hadn't you come along at the same time we did. I thank you for that. I congratulate you.
You're a difference maker, pal (applause).
Coach Jeffries, the microphone is all yours.
Thank you. President Bush couldn't make it, but he sent a wire. So here's your wire (presenting Harry Carson a wire hanger).
Anyway, let me say that I've been involved in every important event in Harry's life. And, Bill, the reason he was not a good coin toss caller, I had him doing that, but I had to take it away from him. We went to play Georgia Southern. They said, "Captain Carson from South Carolina State, call it in the air," and Harry said "50 cent."
So you shouldn't have even put him out there (laughter).
But I certainly would like to thank the New York Giants organization for having this press conference for Harry Carson to show your appreciation that he is an NFL Hall of Famer representing the New York Giants. Thank you, also, for inviting us up here.
It's easy for me when your best player is your best person. What a great that's just so great for a college coach, when your best player does everything right, was an honor student.
And I would like to say this. Charlie Brown played for the Redskins, and Edwin Bailey played for the Seahawks, and Donnie Shell had just graduated. They're a pretty good group down there. I played a 2 9 defense, put 9 over there, and Harry and Donnie on this side. Not two deep into the sidelines.
Charlie Brown and Edwin always copied Harry's paper because Harry could really ace a test; he really could. I'm not just putting that on.
Charlie Brown and Edwin would go early to get their seats so they would be right on Harry's shoulder, and Harry would come in late, ace the test, and leave. Old Charlie Brown and Edwin, they were looking, they got it all, they got everything. The next day the instructor said, Congratulations, class class, you know one of those big time professors we had three young men to make 100 on my test: Harry Carson, Harry Carson, and Harry Carson (laughter).
They wrote it all.
To Bill and to Marty Schottenheimer and to Bill Belichick also, I know the coaches did a lot, and we shouldn't have had to try and get votes like Harry was a politician. We shouldn't have had to do that. They should have known the difference between a middle linebacker and an inside linebacker, some of the guys that were writing. They just didn't know the difference, the nomenclature of the techniques, of the intricacies of what it took to play that position.
We're happy that the votes came in. When you need 80%, that's a big percentage.
Harry, I enjoyed doing the Valerie Fund with you.
I'm not going to talk as long as Coach Parcells because my little talk will resemble what Elizabeth Taylor told each of her eight husbands: "I won't keep you long, I'm just gonna keep it short" (laughter).
We had a great golf tournament for Harry. I'd like to say this in closing. Harry, congratulations. It couldn't happen to a greater guy. We thank you for representing South Carolina State. I have a little note for you from Coach Buddy Pough, he was Harry's teammate. I'm just going to give it to you.
In that note from South Carolina State University, they're simply saying to Harry, Thank you for representing us so well. They are still striving, Harry, to keep that level of competence.
Thank you very much (applause).
George, it's all you. George Martin.
Good afternoon. Here's what I'd like to say to John Mara: John, thank you very much for putting this on, a wonderful tradition of New York football, the Giants, that organization. It shows the class and the dignity that that organization represents. I am just proud to be up here among this distinguished group of alumni. It is a proud fraternity of which if you ever get entry into it, you will never forget it.
I'm here today for one really simple fact, and that's to congratulate my long time friend, because I'm the only one of his teammates that played with him for the full breadth and length of his career.
What I'd like to share with you today has nothing to do with his exploits on the field, but, more importantly, the type of man that Harry Carson is. To me, the greatest attributes that he has did not take place on the field of play. Although this Hall of Fame induction has been the journey of a thousand miles, I can tell you this, and Harry would echo the fact, that both the journey and the destination have been all the more sweet because of the people he has surrounded himself with.
Each one of us on this podium up here are indebted to Harry to some degree or another. I want to share with you just one series of stories that really reflect the kind of man that my friend is, because somehow this will be lost in the back pages of the sporting news. You won't see it found in Sports Illustrated or anything like that, but it talks about the quality of the man himself.
For those of you know who our organization, and I mean our organization, both of us who are active players and former players, took a hit this last year with our leadership and losing some of those individuals who have been instrumental in building this proud franchise. Of course it was expected of all of us to be there, front and present, on an occasion such as that. Sure enough, our leader and I include myself in that Harry Carson was front and center, as was expected.
What you don't know is that throughout his entire career, those individuals who were less than stellar dignitaries have also seen the presence of Harry Carson making his tribute and his respect.
It started out so many years ago. I remember an incident with Doug Kotar. For those of you with graying temples and expanding waistlines, you will remember the name Doug Kotar, No. 44, played with the Giants. He ultimately succumbed to cancer. It was Harry Carson who gathered all of his teammates, troops, and formulated a visitation to Doug who was still being hospitalized, and subsequently set up a scholarship fund for his kids. That spoke to me in ways that you could never imagine.
Subsequently, there was an individual who was in a car accident, well, not too long ago in which he almost lost his life. He stated to me emphatically that had it not been for Harry Carson paying out of his own pocket, coming to his bedside and reassuring him that there was something for him to fight and to live for, that he would not have made it. That was a backup quarterback by the name of Jeff Rutledge.
Most recently, there's a teammate, former teammate, whose name has faded from the annals of professional football, who started out with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who ended up with the New York Giants, who unfortunately passed away. He did so with no fanfare, no bands, no parades. Yet, still the gentleman who we call our team captain, Harry Carson, was there front and center, paying his respects, acknowledging the fraternity of which he was a part of. That's the kind of person that Harry Carson is.
So I can tell you in all honesty that his ascension into the Hall of Fame is well deserved, but it's not because he's been a 9 time Pro Bowler, it's not because he's been a leader by example on the field, and that each and every one of us is proud to follow him into the field of battle; it's been because he realizes that the impact in the field of life is more important than the impact that he's had in the field of play.
I want to congratulate my partner and tell him that it's been a real pleasure and a privilege, and that the honor George Martin holds most sacredly is that one day he can tell his grandchildren that he played with the Legendary Harry Carson.
Thank you all. And, Harry, very well deserved, my friend (applause).
The podium is yours, Harry, if you want to say a few words. Then we'll do a Q and A with the whole group.
George, you got me on that one.
Good afternoon, everybody. I want to echo what has already been said, especially by George. I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to play the game of football starting in high school, Boys Club, high school, and to go on and play at South Carolina State, play black college football and play amongst some of the best talent to play like Walter Payton, John Stallworth, Doug Williams, and so forth.
I stand here today because South Carolina State, in particular Coach Jeffries, quipped me into being a leader, into being a good player on the college level. He became basically my father figure, my mentor, and he was the one who delivered the news to me that my father had passed away. We've always maintained a very close relationship. Any time I have any important decisions to make, I try to run it past Coach Jeffries because I trust his wisdom.
When he asked me to make the switch from defensive end to nose tackle my senior year, I was like, Whoa, don't want to play nose tackle. But for the betterment of the team, I was willing to make that adjustment.
As it turned out, it was really a blessing to have been able to play the nose tackle position as a senior because then Marty Schottenheimer had the foresight to draft me. I want to thank Marty, because Marty could have drafted anyone. He had the pick in the fourth round. Giants had two fourth round picks. First round pick, drafted Troy Archer, and two fourth round picks. He could have drafted anyone, but he chose me, a player who had never played a position of linebacker, to draft, and he brought me to camp a month early to teach me how to play middle linebacker.
Everything I tried to do, that he tried to get me to do, I did ass backwards, but I think I got the same or better results. He just sort of threw his hands up and just allowed me to go out and play.
Marty is an excellent teacher, excellent coach, and I owe him so much because Marty prepared me for coaches to follow. Marty prepared me for Bill Parcells. Bill instituted the 3 4 defense. I had become very comfortable playing a (4-3) defense. I was able to make the adjustment, especially with you bringing in a talent like a Lawrence Taylor. I mean, I had the opportunity to play with Brad and Brian Kelley, Brad Van Pelt and Brian Kelley. We thought that we had a strong linebacking core, and we sort of told the Giants and told the media, Why would you bother wanting to go out and choose another linebacker when you have three really good linebackers? And they chose this guy, and it didn't take us long. It was like maybe the second day at practice that we realized why they chose him with the second pick in the draft.
But Bill Parcells worked with me. He knew I was a pretty good linebacker, but he knew that I could do better, and he worked with me to hone my skills and just get better.
When Bill took over as the head coach, I sort of fell into the lap of Bill Belichick. There were times we didn't know if Belichick knew what he was talking about or not (laughter)...
But lo and behold, he was one of the most brilliant coaches that we had the opportunity to play for. It's really been a pleasure to have had the opportunity, first, to play the game of football. It's been great to have had the opportunity to play for the Giants organization. I've learned so much from these men who are up here as coaches how to play the game hard, fair, play smart, be in shape, and that's all I wanted to do when I stepped on the field. I wanted to not venture too far away from what they were trying to teach me and teach us to do, but play smart defense.
The guys who are here, I love all of these guys. This is why I'm standing here. These coaches, all of these players. Jim Burt, my personal protector. He started the whole Gatorade thing. It was his idea because he knew I was Parcells' guy and he knew that if he did it by himself, Parcells was gonna have his ass. So he was smart enough, even though he went to the University of Miami, he was smart enough to know that he better have some help, so he asked me to help him. That was in '85. Then '86, the whole thing sort of just took off.
Phil Simms, who battled through adversity and established how tough he was as a quarterback and basically led the Giant organization with his leadership in the '80s and then '90s.
I look at Pepper Johnson over here. I remember we were in Green Bay and, you know, Saturday afternoon, you're flying to Green Bay to play a game. There's nothing to do in Green Bay. I remember watching Minnesota and Ohio State, and I kept looking at this guy, I think it was No. 99 or something like that. I said, That guy's gonna be a great player for somebody some day. Lo and behold, the Giants drafted him, and they drafted him to play my spot. I made sure every time he did something, I did it a little bit better. He kept me going.
Gary Reasons, who came in. Gary helped to solidify the linebacking core. As linebackers, we took a great amount of pride in the way we played the game, because the Giants had great defense. They didn't have anything else, they had great defense. That's one of the things I wanted to do as a player when I came on board, was to help perpetuate the defense of the organization. So Gary Reasons came on board after Brad and Brian had left, and Carl Banks, and he was able to help the linebacking core and play well.
And on and on and on.
Brad and Brian, those are the guys who got Lawrence Taylor put into rehab (laughter).
I had nothing to do with it. I had absolutely nothing to do with it. Lawrence followed those guys around, that's why he went to rehab (laughter).
But standing here, I can stand here and talk all day about what happened on the football field, but, truth be known, I'm more about off the field. It was about these guys were my guys, whether it was in high school, whether it was in college. Those guys in college, those were my guys. I felt personally responsible for them.
Coach Jeffries can talk about the story about where we went to play I think North Carolina A&T and we were staying at a hotel. There were some girls trying to get into a room. Lo and behold, I was the one who had to go out and make these girls go away.
Yeah, right. Yeah, okay.
Lo and behold (laughter).
But I felt a sense of responsibility as a leader, as a team leader at South Carolina State, and I think I brought it on to the Giants.
It's one thing to go out and play on the football field week in and week out. It's another thing to go through what you have to go through in training camp and during the course of the week, and you have to try to keep things together. It's not easy to keep things together, especially when the team isn't playing well and we have to circle our wagons against you guys in the media because you're always looking for something to write about negatively. We had to find ways of just staying together.
That's when I would go to Bill and I'd say, "Bill, can I take the guys to Beefsteak Charlie's." We'd go, all the guys would come together. We would have drinks, eat at Beefsteak Charlie's. I think situations like that are where you find out what people are made of. You can play together and not really know each other, but when you let down your guard and you're able to share a meal together and just be together, you learn what makes another person tick.
So I've always loved and cared for the guys who I played with. I don't know, it's just something that is inside of me. Getting in the car and driving seven hours to see Jeff Rutledge because I wanted to make sure that he was okay and then getting the word back to my teammates, that, to me, is what being a leader is all about.
The situation with Doug Kotar, after practice, you know, going and spending time with a guy who's in a hospital, a guy who you've gone through wars with, together. You have to care about individuals like that. That's the thing that I feel good about. It's not so much about how many tackles I made in a game and all of that stuff, it's about these guys up here. Because as I wear this Super Bowl ring, there are only 52 other guys who have earned the right to wear this ring. We're really bonded.
But I think anybody who steps on the football field and goes through what you have to go through, especially on a day like today, you bond. I mean, you really have to love the game to put all of that equipment on and go out and play. And when you don't want to run one more lap but you have to, and your teammates are urging you and they're just encouraging you to make it through one more lap, whether it's on the college level, on the high school level, on the professional level, you know, you bond. You're going through all those experiences together.
So those are the things that I think about more than anything else. You can throw stats out there. You can throw numbers out there. If those were the reasons why I didn't make the Hall of Fame years ago, it really doesn't matter to me, because all of that stuff is irrelevant. But I know, and I know very clearly, this is the reason why I wrote the letter to the Hall of Fame to have my name removed from consideration even though everybody said, Don't do it. I felt very comfortable with it. I knew where I stood with my teammates. I knew that I'd earned their respect over the years. I also knew that those people who I played against, by virtue of the fact of going to nine Pro Bowls, my teammates could not vote for me, my coaches could not vote for me. It's the people I played against who voted for me. The one thing you can't do, you can fool your coaches sometimes, you can fool your teammates sometimes, but you can't fool those people that you line up against. So I knew that I had earned their respect.
So I felt comfortable just going on with my life and just enjoying what I had accomplished as a player. I feel, once again, very, very blessed to have had the opportunity to know all of these individuals up here, to be coached by all of these coaches because they're really fantastic coaches. They know what buttons to push, they know how to get the max out of the players that they've coached.
I feel tremendously honored to have had the opportunity to play with all of these guys up here. I consider them my brothers. If they ever need anything, they know that they can just pick up the phone and I'll always be there for them. So that's what this whole Hall of Fame thing is for me. It's about them, because I certainly wouldn't be here without these coaches, without these players, and so many other players who have had a profound impact on me over the years.
In a couple of weeks, I know many of these guys won't be able to be there; coaches have to coach, and some of these players will probably be going to play golf instead of coming to camp, but that's okay, Curtis McGriff.
Lawrence will be there in his golf attire.
But it's just an honor to be elected to the Hall of Fame and represent all of these guys here, because in terms of my own personal thing, I don't need honors to validate who I am. I think I said that over and over. Every year Gary would call me, Gary Myers, and Steve Serby would call me. They'd wonder how I felt about the whole Hall of Fame thing. I never needed honors to validate who I am. I feel very comfortable, very secure with who I am. But the specialness of this whole thing is about these guys here, about these coaches, about my athletic directors at South Carolina State, Andy Robustelli who was the GM when I was drafted, George Young who we had our battles but I had the utmost respect for him, and Wellington Mara, the owner of the organization, who lived and died with the team, who sometimes didn't get a fair shake here in New York, especially back in the late '70s. But I think about Mr. Mara and how much he wanted this honor for me. A question might come up today about the letter and my whole mindset about going to Canton, but when I went to Mr. Mara's going home service, I realized how much he wanted this for me and how even if I was elected, I had to act nice, play fair. I didn't want to tarnish his memory, because this is something that he wanted so much for me, as is the case of Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Marty Schottenheimer, Willie Jeffries, William Long, my high school coach, Ladson Cubbage, my other high school coach.
I give thanks to all of them and all of these guys here, because they've made it possible for me to be here in this position this afternoon.
Thank you (applause).
I promised him that if I was the President, that he would be my Helen Thomas because he was the first member of the media who I encountered when I came to not in training camp, but even prior to training camp. This man and I go back a long, long way. So Dr. Howard Livingston, you get the honor of asking the first question.
DR. HOWARD LIVINGSTON:
I think it might be more interesting if I talk about how we first met. It was two weeks before camp opened up. Harry was there, learning how to run backwards. He was out there on the field running backwards. We were in the cafeteria and he was eating at one table and I was at another table. I looked over, something didn't look right. I go over there and say, You're too (inaudible) to be one of my students. The Giants haven't arrived yet. Who are you?
He said to me, Harry Carson.
I said, "Fourth Round draft pick, defensive end from South Carolina State."
His chin hit his chest. He said, "I didn't think anybody north of the Mason Dixon line ever heard of me," and I said, "Well, you met one who has." That was our first meeting, and for 30 years we've been friends.
HARRY CARSON: For 30 years Dr. Livingston and I have always been friends. He's always been a very, very good supporter of mine. I think he's also one of those individuals who sort of lived and died with the whole process of the Hall of Fame.
Dr. Livingston, I'm so glad you're here.
Q: Two parts. Dorothy Jo McDuffie is she still alive?
As far as I know, she's still alive.
Q: For those of you who don't know, she took Harry to North Carolina A&T
She took me to South Carolina State.
Q: They reneged on the scholarship.
Coach Jeffries was at North Carolina A&T when they reneged on the whole scholarship.
Q: She was a teacher who said you're going to go to college, went down there, and made Coach Jeffries watch film?
Yeah, I was a little well, I still am a bit impulsive but my coach in high school, I had a bad ankle. He yelled, as coaches do sometimes. He said, Carson, if you can't run any faster than that, get off the field.
So I got off the field. And so with that, basically, I cut my own throat in terms of scholarships and so forth. But I'm just one of those people that react sometimes and I don't think about what I do, I just go ahead and react.
So when I walked off the field, basically I was quitting the football team. So they finished the season and there were no scholarship offers in the mail for me. But James Madison, who was one of our assistant principals, thought that I should be playing somewhere. He packed me up and took me to North Carolina A&T, his alma mater. This is when I first met Coach Jeffries, because he was an assistant coach at North Carolina A&T at that time. Coach Hornsby Howell (phonetic) offered me a full scholarship. I thought I had it made in the shade. I went back home a few days later, got a letter from North Carolina A&T indicating that they did not have scholarship money.
So Dorothy Jo McDuffie, who worked as a teacher and also as an advisor in my school, my high school, she also thought I should be playing ball somewhere. She packed me up and took me to South Carolina State. It was at that point that I met Orrie Banks, who was the head coach at that time, and James Carson. Right on the spot after watching film they gave me a full scholarship.
Q: She told them to watch film.
Yeah, they took film down. We watched film and they gave me a full scholarship. After that season, Coach Banks was fired. We won one game by one point. There was some individuals who were telling me that I should transfer to University of South Carolina where Coach Banks had gone to. Instead, I just decided to stay, and Coach Jeffries was named the head coach. I remembered Coach Jeffries from North Carolina A&T, so it worked
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