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Harry Carson and the Atomic Bomb - Q&A With A Legend

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On Thursday April 5th, 2012, New York Giants legend Harry Carson will once again be recognized for his accomplishments. The Pro Football Hall Of Fame and Allstate Insurance will honor Carson with the "Hometown Hall Of Famer" award, a national program that acknowledges the hometown roots of football's greatest players.

A nine-time Pro Bowl selection as linebacker for the New York Giants and former high school standout at Wilson High School and McClenaghan High School in Florence, S.C., Carson will be presented with his "Hometown Hall of Famer" plaque during a special ceremony at 2 p.m. ET on Thursday, April 5, at Wilson High School, where the plaque will live permanently to serve as an inspiration for the entire community. The presentation will be made by Carson’s daughter, Aja Carson-Gurley.

I caught up with Harry Carson earlier today to discuss the upcoming ceremony, his political future, the state of the NFL and why he will always be "Captain For Life." What did Harry Carson have to say about the recent "bounty" discoveries, Lawrence Taylor and Joe Theisman's leg? Read on for our exclusive interview.

SK: With the Pro Football Hall Of Fame and Allstate Insurance honoring you with the Hometown Hall Of Famer Award tomorrow at Wilson High School, in your hometown of Florence, SC, it seems as if your career has come full circle. Tell us about your early football days at Wilson High school.

HC: My very earliest football days almost didn't get started because when I first went out for football as a ninth grader I quit the team. It was a bit too much for my system. I was very disappointed with myself that I quit. I went and I played Boys Club football which was a little easier. I went back the next year, which was my tenth grade year. I was determined to stick and stay and I did. Looking back, had I not had that bitter taste of quitting in my gut, we would not be having tomorrow. I would not have had the opportunity to play with the New York Giants for thirteen seasons. I probably would not have had the opportunity to go to college and get a degree.

SK: What position did you play at the time?

HC: I was a defensive end. Actually, I played defensive end in high school and in college and a little nose tackle in my senior year. Then, the Giants drafted me and converted me to a middle linebacker.

SK: Was that the decision of Bill Parcells or Marty Schottenheimer?

HC: I was Marty's draft pick. Marty was responsible for drafting me to play for the Giants. He could have chosen any player but he chose me and then I became his project. It was up to me whether I was going to make it or not. I had to come to camp early to learn a very new position and that was the middle linebacker position - pass coverages, zone defenses, man-to-man coverages, it's a total departure from just playing defensive end and rushing the quarterback or going after the running back.

SK: How does it feel to be recognized for your accomplishments in your hometown, where it all started?

HC: This is very special for me. One, it's the Pro Football Hall Of Fame partnered up with Allstate. They're making it possible for folks in my hometown to experience a piece of the Pro Football Hall Of Fame. At the end of the day, you always go back to your base, you always go back to where you come from and that's where I come from. That's where I got my beginnings. It's very special to have the opportunity to go back and be recognized by the Pro Football Hall Of Fame, but also have my town be recognized as well.

SK: Do you still have ties to Florence?

HC: My family is there. I have a home there. My grandkids are there. I was there the last two weekends. This will be the third weekend that I'll be there. I was there two weeks ago for the funeral of one of my best female friends. I would much rather have an event like this and have people come together then to have people come to a funeral service and I'm totally oblivious to who's there. This is for a good reason not a fad reason. I know that there will probably be about one-hundred and seventy-five guests who might be in attendance, many of those will be former coaches, teachers, friends, friends of the family and that's the thing that makes it really special. For me it wasn't just about playing on the field. In essence, I represented all of those people who will be there tomorrow and I continue to represent all of those young people who will be in the high school audience. Wherever I go, whatever I do, I am the reflection of Florence, SC.

SK: Most non-Florence residents wouldn't know this but on March 11, 1958, an atomic bomb was dropped on Florence County by a US Air Force B-47 bomber. You would have been about four years old at the time. The plutonium core never detonated but damage had been caused in a five mile radius. Was your family effected at all by the explosion?

HC: Quite frankly, that's the first time I heard that and I find that disturbing.

SK: I picked that little gem off of the internet last night. Since the core of the bomb never went off, the argument could be made that Harry Carson was more explosive on the field than the Atom Bomb.

HC: You know, I might want to use that at some point.

SK: In 2004, when you were originally placed on the Hall Of Fame ballot, you requested that your name be taken off because the selection process was not performed by players or coaches, but by the media instead. In 2006, you were once again slated in to be inducted into the Hall Of Fame. What transpired in the two years prior to your induction that helped you to warm up to the selection process?

HC: I sent a letter to the Pro Football Hall Of Fame to have my name removed from consideration. It wasn't necessarily about the procedure. It was about regaining my life and just sort of moving on. I was very happy with where I was at that point in my life. The relationships that I have with friends and family are so important to me. I can deal with not getting in and the rejection but there were people around me who, it was very difficult for them because they wanted the best for me. It was difficult for them.

For every year that I didn't make it, they took it very hard. So, I sat down and wrote a very simple letter asking to have my name removed from consideration just to sort of go on with my life. I wasn't angry with anyone. I wasn't disappointed with anyone. I just saw what was happening with those people around me. When I was elected to the Pro Football Hall Of Fame I was a little indifferent about it because I did ask to have my name removed from consideration. It didn't mean anything to me at that time because I separated myself from the situation.

It wasn't until a few days after that my wife and I sat down and were talking about it. She said you have to accept it. It's not all about you. It's about your family. It's about your kids. It's about Mr. Mara, who supported me, year in and year out, in terms of getting into the Hall Of Fame. So, regardless of how I felt there were people who would have been disappointed in me if I had not graciously accepted the honor. I have always felt this way since I was elected, I share it with all of the players who I played with but also the players that I played against, on every level. It's not my honor. It's something that I share with all of them. That's the reason that I used my induction speech as an opportunity to make things better for retired players, by using that as a platform to get the message out.

That was one of the reasons why I accepted the honor. I am a little different now, in that, I am excited about this event tomorrow because I get to share it with people in my hometown. I get to share it with kids in one of the schools that I went to in South Carolina. I sort of look at myself as a role model for many of them, not necessarily to get to the NFL, but to use the Hall Of Fame moniker as something to strive for - whether it's in their daily walk of life, to strive to be the best at whatever you do, whether its in the classroom, whether it's in your occupation, whether it's as a teacher. They may not be Pro Football Hall Of Famers in the future but they can be Hall Of Famers in whatever they choose to do. It's all about giving your all and striving to be the best that they can be.

SK: The Democratic party was recently courting you to run for Congress. You stated that running for office would be too much of a task with the recent passing of your brother. As someone who has been proactive in making changes philanthropically, socially and as an NFL alumnus, do you see politics as your next platform to help initiate change in our society? Will you consider running in the future?

HC: No, I am not going to run in the future. That was something that I gave serious consideration to. I was going to do it. Then, the night before I was to meet with the Democratic Chairman here, I just didn't feel the enthusiasm that I felt I needed and I decided not to do it. You have to feel passionate deep down inside about what you're doing and I didn't feel that passion. So, I decided to take my name out of consideration for that. But I am going to continue to do what I have been doing to make a difference in the lives of people. It might be on a smaller scale but it gives me the opportunity to not have to deal with the political nature of getting things done. I can go out and use my clout or my relationships to get things done, to make a difference. I will continue to do that, especially at the age of fifty-eight. It is something that I am good at doing as supposed to taking on the role of being a freshman Congressman at the age of fifty-eight and not necessarily having a whole lot of clout or a whole lot of power.

SK: As an advocate and member of the New Jersey Advisory Council On Traumatic Brain Injury and the Sports Injury Prevention Council, what is your opinion of the recent "bounties" coming to light?

HC: The reality is, bounty or not, football is a very physical sport. I think that even when I played we didn't have bounties but there were opportunities for guys to make an extra fifty bucks for getting a good shot or an interception or something like that. I have never been a part of a team that actively wanted to take people out and hurt them. We would not have allowed that and I was captain of my team. To be honest with you, we had situations where we wanted players to play. We didn't want them to get hurt because we knew what their weaknesses were. If they played, they gave up a better chance of winning. That was the case with Joe Theisman. We knew everything about Joe and we wanted to keep him in the game. When his leg was broken by Lawrence Taylor we were like, "Wow, why did you do that?" We needed him in the game. That's something that is frowned upon by most players. But if you put ten dollars or five dollars out there for making a big play, it becomes moot as to what you make in terms of your contract. It's just that competitive nature steps in their and you want to win that five dollars. You go out and play extra hard to win that five dollars. Even though your paycheck says half-a-million dollars, at the end of the game you want that five dollars. That's really the competitive nature in most players.

SK: With "bounties", "Spygate", coaching misconduct, like Sal Alosi and the numerous criminal activities conducted by players off the field, are you worried that professional football - coaches, players and officials alike, are sending out the wrong message to kids?

HC: No, I'm not worried. I think that everybody is looking for that edge. Everybody is looking for the best opportunity to win. The pressure is so great on everyone. I think for the most part the game is still pretty good. I think it's up to coaches to help show players what it is all about to play with integrity, character and sportsmanship. Those little blips that you have occasionally, they have the tendency of working themselves out in the long run.

SK: Players are often fined for questionable hits, that quite frankly, could be called either way. There is a great deal of emphasis placed on helmet-to-helmet contact these days and rightly so. But is Roger Goodell overlooking the larger infractions going on around the league? Is Goodell working with an even keeled scale of justice within the NFL?

HC: I don't think he is overlooking it. The reality is he is trying to make the game safer. But at the end of the day, the game is what it is. It's a physical game. So much is made of the helmet-to-helmet hit, whereas no one talks about those micro-concussions that players sustain almost on every play - whether it's linebackers against offensive lineman or defensive lineman against offensive lineman. Nobody pays attention to those hits. But the game is what it is. It's a very physical game. It's a contact game. Unless you change it to something completely different it is going to continue to be the way that it is.

SK: Do you see a difference in the way the game is being played today?

HC: I see a difference in the talent level. I don't think players today are as physical as players from other generations. If you take a look at the pads that players wear, they don't wear thigh pads. They don't wear hip pads or knee pads. They wear small shoulder pads. That tells me that they're not quite as physical on the field. They do a lot of arm tackling and reaching and grabbing. It's not the style of thrusting hits that players may have played with back in the seventies and, to some extent, the eighties.

SK: You were the captain of the New York Giants. You were the sole captain of Super Bowl XXI. With the 25th anniversary of the 1986 championship team, where you were instrumental in getting everyone together for the celebration, did you feel like you were still a captain - as if you were still representing these guys?

HC: Yep. That's the reason why everybody came back. Fifty-one of the fifty-three guys came back. The two guys who didn't come - one had a prior commitment in Africa, he was on a mission. The other one had a campus visit with his son. Otherwise, all fifty-three players would have come. Eight of the eleven or twelve coaches came. The only reason they came was because I told them they were coming and they couldn't say no. I sort of wore my captain hat for the first part of last year, putting the whole thing together. That's the reason why my book is entitled, "Captain For Life." Although it was twenty-five years ago, I am still a captain for most of these guys. When I spoke up at the Hall Of Fame regarding the issues for retired players, I was being a captain.

SK: Excluding yourself, of course, who do you consider to be the best middle linebacker to have ever played the game?

HC: The best? I don't even include myself in that. I think I was decent. I wouldn't call myself the best. There were quite a few guys who were much better than me. Obviously, when you talk about middle linebackers the first name that everybody throws out is Dick Butkus. There are a lot of great players. Willie Lanier was a tremendous player. Tommy Nobis was a tremendous player - Butkus, Ray Nitschke, Ray Lewis, Patrick Willis now - whether he is inside or middle, whatever, he is a tremendous player. We've had all kinds of fantastic players over the years who have played that position.

SK: Of the recent New York Giants, which Super Bowl season was the most unlikely? Which team was least likely to go all the way?

HC: The one that we just won. They were playing like crap mid-season. They were not playing, what I consider to be, playoff caliber football. They just barely inked their way into the playoffs and then they beat the Patriots once again. Whether it was this team or the team before this one, it was sort of an even deal. Both teams played exceptionally well when they had to win. They came up with plays - whether it was the David Tyree catch or the catch by Mario Manningham to keep the drive going, they both made great plays.

SK: Would the 1986 Giants beat the 2011 Giants?

HC: Yeah. The '86 Giants would have beaten all the other teams. They would have beaten the '90 Giants. They would have beaten the 2000 Giants. They would have beaten the 2007 and the 2011 Giants.

SK: What is next for Harry Carson?

HC: I am going to South Carolina to be honored by Allstate Insurance and the Pro Football Hall Of Fame tomorrow. I have a golf tournament coming up in July, where it is going to be an NFC East theme, to benefit the Congressional Medal Of Honor Scholarship Fund. I'm going to have players from the Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants - guys like Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson, Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Jeremiah Trotter, Art Monk, Lawrence Taylor playing in a golf tournament to benefit a great cause.

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