job was to prevent opponents from running the ball. That was the key to the
stubborn New York Giants defenses of the 1980s, when the 6'2", 237-pound
Carson plugged the middle of the field from his inside linebacker position and
specialized in leaving opposing offenses in second-and-long. Intense and
emotional, he led the Giants in tackles five times, made nine Pro Bowl teams
and was named All-NFC five times.
Carson grew up in
Florence, S.C., and played defensive end at South Carolina State. In 1976 the
Giants made him a fourth-round draft choice and immediately converted him to
linebacker. Midway through the year Carson became a starter, and he finished
the season by being named to the All-NFL rookie team.
He soon gained
the reputation as a ferocious run stuffer, the inside presence that enabled
outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor to go after the passer with ears pinned
back. A leader both on and off the field, Carson was a Giants captain 10 times
in his 13-year career. His best single-game performance came in a Monday-night
game in 1982 against the Green Bay Packers when he amassed 20 unassisted
tackles. "Harry was a warrior who led by example," said fellow
linebacker Carl Banks. "He played middle linebacker like a man among
How difficult was
it to run the ball against Carson? Between 1981 and '87, a seven-year period
when he was in his prime, the stingy Giants gave up an average of just 3.59
yards per rush--less than the 3.7 yards per rush the heralded 1985 Chicago
Bears defense allowed in their Super Bowl year. "Harry is one of the two or
three best middle linebackers in history as far as I'm concerned," said
former Giants defensive end George Martin. "He and maybe a Dick Butkus and
retirement Carson, who estimates he had more than 15 concussions in his 21
years of organized football, has devoted much of his time to trying to raise
awareness of postconcussion syndrome, a condition he was diagnosed as having
two years after the end of his career.
about the physics of a collision," says Carson, who is a member of the
Brain Injury Association's Sports Injury Prevention Council. "When you go
helmet-to-helmet against someone like John Riggins, your body stops but your
brain keeps going and knocks against the inside of your cranium. Postconcussion
syndrome is like a bruise on the brain, only it's permanent in nature.
Physically, you feel fine, but neurologically sometimes you're not aware of
what's going on around you. I've seen a lot of players falter and lose their
way after they retire, and many of them suffer from this condition and don't
know what's happened to them."
The symptoms that
Carson experienced are headaches, blurred vision, sensitivity to bright lights
and loud noises, and the temporary loss of his sense of smell. "I used to
do television commentary for ABC, and I'd lose my train of thought trying to
make a point," he says. "I kept it to myself for a long time. Playing
in pain is ingrained in you as a football player, and any number of times I'd
basically be out on my feet in the huddle but would just continue to play.
Players are starting to talk about it more now than they used to. I've learned
how to live with it. I don't take medication, but I'm always aware of my
environment. If I'm in a place where there's a lot of unfiltered noise, like a
restaurant, I ask to be seated at a quiet table. There are good days, and days
that aren't so good."
Carson, who now lives in Franklin Lakes, N.J., makes frequent speaking
appearances to raise awareness of concussions in sports and for the past two
years has been working on a book that deals with coping with the condition.
During the football season he cohosts the Giants' pregame television show on
His road to the
Hall of Fame wasn't without obstacles. A finalist six straight years before
finally being elected, Carson grew so weary of having his hopes, and the hopes
of his friends and family, dashed that he wrote a letter to the selection
committee asking that his name be removed from consideration. "People
started to think of me not as the player I was but as the player who couldn't
get into the Hall of Fame," Carson says. "I didn't want to be known as
the Susan Lucci of football."
seventh time proved to be the charm. "I was never angry with the Hall,"
he says. "It was the process I thought should be changed. There should be
some former players on the Hall of Fame committee, instead of just
sportswriters. I have no regrets about writing that letter. Pride can be
deadly, but my pride helped me to be the player that I was. I'm honored to have
been elected to the Hall, but mostly I'm happy for the people who helped me get
to this point. The man I'm happiest for is [late Giants owner] Wellington Mara.
He was one of my staunchest supporters."