Heart of a Giant

Thousands of fans recently gathered in Canton, Ohio to see four of football's greatest receive the honor of enshrinement into the Hall of Fame. One person who wasn't there is former Giants linebacker Harry Carson ('76-'88). Carson, a nine-time Pro-Bowler during 13 outstanding seasons, asked Hall of Fame Executive Director John Bankert to remove his name from future consideration in March of 2004.

"I've been through this long enough," Carson said. "What was an honor is now a burden."

Carson is referring to the personal angst he suffers each and every year his name is among the finalists discussed by the panel of 39 pro football writers and broadcasters, only to fall short of the necessary votes for induction. A top 15 finalist the last six years, Carson is the first player in history to ask the Hall of Fame to stop mulling over his candidacy.

For the record, Bankert has continued to refuse Carson's request, saying there is no provision in the system to remove a candidate. So as the 2005 football season kicks off with another Carson-less Hall of Fame ceremony, it's appropriate to examine the best way to honor Carson's legacy while also respecting his wishes.

Let's be clear. Carson's Hall of Fame résumé is exemplary. In addition to his nine Pro Bowls (two of which came before the Lawrence Taylor era), Carson is the top-rated inside linebacker in NFL history, according to Pro Football Weekly. He once recorded 25 tackles in a Monday night football game against Green Bay and was named to the All-NFL team seven times.

Furthermore, Carson's nine Pro Bowl nods are more than any linebacker currently enshrined in the Hall except Taylor and Mike Singletary (each who had 10). When compared with some of the recent inductees (Lynn Swann averaged three catches a game and made three Pro Bowls in eight years with the Steelers), Carson's continued rejection is even more outrageous.

But with Carson adamant he is no longer interested in the Hall of Fame, it is time for the Giants to retire his number. A retired number is not only a reward for statistical accolades, but a symbolic reminder of everything a player gave to his organization and the surrounding community. No one deserves this honor more than Carson, an embodiment of the character and class the Giants organization has represented for decades.

There are scores of examples of how Carson has served the Giants with distinction, but a few stand out.

1) He was a captain in 10 of his 13 seasons. Carson was the unquestioned leader of a team that made several postseason appearances and won Super Bowl XXI handily. In that game, the Giants' belief in Carson shined no more brightly than when he stood toe to toe with seven captains from the Denver Broncos during the opening coin toss.

2) Even after retiring as a player, Carson has remained an integral part of the Big Blue family. A passionate Giants fan to this day, Carson showed a sense of dismay when he learned that Bill Parcells accepted the Dallas Cowboys head-coaching job and put on the "dreaded star." In 2003, following a devastating playoff collapse against the San Francisco 49ers, then-head coach Jim Fassel received a letter from Carson. He comforted Fassel and showed solidarity with the team by sharing a similar experience he had during a 1985 playoff loss to the Bears. This type of selfless gesture in an era of ego-driven sports is nothing short of unprecedented.

3) Carson's work in the community has been heroic. He is one of the original members of Minority Athletes Networking ETC, Inc., a non-profit organization started in 1989 at the height of the Central Park scandal to make a difference in the lives of America's youth. He is affiliated with the United Way, the Boys Club, the Young Fathers Program, and serves on the Board of Directors of the New York State Special Olympics.

As the Giants enter the 2005 season with a charge of optimism for the future, there is no better time to pay homage to the past. Wellington Mara has led the Giants with dignity for all of his adult life. As his career winds down, he should take the time to honor a person who has given so much to the Giants organization. Carson, the architect of the Gatorade Dunk, now spends his free time broadcasting Giants preseason games and meeting with fan groups who delight in his every word. All in all, his record is an inspiration to fans and collegaues across the country.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame continues to get it wrong on Harry Carson. Now more than ever, it's time for the Giants to get it right by putting Number 53 where it belongs – in the rafters.

Tim Schlittner is a 2003 graduate of Syracuse University. He lives and works in Washington, DC. He can be reached at tfschlit@gmail.com.

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