I made Harry Carson’s bust and listened to his message about football

I love to watch football. It is fast (except for all the darn commercials on TV) and exciting, with the potential for quick score reversals — always the long bomb lurking there — and a complex game that is so often elegantly explained by the very informed announcers. 

But it also damages the NFL’s most valuable asset — the players. Hey, NFL, no players, no football.

One man who is very outspoken about this problem is Harry Carson, a 13-year veteran linebacker for the New York Giants, and described by Bill Belichick as “the finest linebacker I ever had the pleasure of coaching.” Harry spoke frankly about these injuries at his enshrinement speech at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio in 2006, when he was given the golden jacket and the highest honor in Professional Football.

He also was permanently represented in the Hall collection with a bronze bust. I had the honor of making that bust. 

Harry wanted to come out to Granger to pose, which he and his fiancé Marybel did. He arrived, a very imposing man, large, quite dark, and with a rather fearsome face. But when he spoke, his voice was gentle, refined, polite and just wonderful. We worked in my studio for some hours, with great conversation, then had a nice lunch in the house. I even included the small dent on his forehead where his younger brother, in their boyhood days, had shot him with a BB gun. 

His finance said I made him look too nice. “Put on his game face,” she said, so I did. It was fearsome, but underneath he was still the picture of refinement, and after a few more adjustment in the clay, he headed back to New York.

My wife Janice and I went to the enshrinement ceremony in Ohio. Each of the players being enshrined was introduced by someone who knew them. In Harry’s case it was his son, who had been diagnosed with a heart condition giving him a short few years to live. He spoke proudly of his dad, then Harry stepped forward to give his speech.

They hugged, hard, and very long. There were not many dry eyes in the stadium at that point, especially mine.

In his speech, besides the usual thanks etc., Harry spoke about the damage done to players through concussions and many other injuries that can plague them the rest of the their lives. He begged the NFL to take more seriously the protection of players. He urged schools to forbid anyone under the age of 14 to play football, and better yet, never to play the game at all.

He was fearless on the field, and now he was fearless on the podium.

Afterwards, in the crush of fans, he posed with the bust, which is now in the huge collection of busts in the Hall itself. I wanted to get to him and shake his hand, but it was too crowded with fans.

Two days later, back home, I got a phone call from Harry, and he asked why I didn’t go to him after the ceremony.I said I couldn’t, it was too crowded. “You’re a big shot, you know.”

And I asked him about the hug. He was silent a while, then said it was very meaningful. Sometimes silence is more important than words. 

Harry is now suffering from the results of the many concussions he had. His words can slur, he can fumble to find what he wants to say, even lose an entire train of thought. He has blood clots in his legs, and other injuries, making his post glory days ones of pain and sometimes confusion. Rather a high price to pay. That’s something to think about when football resumes next fall.

But I will never forget his genteel, elegant calmness, his refinement and grace as he talked. He could have dined with royalty and fit right in.

In all, Harry Carson is one of the very finest men I ever met.