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After long wait Carson finally headed to Hall of Fame

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Harry Carson was considered by many
the fiercest foe and the best teammate.

A chiseled athlete who combined speed, great instincts and
unsurpassed vision in the middle of the field, Carson was one of
the NFL's most feared linebackers in the 1970s and '80s with the
New York Giants.

"Harry was also the guy you wanted to be your next-door
neighbor, whether you were playing with him or against," said
Super Bowl MVP Ottis Anderson, who did both.

A nine-time Pro Bowl selection, a Super Bowl champion and the
undeniable leader of the Giants' rise back to respectability in the
1980s, Carson will end a somewhat frustrating trip to Canton, Ohio,
on Saturday when he's enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"There were guys that were faster, and there were guys that hit
harder and there were guys that were stronger than him, but nobody
had greater heart. People have been trying to find the formula for a great football
player for years and they still can't find it. Harry Carson has it,
whatever it is."
Phil McConkey, former Giants WR

A middle linebacker in the first half of his career, Carson is
the first inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme elected to the Hall.

Carson nearly short-circuited the trip two years ago when he
asked Hall of Fame voters not to consider him. The request came
after he made the final 15 candidates for the sixth straight year,
and was passed over by a committee of sports writers.

"I knew where I stood with my teammates," said Carson, who was
among the final six candidates in 2003 and 2005. "I knew that I'd
earned their respect over the years."

When fellow players talk about Carson, the dominant word is
"respect."

"There were guys that were faster, and there were guys that hit
harder and there were guys that were stronger than him, but nobody
had greater heart," former Giants receiver Phil McConkey said.
"People have been trying to find the formula for a great football
player for years and they still can't find it. Harry Carson has it,
whatever it is."

When running back Doug Kotar was diagnosed with cancer in the
early 1980s, Carson gathered teammates and arranged a schedule for
them to visit him in the hospital, and then set up a scholarship
fund for Kotar's kids.

When quarterback Jeff Rutledge was injured in a car accident, it
was Carson who made the drive to see him.

When center Jim Clack, who was only a Giants for four seasons,
died earlier this year, Carson paid his respects.

"That's the kind of person that Harry Carson is," former
Giants defensive tackle George Martin said.

Carson hasn't been immune from his own personal heartaches. His
son, Donald, who will present him on Saturday, is battling a rare
blood disorder. His daughter, Aja, has battled cervical cancer.

"In light of the situation with family, (the induction) is a
nice honor," Carson said in a statement issued by the team. "But
I think my priorities are a whole lot different now. It really
doesn't carry the same weight that it might have years ago."

Carson didn't start playing football until he was in the ninth
grade. He quit his high school team late in his senior year and he
lost a scholarship at North Carolina A&T when the program ran out
of money.

A high school teacher eventually took game film -- and Carson --
to South Carolina State, where he was offered a scholarship. He
played four years as a defensive lineman, moving to nose tackle as
a senior in 1975.

Marty Schottenheimer, then New York's linebackers coach,
persuaded the team to draft him in 1976 with the 105th pick
overall. The goal was to convert him to a middle linebacker.

"He had great physical skills and desire to achieve,"
Schottenheimer said. "He just loved football. He is a guy that
could just go and make plays."

Despite Carson's personal success, the Giants struggled.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick, then a Giants assistant, recalled
coach Ray Perkins after a big loss in an 0-4 start, asking how many
players had fun?

"I remember Harry was the only person who put his hand up,"
Belichick said. "He said, 'I did. I love to play football.'

"And I remember Perkins saying, 'Damn it, that's the way
everybody should feel. I mean, sometimes you can't do anything
about the score or the situation, but you should love to play the
game and play hard and put your heart into it."'

Carson's ability to take on offensive linemen made New York
tough against the run and allowed Lawrence Taylor to roam with
reckless abandon.

"He wasn't flashy like Lawrence Taylor and didn't grab the
headlines," Giants center Bart Oates said. "He was the guy in the
middle who did his job exceptionally well, and he inspired other
guys to do their jobs well."

Anderson, when he was with the Cardinals, said it was
frightening playing against Carson, who would stand outside the
huddle during timeouts with his big cage mask and neck brace and
try to make eye contact.

"I had big games against the Giants," Anderson said. "But I
would look where Harry was lined up and go the other way."

But Carson wasn't perfect at everything. He was miserable on
coin tosses.

"I sent him out there for a hundred coin tosses, I bet you he
didn't win 20," Parcells quipped at a news conference the Giants
held in New York. The event was yet another indication of the
respect Carson still gets from his former coaches and teammates.

Not only did Parcells make the trip in from Dallas less than a
week before the opening of the Cowboys' training camp, but
Belichick came in from New England and Schottenheimer made the trip
from San Diego. Taylor and about a dozen other former teammates
also showed up along with Willie Jeffries, Carson's coach at South
Carolina State.

Jeffries may have summed their feelings best.

"It's easy for me when your best player is your best person,"
he said.