Former Giants linebacker Harry Carson has happy Super Bowl memories from the game in 1987, but he's just as proud of what he's accomplished off the field. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following One on 1 profile.
Harry Carson has known the joy of playing in and winning a Super Bowl.
"It's such a high because where do you go after that?" he said.
He's also known the pain of dealing with post-concussion syndrome.
"I know what my triggers are," he says. "If I deal with bright lights and loud noise and so forth, then I know I may have a trigger for a headache."
Harry Carson runs his own sports consulting and promotion company. He represents NFL minority coaches, front office executives and gameday officials. He's affiliated with numerous charities and he advocates on behalf of several health related issues.
Many of us, though, still know him primarily from his time with the Giants. He was one of the key contributors to the 1986 team that went on to win the Super Bowl.
Carson was named to the Pro Bowl as an all-star nine times. He's a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
Of all the titles he holds, the one that means most to him is the one he held for 10 of his 13 seasons with the Giants and also at South Carolina State University: captain.
"The reason why I played was not because I loved the game. I enjoyed playing the game. There are a lot of great lessons that you take away from playing the game. The reason why I played is because of the guys I played with," Carson says. "I loved being their leader."
Carson is still a leader for former teammates and opponents, specifically those struggling with dementia, Alzheimer's or Lou Gehrig's Disease.
Carson used part of his 2006 Hall of Fame induction ceremony speech to publicize the travails of less prominent, more anonymous players who have no platform.
"They played. They had no voice, and so they were suffering in silence. And so that was the most meaningful thing that I think I could have done having been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame," he says. "People will say, 'Well, they knew what they were getting into when they signed up.' That's not true. They knew they could get hurt, but not brain damaged."
Now, the concussion issue is frequently front-page news. On the day of our interview, the struggles of Carson's friend, former Dallas Cowboy Rayfield Wright, were the subject of an article in the New York Times.
"The NFL, obviously, it takes the hit, but the game of football is really the culprit here," Carson says. "And people talk about trying to play the game safer. You can't play the game safer."
Carson's struggle with post-concussion syndrome is detailed in his 2011 book "Captain for Life." He says the problems started when he was playing for the Giants.
"I couldn't understand why I would be depressed when I'm a pro football player, you know. And I'm making nice money, but I had these what I call blue moods," he says. "I just had thoughts of driving off the bridge, just suicidal thoughts for no reason."
Carson says he met with a Giants team psychiatrist, but never discussed his depression with teammates, not even his best friend.
"That best friend who's on your team today, next week might be traded someplace else, and the first that the opposing team is going to do is, they want to know everything about the team that you just left," he says. "And you're so pissed, you know, because you've been traded, you're going to share everything that you know about the team that just left."
At his home, he displays a few football mementos that he says his wife likes to keep in view. On display all on its own is his older son's diploma from Virginia Tech Medical School. His younger son is a Marine who once pondered playing football at Auburn.
"He failed a physical because his blood pressure was elevated," Carson says. "And so when he failed the physical, I went, 'Yes.'"
The reluctance to have the next generation play football extends to his grandson.
"If there's an issue with college, I'll take care of it," Carson says. "I don't want him to bash his head in to get some kind of grant or aid to college playing football."
Harry Carson grew up in rural South Carolina. His mother, faced with the realities of the Jim Crow South, left home when Carson was 6 years old to work for a family in Newark.
"I grew up without my mother, and I grew up wearing clothes that the family that she worked for gave her, and so I'm very much in tune with the sacrifices that she made for me," he says.
He saw his friends playing football and joined in, not exactly for the joy of competition.
"They looked good in the uniforms. It was like a chick magnet," he says. "And I thought, 'I want to do this too for the fringe benefits, you know, 'cause I looked good in a uniform way back then. But when I got out on the field and I started running and cutaways and all the agility drills and so forth and I wasn't physically prepared to play, I quit. I gave up my uniform."
He says he didn't like the taste of quitting, so he returned the next season. A few years later before going off to college, Carson went to see a doctor, the only black doctor in his hometown, for a physical.
"My sister gave me money to give to the doctor, and when the physical was over, I went to give him the money. He said, 'I don't want your money, boy.' He said, 'I want you to make something out of your life,'" Carson says. "And I've always remembered that, that act of kindness and those words. 'I want you to make something of your life.'"
Carson says his years at South Carolina State University turned him from a boy into a man and were the four best years of his life, playing football, but more importantly, getting his degree.
"When I was drafted to play with the Giants, it was like piece of cake. I don't care; if I don't make it, I don't make it. I got my degree," he says. "And so that was the most important thing to me and to my family."
The leadership skills he learned at South Carolina State had to be employed early in his NFL career, because the Giants teams he played on in the first half of his career were not so good.
"Bad football, guys with bad attitudes, the guys who didn't really want to be there, and so you say what needs to be said," he says.
Under coach Bill Parcells, the Giants eventually became Super Bowl champions.
Carson has mixed emotions about the game of football, but he's certainly enjoyed the role it's allowed him to play.
"Those guys who I played with, they honor me because, you know, they called me their captain for life. And so I've been out of football now 25 years and I'm still their captain, I'm still their advocate."