She grew up playing tennis with George Sauer. Gerry Philbin and Emerson Boozer used to come to her Long Island home for dinner parties. She knew Joe Namath, but her school-girl crush was targeted toward Bake Turner. Connie Carberg wasn’t an ordinary New York Jets fan.
Back in the Jets’ glory years, the late 1960s, she was known as Connie Nicholas, the daughter of Dr. Calvin Nicholas, Jets team internist, and the niece of James Nicholas, Jets team orthopedist. She was a teen-ager, but she knew more about the Jets than most Jets. She took a special interest in every college football player who became a Jet, or even might become a Jet.
As a bright-eyed, athletically talented 15-year-old, she used to evaluate college prospects on her own. She would rate players and hold mock drafts with her older brother, Chris. Carberg didn’t realize it then, but she was building useful skills. Ten years later, she would become the National Football League’s first woman scout.
In 1976-77, Carberg traveled around the country evaluating college football players for the New York Jets. From 1977 to 1980, she was a Jets personnel assistant. She played a small but significant part in bringing the Jets a little-known defensive lineman from East Central University in Oklahoma. Back in 1978, Mark Gastineau was projected as an eighth-round draft pick. With some help from Carberg, the Jets chose him in the second round of the 1979 draft.
The Jets staff was coaching in the 1979 Senior Bowl. Camp had opened and they were short one defensive lineman due to an injury. They called Carberg back in New York looking for a replacement. She made some calls to prospective recruits. Gastineau stood out. There was something about his attitude that impressed her in a lengthy telephone call. She recommended him over other more highly touted prospects. He showed great strength and quickness during the week and turned himself into a top Jets’ draft choice, and he is now the NFL’s quintessential defensive end.
Carberg’s climb into scouting came in several small steps. In 1974, she graduated from Ohio State University and was ready to take a teaching/coaching position at a high school when Jets’ coach Charlie Winner approached her at a party at her father’s house. He invited her to join the Jets in a secretary- receptionist-assistant kind of position at their new complex in Hempstead, N.Y.
She began answering phones and filing papers. After awhile, she was given a chance to grade a few films. Her work was good, her attention to detail impressive. Soon, General Manager Al Ward wanted to see what she could do out in the field. In late 1976 and early 1977, she visited universities to watch practices and games and to grade more film. She traveled to bowl games.
“It was a detailed grading system,” Carberg said. “If he was a running back, you graded him on his strength and quickness, his strong points and weak points. You watched how he did running inside and outside.”
“And then you made a decision about somebody. Sometimes you stuck your neck out and sometimes you made mistakes.”
Calvin Nicholas, who retired from the Jets this year after more than 24 years with the team, was proud of his daughter’s accomplishments. She wasn’t afraid to reach for her dreams. At Ohio State, she walked up to Woody Hayes in a cafeteria and introduced herself. He ended up giving her special permission to attend closed and open practices.
“What she accomplished was unrelated to me,” said Calvin Nicholas. “She was always a people-oriented person and was very outgoing. She was a good athlete and coach and had a gift for recognizing talent.”
“She wasn’t the kind of person who would say what people wanted her to say. Once she sized up a player, she didn’t hedge and change her mind if people didn’t agree. She also wanted to know what kind of person he was. I think (Mike) Holovak had something to do with that.”
She worked under director of player personnels’ Homer Edington, Mike Holovak and Mike Hickey from 1974 to 1980. They all made an impression, but Holovak stood out.
“Mike always cared about what kind of person he was drafting,” Carberg said. “You could measure how fast someone was, how much he could lift and how high he could jump but you couldn’t measure what was in his heart. Mike was a great judge of character. He had a great instinct for it.”
After the 1977 season, Carberg had the scouting carpet pulled out from under her. Management decided to take her off her field duties. She remained a personnel assistant, but she stayed in the Jets’ offices grading films and filing reports.
“I was very disappointed when they scratched it,” Dr. Nicholas said. “It was a political thing and Connie wasn’t a political person. She didn’t make any trouble. She accepted it. In this day and age, they probably wouldn’t have gotten away with it.”
Carberg was disappointed, but she remains loyal to the Jets.
“For whatever reason, they decided the NFL may not be ready for a woman in scouting. I was sad, but I understood,” she said.
Holovak, now the director of player personnel for the Houston Oilers, thinks taking Carberg out of scouting was a mistake.
“I never would have taken her out of it, she was too valuable,” Holovak said. “You’re always going to have a certain facet that thinks women don’t belong, but I don’t know how you’re going to keep them out.”
“Connie took such a genuine interest in players. It’s a field where people are always trying to dig deeper to find out more about people. That’s how Connie approached her work.”
In 1979, she married John Carberg. After the 1980 season, he was offered a district manager position with Toyota. They moved to Coral Springs where Connie is now raising their 4-year-old son, Chris. She also has a 20-year-old stepdaughter, Lisa, 20, who is away at school.
By Randall Mell, April 17th, 1987 – CORAL SPRINGS