There is nothing particularly unusual about being a New York Jets fan in South Florida. Just listen to sports-talk radio the week of a Dolphins-Jets game, or sit in the stands for a game between the division rivals, and it becomes instantly clear that “J-E-T-S” is a welcome cheer in these parts.
But there is something unique about a particular diehard Jets fan named Connie Nicholas Carberg. The 61-year-old Coconut Creek resident is surely the only Jets fan around who has had Joe Namath and Weeb Ewbank as house guests, worked in the Jets’ scouting department for six years, made the Jets’ 17th pick in the 1975 draft, and helped discover Mark Gastineau.
Carberg, who worked for the Jets from 1974 to ’80, was the first female scout in the NFL and is believed to be one of only two in league history, along with Linda Bogdan, the late daughter of Bills owner Ralph Wilson.
Two weeks ago, Carberg was at MetLife Stadium at Gastineau’s insistence as the former sack specialist was inducted into the Jets’ Ring of Honor. It was Carberg who suggested Gastineau, of tiny East Central Oklahoma State, when then-Jets coach Walt Michaels was coaching in the 1979 Senior Bowl and needed a replacement for injured defensive lineman Mike Stensrud of Iowa State. Gastineau wowed the coaches and fans with his line play and his sack dances.
“All of a sudden, we ran short on defensive linemen, so I called Connie back at the office in New York and asked her who she’d recommend,” recalled Michaels, now 83 and retired in Pennsylvania. “She told me Gastineau would be the best choice, and next thing you know, we had a tremendous defensive end. He had been projected sixth or seventh round, but we took him second round in the draft. We told her, ‘If you got any more like that, let us know.’ ”
Carberg grew up an athlete and sports fanatic in the town of Babylon on Long Island. She played basketball, softball, volleyball and swam. Her father, Calvin, was the Jets’ team internist for 25 years. Her uncle was the team’s orthopedist. Her father’s office was connected to their house, so players and coaches were frequent visitors and her mom fed them cake and cookies.
“I coached a little kid’s swim team at the Long Island Yacht Club, and I’d get a call from my dad, saying, ‘Namath is on his way,’ and Namath was like the Beatles back then,” Carberg said. “So, I’d bring the kids to my house, they’d sit on the lawn, and when Namath got there, they’d get his autograph. It was an amazing way to grow up as part of the Jets family.”
From the time she was a preteen, she read Street and Smith magazines and made her own mock drafts. She played basketball at all-girls Wheaton College for two years and then transferred to Ohio State, where she befriended coach Woody Hayes. She was a regular at football practice, and loved to talk Xs and Os with the legend. She earned a degree in home economics in 1974, but Hayes suggested she try to find a job in sports, hard as that was for a woman at the time.
When the Jets moved into their headquarters at Hofstra University, they hired Carberg as a receptionist. She baked apple pies for the team and staff. When she took phone messages for players, she’d knock on the locker-room door and yell, “Girl back,” so the players knew to cover up.
All the while, she talked football with the coaches. She was eventually moved to the scouting department, and before long, was grading films, writing player scouting reports and conducting interviews with potential players. They let her make the final pick of the 1975 draft. She took Ohio State tight end Mark Bartoszek. He didn’t stick, but Carberg proudly proclaimed he wasn’t the first cut, either.
“I wasn’t some women’s libber trying to make a point, I just truly loved football,” she said. “My feeling was, ‘I love football, you love football, let’s talk football.’ It felt very natural to me, still does.”
She said she doesn’t remember facing any discrimination. She had been around the club so long that she had earned respect.
“She’d start talking football with the guys in the front office, and they’d say, ‘Where in the world did you learn all this garbage?’ ” Michaels said. “Some people have a knack for this stuff, and Connie is one of them. It was very interesting to me at that time. I was pleasantly surprised with her scouting reports, which were pretty darn accurate. She was right up there with the best of them.”
She left the Jets in 1980. The new owner wanted to reduce her role. Right around that time, she fell in love and followed John Carberg to South Florida, where he had a job with Southeast Toyota. ESPN had just started televising the draft and she remembers asking John to pull into a motel on State Road AIA that had cable so they could watch the 1981 draft.
The mother of two now does public relations for Al Hendrickson Toyota, but remains a draftnik. She watches 15 games per weekend, jots notes on legal pads, subscribes to draft blogs and follows draft gurus on Twitter. She attends Jets training camp religiously for 10 days every summer.
“For Mother’s Day, I don’t get flowers or chocolates,” she said, laughing. “My kids buy me Mel Kiper’s draft guide every year.”