FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Connie Carberg was incredibly antsy, barely able to contain her excitement a few moments before picking up the phone and making one of the most important calls in New York Jets history.
The team was on the clock in the second round of the 1979 NFL draft, and she had just received confirmation of the choice from the front office. An ecstatic Carberg shouted “All right!” and then said the words she had been dreaming about for weeks.
“The New York Jets,” Carberg proudly recalled announcing, “select Mark Gastineau, East Central Oklahoma.”
Gastineau became one of the Jets’ best and most popular players — and helped cement Carberg’s place in NFL history as the league’s first female scout.
“I just wanted to jump out of the chair,” said Carberg, who had discovered the little-known Gastineau while scouting players for the Senior Bowl a few months earlier. “It was so exciting and it was thrilling. Probably the biggest thrill of my life.”
Working her way up: Her journey from Jets team secretary to watching game films, traveling and scouting college players is the subject of a recently published book: “X’s and O’s Don’t Mean I Love You.” How she helped deliver the sack-dancing Gastineau to the Jets is just one of the fascinating behind-the-scenes tales told by Carberg and author Elisabeth Meinecke.
“You know, it’s a positive book,” Carberg said with a big smile. “I hope it’s an inspiring book for young girls and for Jets fans in general.”
Carberg served in a scouting role for the Jets from 1976-80, breaking a gender barrier in the NFL by opening a door that gradually is becoming less of a novelty.
“I want women to see that it’s really possible and they can really do things without saying: ‘Hey, I’m a woman. I want it because I’m a woman,’” Carberg said before a recent Jets practice. “Just do it because you love it, and you never know where it’s going to take you.”
The sweet and spunky 66-year-old Carberg lives in Coconut Creek, Florida, with her husband, John, but makes a weeklong visit to Jets training camp every summer — decked out in green and white shirts, earrings and necklaces.
This year, she is particularly proud of her team, which added Collette Smith to Todd Bowles’ staff as a coaching intern with the defensive backs through camp. New York also has three female scouting interns: Callie Brownson, Rachel Huhn and Marirose Roach.
Many other teams around the league are helping narrow the NFL’s gender gap by hiring female coaching interns.
“It was a whole different world in the ’70s,” said Carberg, who counts Woody Hayes, Weeb Ewbank, Walt Michaels, Lou Holtz and Al Ward as mentors. “Title IX was just started, or hadn’t even started when I started working for the Jets. So, most people didn’t even think about women in that way.”
Breakthrough: Carberg helped change that perception with her breakthrough more than 40 years ago when she joined her father, Dr. Calvin Nicholas, who had been the team’s chief internist since 1962, and uncle Dr. James Nicholas, the Jets’ orthopedist. Her passion for football — honed after befriending Hayes while attending Ohio State — got her through the door in 1974, first doing clerical work.
The Jets were impressed by Carberg’s passion for the game and keen eye for talent and gave her the opportunity to select the team’s final draft pick in 1975: Ohio State tight end Mark Bartoszek in the 17th round.
She recalled Ward, New York’s general manager, and Mike Holovak, the director of player personnel, asking her one day early in 1976 if she wanted to do some scouting on a regular basis in addition to some of her usual duties.
Carberg, of course, jumped at the chance.
“It was just something that was part of me and something I felt I could do,” she said. “It wasn’t made into this big kind of story at that time.”
There was, indeed, no fanfare — other than sports columnist Dick Young dubbing her “The Girl Scout,” a nickname that makes her laugh to this day.
“It has really opened up today,” Carberg said. “I think scouting is even better for women and less questionable because you can judge. It’s easy to judge. You can be male or female. You can be right or wrong, just like a male can.”
Others in the game: In 1986, Linda Bogdan, daughter of then-Bills owner Ralph Wilson, was hired by the team as a full-time scout. Women such as Amy Trask in Oakland, the Jets’ Jacqueline Davidson, Cincinnati’s Katie Blackburn, the Chargers’ Jeanne Bonk and San Francisco’s Hannah Gordon have all held high-ranking positions in football front offices in recent years.
Jen Welter became the NFL’s first female position coach in 2015 as an intern for Arizona. Kathryn Smith was the first full-time female assistant coach as a special teams quality control coach for Buffalo last year. Katie Sowers has been a coaching intern this summer for San Francisco, and she announced on Facebook over the weekend that she accepted a full-time role for the regular season.
“It’s so cool,” Carberg said. “It’s been 40 years now, but all over the NFL, there are women on the football side this year, which is really a breakthrough.”
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