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'Girl Scout' details groundbreaking career, life with the Jets

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- As a kid growing up on Long Island in the 1960s, Connie Nicholas Carberg did her own mock drafts with information culled from football magazines, newspapers and college football telecasts. This was long before the nation was introduced to Mel Kiper Jr. For her, it was the start of a great football life. She grew up with the New York Jets -- literally -- and later became a trailblazer in the NFL.

She bills herself as the league's first female scout, and she chronicles her story in a new book, "Xs and Os Don't Mean I Love You." After graduating from Ohio State, where she was mentored by the legendary Woody Hayes, Carberg worked for the Jets as a secretary before transitioning to a role in the scouting department from 1976 to 1980. Without her input, the Jets may not have drafted Mark Gastineau in 1979.

The timing of her book, written with Elisabeth Meinecke, is perfect because this summer the Jets hired three female interns in the scouting department -- Callie Brownson, Rachel Huhn and Marirose Roach. They also have Collette Smith, a coaching intern.

"I think it's fantastic," Carberg said. "When I started out, Phyllis George, who was a former Miss America, was the only woman in a prominent position in the NFL -- and she was on TV. Now, more and more, you see women involved in the game. It's 40 years later, but I think it's awesome."

Carberg, 66, had family ties to the Jets because her father, Calvin Nicholas, was a team doctor. So was her uncle, James Nicholas. Football was a way of life, and it wasn't unusual for players to hang around her house. She played ball in the backyard with George Sauer, a member of the Super Bowl III championship team, and she became the envy of the kids in her neighborhood when Joe Namath made visits and signed autographs. There were no selfies in those days.

Her passion for football intensified at Ohio State, where she had long chalk-talk sessions with Hayes. With the Jets, she was drawn to the Xs-and-Os aspect of the game. She talked football with the likes of Weeb Ewbank, Walt Michaels and Lou Holtz, developing a scout's eye. In 1975, she was given the chance to make the final pick in the draft, and she selected Ohio State tight end Mark Bartoszek in the 17th round.

From there, Carberg gravitated to the scouting department. She watched film, took a few scouting trips to college campuses and interviewed prospects. New York sports writer Dick Young mentioned her in a column, dubbing her "The Girl Scout." The highlight of her career came in 1979, when she was asked to find a replacement player for the Senior Bowl. The Jets' staff was coaching the North squad, which lost a player during the run-up to the game.

Carberg reviewed scouting reports, watched game film and narrowed it down to five players. Seeking more information, she called each player, conducting a mini-job interview. She picked Gastineau, a little-known pass rusher from East Central Oklahoma.

"He was so full of enthusiasm, it just jumped through the phone," she said. "He said, 'I'm ready! Get me on a plane!'"

In those days, the draft wasn't covered like it is now, so it was easy for small-school players to slip through the cracks. By the end of the week, everybody knew about Gastineau, who blew up the Senior Bowl with his freakish athleticism. The Jets picked him in the second round, letting Carberg phone in the choice to the league's draft headquarters.

The flamboyant Gastineau went on to become one of the best players in franchise history. In fact, no second-round pick since Gastineau has made the Pro Bowl on offense or defense. (Justin Miller made it in 2006, but he was a kick returner.)

"It was very special," said Carberg, looking back on the 1979 draft -- an entire chapter in her book. "It was one of the great thrills of my life."

These days, Carberg lives in Coconut Creek, Florida, with her husband, John, but she makes an annual trek to training camp. You can't miss her: She wears everything Jets -- shirt, watch, earrings, you name it -- and receives the VIP treatment from the team. The Jets hold the door for her, 40 years after she opened it for others.