Linebacker Ken Harvey was drafted in the first round of the 1988 NFL Draft by the Phoenix Cardinals, where he spent six seasons, registering six or more sacks each year. .
After a move to Washington, Harvey’s career trajectory soared even higher His sack numbers grew to career highs and he appeared in four straight Pro Bowls in his first four seasons there.
After a fifth season in Washington, Harvey retired from football in 1998 and moved on to various other adventures. In his career, he totaled 828 tackles and 89 sacks in 164 games.
Now 58, Harvey has become an accomplished author, penning more than a dozen books, including several for children. He is also an active public speaker and business coach.
In our newest Q&A, we catch up with the Washington Commanders Ring of Fame member to talk about a feisty young fan, critiquing his cards, full circle fan interaction moments and much more.
Tony Reid- Whether it happened at Lanier High in Austin, Texas, at the University of California, Berkeley or even when you got drafted and made it to the NFL, when was the first time you were officially asked for your autograph?
Ken Harvey-Going into the pros in Arizona I remember getting off the bus in my first training camp in Flagstaff. That was where people first came to me and asked for my autograph. I was a kid in a candy store. It was the total reverse of me being that kid wanting other people’s autographs. I was like, cool, I tried to practice my signature and all of that stuff. It was fun.
TR- You’ve had 291 total cards produced over the years. Your rookie cards appeared in 1990 in Action Packed, Pro Set, Score and Topps Traded. What was it like seeing yourself on a trading card for the first time?
KH– I don’t know how that works because I was drafted in 1988. It was cool that I was on a card. After a while you start critiquing and saying it was an ugly picture. I look goofy in that one. There was one where I had something coming out of my nose. Son of a gun.
It’s cool how creative people can be with the cards and then to know it meant something to someone, it was a realization. When people come up and tell a story of how my autograph made their day or they were shaking or something like that. Or they remembered how nice I was when I gave them an autograph. You are signing cards and you try to pay attention but you don’t realize what it means to some people and that is exciting.
TR- What was the most memorable fan interaction from your playing days?
KH-Without a doubt, it was when I was walking out and everybody was doing autographs. I see this kid in the distance. I always tried to go out of my way to talk to the kids. I went up to him and asked him if he wants my autograph and he said he would rather watch grass grow. ‘You little punk kid. Where are your parents at? I need to hit somebody.’
Son of a gun. It was a great comment but it was a horrible comment. OK. Way to bust my little ego.
TR-What are your feelings on the autograph experience overall, from people sending items to your house to interacting in public and everything in between?
KH– Look, people can send stuff to your house. The hard thing is that I don’t mind signing but people send stacks of cards. OK, what are you trying to do? There were instances in Arizona where people were paying kids to come with books of cards and then they would use and sell down the road. I don’t mind .I didn’t for a while. I would get letters and let them sit around for a while. My youngest son, who is 30, he told me ‘Dad for you it seems like nothing but for them it could be the biggest moment of their life to receive a card signed and returned. You need to start signing these cards.’
OK. I don’t get them back right away but I try to get them back. He is right. Just as I would ask for someone else’s autograph it would have been the biggest moment of my life. I know that feeling. I met Dr. J. For me, that was the biggest thrill of my life. I didn’t even know how to talk. That feeling that maybe, hopefully, they have when they get an autograph from me. It takes time. Football is in the past, to a point. It’s cool that people still remember you. Some of the letters are really kind. You can see that people really took the time.
TR– Who were some of the athletes you looked up to as a young man for inspiration and motivation?
KH-I wasn’t a card collector or a poster on the wall guy but Ed “Too Tall” Jones was my guy. I am from Texas. I am from Austin. I wanted to be like Ed “Too Tall” Jones and Harvey Martin. These guys are beasts. I finally got a chance to meet him. I am like a kid. He probably thought I was weird. I asked to shake his hand. I told him he was the reason I started playing football. He was probably thinking you can let go of my hand now. That’s it, right? You become the kid.
One quick story. My dad and I went to the Pro Bowl. My dad was like ‘Oh, that is so and so.’ I went up to him and asked if he could say hello to my dad. He did and he was so respectful. He said ‘Hey Mr. Harvey. I just wanted to say welcome and how are you doing?’ My dad, my idol, became this little kid. He knew my name! How did he know my name? He was running around. To see my dad become that little kid was the biggest thrill of my life. In my mind, if I can treat others with the same respect that player treated my dad then that is well worth it.
TR– Do you have any of your memorabilia or any special items displayed around your house?
KH-Most of the pictures are of myself, which is kind of sad. Post-career, I have written some books. I played with Terry Crews. He is the big movie star. He autographed some books and posters. That was pretty awesome. I have never been an autograph collector or seeker. Just to know you shook a persons and to know you had that moment was good enough for me.
My man cave is very little football. I have my Phoenix Cardinals helmet and my Washington Redskins helmet. I have a storage unit that has a bunch of other stuff. I’m looking at it like who wants it? It’s me. You can only see so many pictures of yourself.
Coming soon: A Card Back Q&A with Ken Harvey.