While Carl Banks’s name is a prominent one in the sports apparel industry, he was also one of the vital cogs of Bill Parcells’s dominant New York Giants teams of the mid-to-late 1980s.
When the Giants signed Banks in 1984, he joined a vaunted linebacker corps that included future Hall of Famers Harry Carson and Lawrence Taylor.
Banks’s 14 tackles with four for a loss of yardage helped New York rout John Elway’s Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI, 39-20. It was the Giants’ first Vince Lombardi Trophy in the franchise’s storied history.
Banks and the Giants won the Super Bowl again after a thrilling, down-to-the-wire encounter with the Buffalo Bills four years later.
There’s little wonder Banks is a member of the New York Giants Ring of Honor and the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team.
This is Carl Banks’s remarkable gridiron journey.
Carl E. Banks was born in Flint, MI on August 29, 1962. He spent the first eight years of his life in Chicago, IL before returning to Flint in 1970.
When Carl was just eight years old, he saw a youth football practice while he was walking home. He approached the coach and asked him if he had to pay any fees to play for him, per the Michigan State Spartans’ official athletics website.
The coach told him he didn’t have to pay a cent to play youth football. All he needed was his parents’ permission to play.
As soon as Carl’s parents gave him the go-ahead, he became hooked on the gridiron.
A Hard Worker and a Sharp Dresser
Banks learned the value of hard work at an early age. According to the Greater Flint Area Sports Hall of Fame’s official website, one of his first jobs was as a gravedigger at Gracelawn Cemetery in his hometown of Flint, MI.
Banks also mowed lawns and raked leaves at the cemetery. He told GFASHOF.org in 2002 working with several ex-convicts was an invaluable experience. It taught him not only to work hard but also to remain humble.
Although the pay was meager, Banks considered the job a pivotal turning point in his young life.
“That job meant a lot to me,” Banks said in 2002. “I worked with ex-convicts and people who were down on their luck. They helped me appreciate what a hard day’s work is all about. Those guys were great in sharing their life experiences with me. That job helped me build a lot of character.”
Carl Banks attended Beecher High School in Mount Morris, MI. He was an outstanding two-sport star who played football and basketball for the Beecher Buccaneers.
Banks’s dapper appearance and sharp fashion sense began during his high school days in Michigan.
In 2012, Banks told MLive.com’s Eric Woodyard that he took pride in his personal appearance and manner of dressing back in the day. It was a lifestyle that Banks has continued since then.
High School Days
Found a very random football card of Carl Banks playing basketball for Beecher in a game at Flushing around 1978-80. The back details his basketball and track background before becoming a great linebacker for the New York Giants. pic.twitter.com/k8EjdbnnnX
— Bill Khan (@BillKhan) July 21, 2022
During Carl’s time at Beecher High, he considered Buccaneers head football coach Mose Lacy a major influence in his life.
Banks told GFASHOF.org some 25 years later Coach Lacy taught him the virtues of discipline and hard work. Lacy always reminded Banks if he wanted something badly, he had to work for it. It was a life principle that Banks valued well into his legendary pro football career with the New York Giants.
In 2007, Banks admitted to MSUSpartans.com that he wasn’t the best player on the Buccaneers football team. He played several positions including second-string quarterback and tight end. However, he did not live up to his potential because he thought he was too clumsy.
Banks began playing at a high level on the basketball court and gridiron in his senior year in 1979. His outstanding play as a senior two-way tackle caught the attention of the Oklahoma Sooners, USC Trojans, and Ohio State Buckeyes.
As Banks’s high school athletics career wound down, first-year Michigan State Spartans head football coach Frank “Muddy” Waters wanted him badly. Waters called Banks as soon as the latter returned from a recruiting trip with the Oklahoma Sooners.
Convincing Banks to commit to Michigan State was a tall order. The football program was coming off NCAA probation and had struggled in recent years.
Consequently, Waters enlisted the help of one of MSU’s most famous athletes so they could sign the Flint, MI native.
According to the Lansing State Journal’s Cody Tucker, that athlete was Los Angeles Lakers point guard Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
Johnson reached out to Banks and convinced him about the first-rate campus life, education, and athletics career he would experience if he committed to the Spartans.
Banks didn’t need much convincing. He listened to Johnson and eventually expressed his intention to play for Michigan State following his senior year with the Buccaneers in 1979.
Carl Banks would eventually become one of the best pass rushers in Michigan State Spartans football program history.
College Days with the Michigan State Spartans
Carl Banks attended Michigan State University in Lansing, MI from 1980 to 1983.
The Michigan State Spartans gave Banks the nickname “Killer” because he’d worked as a gravedigger for five summers in his native Michigan, per The New York Times‘s Frank Litsky.
When Banks first wore Spartans green and white in his true freshman season in 1980, he did not know if he would be suiting up as a tight end or linebacker.
In 2007, Banks confessed to MSUSpartans.com that he finally settled in as a linebacker because he had a tendency to run to his own goal line every time the quarterback threw the ball in his direction.
Banks entered the Spartans’ football program during one of the leanest stretches in its storied history.
Michigan State won an average of just three games per season during the Frank Waters era from 1980 to 1982. The last time the Spartans had played in a bowl game was the 1965 Rose Bowl, which they lost to the UCLA Bruins, 14-12.
Banks thought character issues divided the Spartans during his first three years with the squad. Some of his teammates did not buy into Waters’s football philosophy and even undermined his authority.
Banks also admitted to the Spartans’ official website that he almost got into fights with some of his teammates. Carl ultimately decided to take out his frustrations on the football field instead.
Banks’s ploy worked. He wasn’t sure if he was evolving into a first-rate college linebacker until Michigan Wolverines head football coach Bo Schembechler stopped him after one of their rivalry games and paid him a nice compliment.
Despite Carl’s rise as a Big Ten linebacker, his relationship with new Spartans head football coach George Perles got off to a rocky start.
A suspected bad scouting report made Perles put Banks on a short leash as the latter entered his senior season in 1983. Perles had the mistaken impression Banks was a delinquent when, in fact, he was one of the few holdovers from the Waters era who led by example.
“He thought I was really a bad guy and wanted (to) make an example of me,” Banks told MSUSpartans.com in 2007. “He was totally abusive, when I was one of the few guys who gave a damn.”
— Michigan State Football (@MSU_Football) October 27, 2017
Perles’s harsh treatment of Banks made the latter consider leaving Michigan State in the fall of 1983. However, his father intervened and told him to probe deeper into the underlying issues behind his strained relationship with his head coach.
Banks and Perles eventually had a heart-to-heart talk. Perles told him he had heard rumors he was a prima donna. Banks shot down those rumors and told him he was willing to do whatever the coach asked him to do on the football field.
The two sides soon reconciled and became great friends. In fact, Perles even appointed Banks defensive captain for the 1983 NCAA season.
Perles also tapped legendary Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Jack Ham, who had retired just a few months earlier, to smooth out the rough edges in Carl’s game.
The strategy worked. Carl eventually became the first non-punter in Spartans football program history to earn First-Team All-Big Ten honors three times, per Michigan State’s official athletics website.
Banks’s outstanding play also earned him All-American honors as a senior in 1983.
Unfortunately, the losing trend continued in Carl’s final year at Michigan State. The Spartans had a 4-6-1 record in Perles’s first year at the helm and extended their bowl drought to eighteen seasons.
The Spartans had an abysmal 14-29-1 record during Carl Banks’s four years in Lansing, MI in the early 1980s.
Despite Michigan State’s struggles on the gridiron, Carl Banks would lean on the valuable life lessons he learned during his college years when he ascended in the NFL linebacker ranks from 1984 to 1995.
Pro Football Career
The New York Giants made Carl Banks the third overall selection of the 1984 NFL Draft.
When Banks entered the pro football ranks in the mid-1980s, he became part of a formidable linebacker triumvirate alongside Harry Carson and Lawrence Taylor.
Banks, Carson, and Taylor combined for eleven First-Team All-Pro and twenty-one Pro Bowl selections during their legendary NFL careers. They became one of the focal points of Giants defensive coordinator Bill Belichick’s system from 1985 to 1990.
Banks took his lumps as a rookie in the National Football League. When he first ran into Carson in the Giants locker room in the summer of 1984, the latter asked him point blank what he was going to do to earn some playing time from head coach Bill Parcells.
Banks had to earn his stripes as a Giants linebacker, a core that featured two other All-Pros in Brian Kelley and Brad Van Pelt.
Endorsement Leads to a Secondary Career
Banks signed his first endorsement deal with Starter shortly after he signed his rookie contract with the Giants in 1984.
A light went on in Carl’s head the moment he became one of Starter’s pioneer endorsers. He thought the sports apparel industry had a lot of long-term potential. He wanted to become part of it for the long haul.
Banks reached out to Starter CEO David Beckerman and picked his brain regarding the nuances of his industry. That meeting paved the way for Carl Banks’s burgeoning fashion design career.
Even before Carl Banks played his first down in the NFL ranks, he was preparing for life after football.
Banks’s reputation as a fashion designer reached new heights when he watched a world heavyweight title bout during his sixth year with the Giants in 1989.
According to Sports Illustrated‘s David Fleming, ringside spectators such as singer Natalie Cole and baseball star Dave Winfield took notice of Banks’s all-blue ensemble.
The widespread acclaim for Banks’s attire prompted him to submit his sketches to various fashion design companies in New York City. Before long, he started collaborating with G-III Apparel Group, one of the biggest clothing firms in the country.
“I’ve been preparing for the end of my football career on the first day of my football career,” Banks told GFASHOF.org in 2002. “When I walked out of football, I walked into my business career. I always tried to think outside the box because sports can become a one-track mindset.”
While Carl Banks’s fashion design career was taking off, he was also making serious progress in his pro football career.
Breaking Through on the Gridiron
— Carl Banks (@CarlBanksGIII) October 23, 2022
After missing the postseason in nineteen of the previous twenty seasons, the Giants won an average of ten games and made back-to-back appearances in the NFC Divisional Round from 1984 to 1985.
Banks had a slow start to his NFL career. He had just 6.0 sacks and 68 combined tackles in 28 games and nine starts during that two-year time frame.
When Carl entered his third year with the Giants in 1986, his pro football career began to pick up considerably.
Banks had 6.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries, and a career-high 113 combined tackles as the Giants won a franchise-best fourteen games in Bill Parcells’s fourth year at the helm in 1986.
The Giants simply tore through the opposition and reached Super Bowl XXI against John Elway’s Denver Broncos on January 25, 1987.
In February 2013, Banks told USA TODAY’s Jim Corbett he considered Super Bowl XXI the greatest game of his twelve-year pro football career.
Banks had no issues getting up early for practice and the actual day of the Super Bowl. He admitted to USA TODAY that going to bed a night was hard because of the adrenaline rush.
Banks remembered recording the first seven or eight tackles of that game. One of those tackles included a key goal-line stand that prevented the Broncos from gaining any momentum.
Banks eventually finished the game with 14 tackles, including four tackles for a loss of yardage for the Broncos.
“If I had to say what was the best game I ever played? It was that game.” Banks told Corbett. “That’s the game I’ll always remember. It played out almost to the tee of the way I dreamed it.”
With Banks wreaking havoc on defense, the Giants won their first Super Bowl title in franchise history. Banks also earned the first of his two career Super Bowl rings with Big Blue.
🎂 Happy Birthday Carl Banks, whose big 3rd down stop helped prevent the Broncos from going up by 10 halfway through the 2nd quarter of Super Bowl XXI…#TogetherBlue #Giants #SuperBowlXXI pic.twitter.com/KmRerxRIUE
— 80s Football Cards 🏈 🙌 (@80sFootballCard) August 29, 2021
Fighting for What He’s Worth
Banks held out for forty-five days prior to his fifth NFL season in 1988. He and his agent, Dr. Charles Tucker, had been lobbying for an annual salary close to the $1 million the Giants were paying perennial Pro Bowl linebacker, Lawrence Taylor.
Banks and Tucker finally got their wish when the two sides agreed to a four-year, $3.6 million deal on August 30, 1988.
Regrettably, the Giants regressed in 1988. New York won an average of eight games during those two years.
Nevertheless, Carl Banks continued playing at a high level. His 9.0 sacks,101 combined tackles, and one interception earned him First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors in 1987.
Banks gave credit to his four-year tenure at Michigan State for his rise in the pro football ranks in the mid-to-late 1980s. He thought he would not have enjoyed the same degree of success in the NFL had he committed to another major college football program, per MSUSpartans.com.
The Giants became contenders once again in the final two years of the memorable Bill Parcells era. They won an average of thirteen games from 1989 to 1990 and reached Super Bowl XXV against the Buffalo Bills on January 27, 1991.
The Bills had a chance to win their first Super Bowl title when kicker Scott Norwood lined up for the potential game-winning 47-yard kick with just eight seconds remaining in the game.
Unfortunately for Buffalo, Norwood’s kick sailed wide right. The Giants won 20-19 and secured their second Super Bowl title in franchise history while Carl Banks earned his second career Super Bowl ring.
Banks spent two more seasons with the Giants. They did not experience much success under new head coach Ray Handley during those two years. The Giants won an average of just seven games and missed the postseason each time.
Banks signed a three-year deal with the Giants’ division rivals, the Washington Redskins, prior to the 1993 NFL campaign.
Unfortunately, Banks did not meet expectations in his lone year in the nation’s capital. He had 102 combined tackles and one sack as the Redskins won just four games in Richie Petitbon’s only year as Washington’s head coach.
The Redskins released Carl Banks at the end of the 1993 NFL season.
Banks signed with the Cleveland Browns several months later. The move reunited him with his former defensive coordinator with the Giants, Cleveland Browns head coach, Bill Belichick.
Banks’s promising fashion designing career gained serious traction during his short two-year tenure in Northeast Ohio.
Banks, who designed leather jackets patterned after the league’s team colors, thought the Browns’ line of sports apparel was the worst in the NFL.
“The Browns have the worst colors and the worst logo to work with,” Banks told Fleming in the fall of 1995. “Orange? Brown? Those are the ugliest colors in the world. As a designer, I see those colors and just want to throw up my hands and say, ‘Come on.'”
Banks remained undaunted and designed a Browns sports coat that made for some serious eye candy. The coat had a hefty price tag. It sold for between $300 and $450. It also boasted sizes up to the 5XL range.
NEW YORK GIANTS CARL BANKS CLEVELAND BROWNS SIGNED 8X10 PHOTO pic.twitter.com/nDsjz8TMtn
— Browns Collectors (@BrownsClektr) May 31, 2013
Banks’s business was doing remarkably well. He told Fleming that he expected sales figures to reach the $5 million mark in 1995. Part of the credit went to renowned designers Tommy and Andy Hilfiger. Coincidentally, the Hilfiger brothers are Browns fanatics.
Time to Hang ’em Up
Banks had 2.5 sacks, 131 combined tackles, and one forced fumble in his two-year stint with the Browns from 1994 to 1995.
Cleveland won eleven games and reached the AFC Divisional Round in 1994. Regrettably, the original Browns won just five games in 1995, their last year in Cleveland before moving to Maryland and becoming the Baltimore Ravens.
Carl Banks retired after the 1995 NFL campaign. He had 39.5 sacks, 860 combined tackles, three interceptions, one pick-six, one forced fumble, and six fumble recoveries in his twelve-year pro football career.
Carl Banks and his family currently reside in the Edgewater, NJ area. He is the president of G-III Sports by Carl Banks, a well-known line of sports apparel.
Banks has had other endeavors apart from his clothing business. He has also served as an ambassador for Dust-Off screen cleaners, a plastic trash bag and sandwich bag salesman, and New York Giants football analyst on Sirius NFL Radio, per MLive.com.
Banks had a minority ownership stake in the AFL’s now-defunct New Jersey Red Dogs. He was also the director of player development for the New York Jets during the 1997 NFL season.
Carl Banks has been an active member of the greater New York City community. He helped launch the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey’s (UMDNJ) concussion and brain injury center in 2004. He has also been collaborating with Children of Incarcerated Parents in recent years.
Banks became a member of the Greater Flint Area Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.
“It’s flattering,” Banks told GFASHOF.org. “It’s the ultimate honor, particularly when you consider all those great athletes and paved the way before me. It’s something I accept with a great deal of humility.”
Banks is also a member of the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame, the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame, the New York Giants Ring of Honor, and the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team.
Carl Banks had a major influence on today’s NFL defenses. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, his defensive coordinator with the New York Giants from 1985 to 1990 and head coach with the Cleveland Browns from 1994 to 1995, shows his highlights to current Patriots defensive players.
Hear the interaction w/ Carl below
— SiriusXM NFL Radio (@SiriusXMNFL) November 1, 2019
Carl Banks has remained a staunch sports fan during his retirement years. According to Woodyard, he has been passionately following the Beecher Buccaneers, Michigan State Spartans, and NFL football.