NFL Media writer Alex Gelhar is taking in the 2014 Hall of Fame weekend as a fan. He’ll be writing about his journey in this series to share his experiences and help other fans know more about all that the Hall of Fame has to offer in case they want to plan a trip of their own.
Just in case you were unaware, there’s a helpful sign on a bridge as you approach Canton, Ohio, reminding you that you are indeed about to enter football mecca.
“Stark County – Home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” it reads.
A few miles down I-77, the stands of a high school stadium appear, catching the eye. That is until you see what is nestled in the shadow of those stands.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame.
A small, but spectacular, building that houses the history of America’s favorite game. It’s a place every football fan, or sports fan for that matter, should visit in their lifetime. But the task can be daunting. The Hall of Fame enshrinement and game grow each year, and there is now a variety of events peppering the week (23 total). For the 2014 Hall of Fame weekend, I’ll be serving as your guide, attending as many of the fan events as possible to help paint a picture of how to make the most out of your trip. So bookmark this series if a trip to Canton is in your future.
And if you’re a fan of football, it better be. Let’s get to it.
Friday, August 1, 2014 – Day 1
Hall of Famers group photo
Friday morning started off with a bang. Every year, the current Hall of Fame class gets together with all of the returning Hall of Fame members for a massive photo op on the steps of the Hall. The event takes place at roughly 9:30 a.m., but it’s worth arriving early. Access to the players themselves is a bit limited, but where else can you watch 100-plus football legends mingle? Nowhere.
This year’s crop of NFL legends featured such luminaries as Jim Brown, John Madden, Bruce Smith and “Mean” Joe Greene. As a Packers fan, I was thrilled to see James Lofton and Dave Robinson in the group. It was also cool to see former San Diego Chargers Dan Fouts and Charlie Joiner not only chumming it up prior to the photo, but standing next to each other throughout the shoot. They connected for 34 touchdowns in the vaunted “Air Coryell” offense, and it appears their personal connection has extended well beyond the gridiron. Shannon Sharpe called the Hall of Fame “the fraternity of all fraternities” in his 2011 enshrinement speech. It doesn’t seem like he was too far off.
This event is free to the public, and definitely worth checking out.
Fashion Show Luncheon
Next on my list of events was the 2014 Hall of Fame Fashion Show Luncheon. Yep, a fashion show. I had no idea this event existed, but I was very curious to check it out.
After a short drive from the Hall, I arrived at the Canton Memorial Civic Center to partake in the luncheon. It didn’t take long to realize that as a male I was going to be in the vast minority at this event. Doors opened at 11 a.m., and when I arrived a little before 10:30 a.m. there was already a line over 50 women deep.
My ticket said I was seated at table 188, so I figured this would be a pretty large event, but upon entering the Civic Center I realized my moderate estimation was far from reality. I later learned that the event was host to 3,000-plus guests this year, with a healthy mix of Canton locals and people in town for the enshrinement. A delicious meal of chicken saltimbocca with port wine sauce accompanied by brown rice with roasted tomatoes and ratatouille was delivered to our tables. Wine, water, coffee, bread and dessert were also provided along with a gift bag filled with coupons (many to local shops). I don’t believe I’ll be getting the full value out of those coupons, sadly.
Regardless of my coupon efficiency quotient, I soldiered on and enjoyed the rest of the fashion show. And I have to admit, it was rather fun. Local broadcasting hero Stefani Schaefer was the emcee, and the entertainment in between (and often during) each portion of the show was none other than former 98 Degrees member Jeff Timmons. His gyrating and rehashing of 98 Degrees’ hits would have been worth the price of admission alone. All of that aside, he did sing pretty dang well and it was a nice twist into the normal fashion show routine.
All in all, this is ultimately (as it was at its inception) an event for women, whether they’re Canton locals or begrudgingly visiting with their husband. So ladies, if your man is taking you to Canton, make him buy this ticket for you (or the two of you). And fellas, if you’re thinking of dragging your lady to Canton … do yourself a favor and splurge on this ticket. It won’t inhibit your enjoyment, but it will definitely enhance hers.
Tickets can be found here, and cost roughly $60 per person. The event lasts a few hours and is quite the production, so it's worth the cost.
Enshrinee Gold Jacket Dinner
This is where your money is made on Friday. Sure, the main event where the enshrinees give their speeches is on Saturday, but the current class of Hall of Famers first don their gold jackets on Friday night. And I can say, after having witnessed seven football legends receive that jacket, that there is nothing quite like it.
First off, the new class must walk a gauntlet of former Hall of Famers, shaking hands and hugging all of them. Overkill? Maybe. But when you witness the emotion on the players’ faces, and the connection between players (who are often generations apart), it helps you realize the significance of this event. In that, while the act itself (placing a golden blazer onto a former player) seems in itself insignificant, the actual meaning, and implication, is so far from that.
These men have accomplished so much in their lives, it’s almost unfathomable to us plebians. However, when that gold jacket finally rests on their shoulders, the emotion, respect and pride permeate the room. I had chills every time a jacket was donned, whether it was from Derrick Brooks’ son, John Madden onto Ray Guy, or Aeneas Williams’ father, the moment definitely doesn’t lack gravity.
The enshrinee dinner costs $120 per ticket (more info here), but it is so worth the price of admission. Even if your dinner table it located on the opposite side of the world (or so it seems), before the action begins the always helpful Pro Football Hall of Fame staff will help direct you to the main arena where you will still have a seat. And if all of this doesn’t convince you, then understand that over 100 Hall of Famers attend the event, and form a legendary gauntlet that the players must make their way through prior to receiving their jacket. It’s a sight that never gets old.
I am anxious for Saturday’s events, especially the actual enshrinement. Given the emotion these guys displayed on Friday, I have a feeling we'll be in for some fantastic speeches. However, until then, this Friday night will most definitely suffice.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for my recap/insight on Day 2 at the Hall of Fame which will include the enshrinement cermony. Until next time.
-- Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexGelhar