Fan's Guide to the Hall of Fame, Day 2: A night to remember
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.
Saturday, August 2, 2014 – Day 2
Timken Steel Grand Parade
Downtown Canton shuts down on Saturday mornings during Hall of Fame week to play host to the Timken Steel Grand Parade. People were lining up with chairs to stake claims to prime locations on Friday night. The fine people of Canton take this parade seriously.
All of the parade staples made an appearance, including high school marching bands, floats, classic cars and of course, giant balloons. Perhaps it’s because I’m not what you would call a parade aficionado, but the people of Canton go crazy when the marchers spin their giant balloons. Seriously. Every time a new balloon came past, the crowd would erupt with cheers of “Spin it!”
Sprinkled throughout the parade are all of the Hall of Famers, including the new class, riding in individual cars waving to the fans. More NFL legends had trickled in since the gold jacket dinner, including icons Paul Hornung and Mike Ditka.
Overall, it was really cool seeing the whole Canton community come out and get involved with the parade. A couple young Browns fans were beseeching the Hall of Famers to do Johnny Manziel’s money hand symbol, and funny enough, Andre Reed and Dan Fouts were happy to oblige with a chuckle.
My ticket for the raised bleacher seat was $9, but curbside space is free. Most attendees chose to bring lawn chairs and do their own thing. Street parking is free on the weekends, and if you can’t find any available, there are ample nearby parking lots that cost $5 to $10.
Inside the Pro Football Hall of Fame
With the parade wrapped, I made my way over to the Pro Football Hall of Fame to dive in. The Hall starts with a trip through the history of the NFL. It’s an awesome exhibit, one that you’ll want to dedicate a healthy amount of time to for a thorough walkthrough. Sprinkled throughout the timeline are great nuggets about players, teams and general historical events as well, like this portion that discusses the creation of the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears -- the NFL’s oldest rivalry.
Upstairs is a more specialized look at the NFL, including aspects such as innovations, dynasties, records and more. There are also interactive features where you can hold the football with the same grip of legendary quarterbacks, measure your bicep opposite a massive lineman’s and more. The walls are littered with video screens that give even more information, but are optional to view with the press of a button. It helped not overwhelm the experience with unnecessary noise, and allowed patrons to focus on what they wanted.
Further down the second story are the bronze busts of the enshrinees, a Super Bowl-themed area, a Super Bowl theater (with a 360 degree video experience using the cinematic power of NFL Films -- a must view) and my favorite section, the memorabilia area. This part of the Hall was filled with actual pieces of football history. Jerseys, helmets, cleats, programs, magazines, turf, etc. You name it, it’s probably up there somewhere (or in the archives). I could have spent even more time there than I did. And I’m pretty sure the employees were starting to suspect that I had fallen asleep standing up. One of my favorite pieces is in the photo below. It’s Otto Graham’s jersey from 1952, when due to a rule change he had to switch his number from 60 to 14 (he was a quarterback, in case you didn’t know). I love that you can still see the faded 60 behind the 14.
Now, I could go on forever about the Hall of Fame. But that’d ruin the experience, because you are going, aren’t you? Great. Get your tickets HERE.
Oustide the Pro Football Hall of Fame
The fun doesn’t stop for fans once they leave the Hall. Numerous events are packed into the surrounding campus, including a beer garden, “Mall” of Fame complete with stellar memorabilia, autograph sessions with Hall of Famers (all require payment depending on the player) and some skills challenges.
In addition, there are various parties on Saturday for fans to attend in advance of the actual enshrinement ceremony. The parties are similar. Both have DJs, food and beverages, but one has a wider variety of food, beverages and former players trotting around. Of course, tickets to that event are included in the higher-priced packages, which you can learn more about HERE. Both parties were a lot of fun, and the fans were enjoying themselves. If you need proof, look no further than the photo below. Yes, that is indeed the electric slide. I rest my case.
Class of 2014 Enshrinement Ceremony
Of all the events I was to participate in, this was the one I was most looking forward to. I figured with the variety of characters and personalities we had in this class, we were bound to get some fantastic speeches and unforgettable moments. I was not disappointed.
ESPN’s Chris Berman was the master of ceremonies, and during his opening monologue he asked, “Are you ready for some football?” Judging by the crowd’s reaction, the answer was a resounding “Yes.” All of the past enshrinees were introduced again, as they sat on the stage for the ceremony. Buffalo Bills fans had turned out in droves to see Andre Reed’s induction, so it was no surprise that when Jim Kelly was announced, the crowd erupted and honored his recent battles against cancer with a long, well-deserved standing ovation (and encore).
All of the speeches were great in their own ways. Derrick Brooks’ humility. Humphrey’s long wait. Aeneas Williams’ theme. Ray Guy’s grit and perspective. Andre Reed’s Buffalo fan service. Michael Strahan’s charisma. So rather than prattle on endlessly about each speech (which you can watch highlights of on NFL.com), I’ve listed my favorite quote from each newly minted (bronzed?) member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame with a little context.
» “Never toot your own horn because it only makes one sound. But if everyone else is talking about you, that sound is forever.” » This was actually advice from Brooks’ mom, but I loved the simplicity and beauty of the message. It’s a perfect microcosm for the humble strength that embodied Brooks as a player and a man.
» “They told me I only had 10 minutes up here, but let me start off by telling you, I’ve waited almost 30 years to get to this podium, so don’t rush me guys, I’m going to be here for a minute.” » Humphrey really deserved to be in the Hall of Fame sooner than this. Had the Falcons teams he played on had more success, that likely would have been the case.
» “Begin with the end in mind, and die empty.” » While this sounds macabre on the surface, this was the theme of Williams’ speech, by which he meant have a plan and live your life to the fullest. It’s an extrapolation of one of my favorite sports expressions, to “leave everything on the field.” Williams is encouraging us to leave everything on the field of life. Pretty cool.
» “Everybody tonight go follow my daughter on Instagram.” » Jones said he told his daughter he’d give her a shoutout, and boy did he ever. He even held up a towel with her Instagram name on it. If you’re curious, follow her @hai_itswaleria.
» “It’s been long, long overdue, but now the Hall of Fame has a complete team.” » Amen, Ray, amen. I was thrilled Guy finally was inducted, and this was a great way to sum up his journey into the Hall, and something I’d never thought of in quite that way.
» “I was known for my toughness … but the toughest individual I’ve ever met in my life is Jim Kelly, No. 12.” » Again, a well-deserved nod to Jim Kelly, both for his toughness on the gridiron and in life. The man has hit more bumps in the road than many of us ever will, so it was great to see two friends share this moment together.
» “You can be tough, you can run through guys, you can be physical. But you can have fun, too.” » Strahan’s speech was hilarious, chock full of great moments like him explaining that his brothers called him B.O.B., which stood for “Booty on Back” when he was a chubby youth, to Eli Manning’s stone face playing right into Strahan’s story. However, this quote stood out for me because it came from his coaches, and was a perfect embodiment of how Strahan played the game. He was ferocious, dynamic and physical. But not once did I not think he loved what he was doing.
When Strahan had finished his speech and the fireworks were exploding in the sky, I took a moment to think about what I’d just witnessed. I had spent roughly five hours listening to seven NFL legends speak about their lives and careers and it finally hit me why Strahan wasn’t lying when he said this was the best weekend of his life. Years ago, these men sacrificed blood, sweat, tears and countless hours, just to hear the roar of their home crowd on a Sunday afternoon. And though that roar has now faded, for a few of the enshrinees it has likely diminished to a whisper, for one last time, as they are inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, they get to hear that roar and suit up for football again. Although this time, they’ve traded in their shoulder pads for a gold jacket.
Thanks again for reading. I’ll be covering Sunday’s events, including the Hall of Fame game between the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills, so stay tuned. Until next time.