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Pete Fierle, Manager - Digital Media/Communications
Pete's familiarity with the game's history is a result of spending two decades surrounded by the world's largest collection of pro football information. His many duties include overseeing the Hall's website as well as the day-to-day operation of the Ralph Wilson, Jr. Pro Football Research and Preservation Center.
Football and fathers, what a great combination! As we celebrate Father's Day, I'd like to share some memorable stories of fathers and sons using football as a way to bond.
First, allow me to use this blog to say Happy Father's Day to my 88-year-old dad. He and I spent many Sundays during my childhood in Western New York either huddled around a TV or going to Rich Stadium (aka Ralph Wilson Stadium) to watch the Buffalo Bills. In fact, I fondly recall going with him to the first-ever game at Rich Stadium in 1973. I'm sure somewhere in my basement is the collectible coin handed out that night.
It was my father who also gave me an opportunity to start working in football when he arranged to get me on the stat crew for Bills games when I was only a senior in high school. It put me on the path that ultimately landed me a career in sports that has included the past 20-plus years working here at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But, there is one particular memory that really connected me to the game's past. My father went to Northwestern in the 1940s when the school had a quarterback by the name of Otto Graham. Later in life the two became casual friends and when I was a teenager, Otto came to Buffalo to play in a golf tournament with my dad. And so, I got my Bobby Brady moment!
Here's a promotional photo that resides in the Hall's photo collection. You can also search YouTube for a "far out" clip from that particular Brady Bunch episode.
Similar to how Joe Namath showed up at the Brady household, Otto stayed at our house. He was nice enough to go out in the yard and toss a couple of passes to my friend Joe and me. So, like Dante Lavelli and Mac Speedie, I too caught passes from Otto Graham.
Football and dads. I see it all the time as I walk through the Hall of Fame. There's nothing like seeing a proud dad sharing a story with his son as they look at a jersey or a helmet or watch a video of great moments from the NFL's past.
Then, there are those memorable occasions involving our Hall of Famers. I think of the stoic Bud Grant choking up when he made reference to his dad during his enshrinement speech. In fact, Grant's entire enshrinement speech is basically homage to his father.
In 1991, John Hannah became the first enshrinee to pick his dad as his presenter.
"With a tremendous amount of pride and happiness, it is my distinct pleasure to present to you, one of the newest candidates for induction into Pro Football Hall of Fame, my son, John Hannah," Herb Hannah, a former NFL player himself, proudly exclaimed on the front steps of the Hall.
Then, there's the story of Steve Young. As a kid, the future Hall of Fame quarterback convinced his dad to take a detour during a family vacation to stop in Canton. The Young family took this photo on the front steps:
Many years later, in 2005, Steve and his family returned to Canton when he was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Appropriately, his dad served as his presenter.
But, there's one moment that will always stand out to me during my days here at the Hall of Fame. In 1993, the great Walter Payton was being enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He became the first inductee to select his son as his presenter. At the time, Jarrett, a future NFL running back with the Tennessee Titans, was only 12.
On the day before Walter's enshrinement, he had agreed to tape a commercial with his young son for the Hall of Fame. NFL Films' elaborate equipment and lighting was set up throughout the museum. This obviously drew the attention of the many fans who filled the Hall of Fame that day. Although we kept it somewhat under wraps, word spread that Walter was going to be in the building. Before we knew it, fans flocked to outside a room where Walter was set to arrive. We arranged to have Walter along with Jarrett come through a back door to avoid having to make their way through the crowd.
As Walter was having his make-up applied and being briefed on the commercial shoot , I along with several other staff members were ready to assist with crowd control. As the make-up person worked on Walter, we could all hear that there was a huge crowd outside the room and, in fact, many were pushing on the door. Jarrett, a curious pre-teen, decided to take a peek at what was on the other side. As soon as he cracked the door ajar, his eyes shot wide open as hundreds of fans were just inches away and appeared ready to charge. He quickly, and wisely, shut the door.
I think it was probably right about then that Jarrett became aware how famous of a dad he had. Moments later, with our staff "parting the seas" Walter and Jarrett walked through the crowd to get to the area where the commercial was being shot. The fans cheered wildly as Walter and Jarrett made their way through the Hall.
Here's the commercial:
Another father and son moment happened shortly after the Paytons finished taping the commercial. Walter asked us if we could show him where his uniform from when he became the NFL's all-time rushing leader was on exhibit. By this time, most of the visitors had cleared out of the Hall of Fame and only a small gathering of fans were in our rotunda where Walter's display was located.
We walked Walter to the exhibit. When we arrived, there was man standing in front of the display describing "Sweetness" to his wife and son. The man looked to his left and saw Payton standing there in real life. He glanced again and realized who it was standing next to him. He was absolutely speechless. Within seconds, he gathered his composure and grabbed at his wife's sleeve to the get camera ready for this once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.
It was a day that is forever imprinted in my memory. And, the following day, more memories were made when a nervous Jarrett stepped to the podium to present his dad for induction into the Hall of Fame. He did a great job and not surprisingly, Walter was the first of the Class of 1993 to be brought to tears.
I'm not entirely sure what my family has in store for me this Father's Day but I'm fairly certain I'll be throwing a football around with my daughter and son; and talking some football with my dad.
Happy Father's Day!