Canton Journal - Day 1


By Craig Ellenport,
Special to

As always, it’s brutally hot here in Canton. And all I can think about is how thankful I am for Jim Kelly.

It wasn’t entirely Kelly’s doing, but the throngs of Buffalo fans expected when the Bills’ QB was enshrined here in 2002 were partly responsible for the decision to move enshrinement ceremony from the steps of the Pro Football Hall of Fame to adjacent Fawcett Stadium. And that meant one thing to me: air-conditioned press box.

Prior to holding the ceremony in the stadium, the media either worked in a room inside the Hall, watching the ceremony on television, or they sat in the oppressive Canton heat with everyone else. It wouldn’t be so bad if not for the wear and tear on the laptop – and on my fingertips, which burned with every tap on the red-hot keyboard.

In any case, the heat didn’t keep us from our appointed rounds today. senior analyst Gil Brandt and I met up at the airport in Cleveland and made the one-hour trek to Canton. As always, the drive was a great time to hear football stories. I was a little sidetracked by some of the topics, and almost forgot to ask Gil a key question concerning the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2005: Is Steve Young the best lefty quarterback he’s ever seen?

Gil didn’t exactly answer the question, but was quick to note: “Kenny Stabler wasn’t bad.”

You see, I’m a proud lefthander myself. You would think I’d be more excited to be here to see the first left-handed quarterback enshrined in the Hall. And I suppose I am. But as crazy as it may sound, I am not backing down from my long-time stance: The best lefty quarterback in NFL history was my childhood idol, Seattle’s Jim Zorn.

In fact, Zorn and Young were pretty similar. Zorn came up with the expansion Seahawks, and frequently had to improvise while running for his life. Young may have been a better natural running quarterback, but both had an unorthodox style and made things happen when it seemed as if there was no hope. Young ran for his life early in his career with the then-hapless Buccaneers. I can only imagine what Zorn’s career might have been like had he been traded to a winning franchise with a perfect offensive system in place, as was the case with Young when he joined the 49ers.

But I digress.

Upon arriving in Canton, it wasn’t long before Gil had his colleagues shaking their heads in amazement.

The way it goes on trips like these is that Brandt can tell anyone we meet something about their hometownan – from Hall of Famers to the hotel staff. So we got to the NFL office downstairs at the Glenmoor Country Club, and I asked one of the special events coordinators how her vacation was. She had been visiting relatives overseas… in Croatia.

“You’re from Croatia?” asked Gil. Here we go…

“Yeah, we went to Croatia back in the ‘70s to scout some players,” said Brandt, referring to his days as personnel director of the Dallas Cowboys. “We were in that resort town… what was it, Dubrovnik?”

Sure enough, it was Dubrovnik. Just one of Brandt’s stops on a European tour that netted former Dallas placekicker Toni Fritsch.

Gil and I made our way to the Hall of Fame, where vice president Joe Horrigan was on his way to the NFL Network’s makeshift set for his weekly spot. Horrigan has been appearing every Thursday on NFL Network’s Total Access in the weeks leading up to Enshrinement Weekend. He’s become a big star, really. But it’s almost over.

“After the ceremony, the Network’s going to drop you like a hot potato, aren’t they?” I asked Horrigan.

“Yeah, probably,” he conceded. There’s always next year, Joe.

Paul Zimmerman and Gil Brandt

Dr. Z and Gil Brandt chat.

Inside the Hall, we spent some time with Sports Illustrated’s Paul Zimmerman. Dr. Z was down in the Hall’s archives, doing some research for a story he’s writing on the best offensive and defensive units of all time. Having Gil show up proved to be a bonus for Dr. Z, who got to pick Gil’s brain about the Cowboys’ 1971 Doomsday Defense.

From there, it was down to the Marriott McKinley, where we set up the NFL Auction room for signings taking place Friday and Saturday. Young’s group was setting up shop nextdoor, where they will be distributing gift bags to Young’s guests.

Not that I’m a guest of Steve Young, but I’d like to see what’s in those bags. He’s a lefty. I’m a lefty. We have a bond. Maybe he’s got an extra gift bag for me. Stay tuned.

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