By Craig Ellenport, NFL.com
Special to Profootballhof.com
Friday of Enshrinement Week is the day things really start happening in Canton. Most of the 40-50 returning Hall of Famers check into the downtown Marriott McKinley hotel throughout the course of the day. Family and friends of the Class of 2005 arrive, and their schedules are non-stop.
Meanwhile, a few miles north of downtown, the employees of the Pro Football Hall of Fame are on walkie-talkies, back and forth between the Hall and the adjacent stadium as they prepare for Sunday’s ceremonies. In the parking lot, vendors are setting up the “Mall of Fame” – on Saturday there will be throngs of people in Dan Marino jerseys buying up everything in sight.
And yet a few more miles northwest of the Hall, about 100 youth football coaches from around the country – and a few from international destinations – are gathered for the fourth annual NFL Youth Summit. The wide-eyed coaches, many of whom will leave Canton Sunday saying this was the greatest weekend of their lives, had a full day of football talk – including a speech from Hall of Fame offensive lineman Anthony Muñoz – before attending a private party at the Hall.
The Youth Summit is always a thrill for me. These coaches are so deserving of recognition for their devotion to youth sports, and it’s great to see them rewarded with this weekend. However, this year’s Summit offered an even greater reward for me.
There are always a handful of former NFL players now coaching high school football who are invited. This year, among that group, there was former NFL safety George Teague – who for two years has been the head football coach and assistant athletic director at Harvest Christian Academy in Watauga, Texas.
Craig Ellenport and George Teague
NFL fans will remember Teague as the Cowboys safety who flattened then-49er receiver Terrell Owens when Owens stomped on the Dallas star after scoring a touchdown.
I remember Teague as the ball-hawking All-American safety who anchored one of the best college football defenses of all time. I also remember that when I was writing the annual college football preview for SPORT Magazine, I was the only national writer to pick Alabama to win the 1992 national championship. And thanks in large part to Teague’s stellar play that season, my prediction came true.
Finally, after 13 years, I had a chance to thank him. And not that I was fishing for it (okay, maybe a little), but Teague recalled being aware that some national magazine had picked them preseason number one, and that was a big source of motivation for the Crimson Tide.
“I should be thanking you,” he said.
Well, I’m assuming he was just blowing smoke up my butt, right? Anyway, it worked. My weekend has been made.
Other highlights from Friday took place at the Marriott, where no less than 26 Hall of Famers showed up in the Jackson Room for the NFL Auctions signing program. Among the stories and exchanges and general observations:
I took a picture of Lem Barney for Profootballhof.com, and the former Lions cornerback expressed some concern over why we might be taking a picture of him. “I’m wanted in 30 states for stealing,” he said. “Stealing footballs, that is.” For the record, Barney had 56 career interceptions. Lenny Moore dropped by in the afternoon and was glad to hear that John Mackey, his former Baltimore Colts teammate, was already in town. He talked about what a great tight end Mackey was, and how his significance as a pioneer in fighting for player free agency may have led to a delay in his selection to the Hall. Moore recalled that when Mike Ditka became the first tight end elected to the Hall in 1988, Ditka said he was almost ashamed to be voted in before Mackey, who did not make it in until 1992.
It doesn’t take much to make Eagles receiver Tommy McDonald smile, but I’m proud to say I made him laugh out loud when I said, “Hey, Tommy, I don’t get it. You’re an Eagles wide receiver and you didn’t need to renegotiate your contract before coming here?”
Joe DeLamielleure is always fun to be around, because he probably loves the sport of football as much if not more than anyone who has ever played the game. Since being enshrined two years ago, he has been back to the Hall several times, and he never tires of talking football – especially trivia. “You know why I’m such a trivia buff?” said the great Bills offensive lineman. “Because my father owned a bar, and when you spend a lot of time in a bar, you learn a lot of trivia.” DeLamielleure was also quick to note that he spent all that time in a bar and yet he doesn’t drink.
Before he went to speak at the Youth Summit, Anthony Muñoz came by the signing room. Past or present, I think there’s no better example to me of a Hall of Famer. He’ll be 47 later this month, and yet he looks like he can line up tomorrow and flatten Michael Strahan. In a day and age where 300 pounds is a below-average weight for offensive linemen, Muñoz just looks larger than life at 6-6, 278. A mountain of a man, and a class act to boot.
Larger than life and class act. That’s the way to describe all of the Hall of Famers. And that’s what makes this weekend so special.
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