By Craig Ellenport
For a football fan, there's not much better than the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony. So I can't close out this year's Canton journal with silly stories about e-mails from Boomer Esiason or recalling my glory days as a college football writer.
Everything about this day is inspirational: from the immortals who return every year to welcome the newest members of their elite fraternity, to the beaming family and friends of the enshrinees, to the throngs of fans who travel from points around the country to see their favorite players enter the Hall.
It's one thing for Dan Marino to egg on his fans back in January, urging them to make the trek to Canton in August. But it's another for those fans to feel so attached to a football player as to pack their bags and actually make the trip.
Emotions are off the charts for those involved. Think about the families of Fritz Pollard and Benny Friedman, who lobbied for years to get this honor. Think about Marino listening to his son, Daniel, speak so eloquently about his father's competitive spirit. Think about Steve Young's jubilation upon winning the Super Bowl after years of struggling with bad teams and then fighting his way out of Joe Montana's shadow.
As NFL.com's Gil Brandt noted, he thought there was no chance of topping last year's ceremony, when John Elway followed an excellent presentation from his daughter by speaking so passionately and choking up when he talked of his late father… but this year's ceremony topped it.
I guess the bottom line is that it's not a competition. It doesn't matter if you are Billy Shaw or Joe Perry or Deacon Jones of Dan Marino. There are 229 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and only 145 living Hall of Famers. It doesn't get any more elite than that.
Maybe some of the speeches are funnier or more poignant than others, but there's no avoiding the bottom line: Enshrinement day oozes with football royalty. If you don't get goosebumps sitting in this old high school football stadium and watching these football heroes take their place among the immortals, then football just isn't for you.
Of course, the highlight of this year's speeches wasn't anything any of the enshrinees said. It was Marino pulling out a football and throwing one last pass to Mark Clayton - a bullet that he shot into the audience, where his former star receiver hauled it in.
I was also glad to hear Steve Young acknowledge his running ability during his speech - mainly because I had a great note about his rushing stats that I haven't had a chance to use… until now.
"Sid Gillman would tie my feet with a rope and taught me that playing quarterback was an art form," said Young, talking about the Hall of Fame coach and passing guru who coached Young in the USFL. "He'd proudly say, 'This is not a game. It's a canvas and you are Michaelangelo.' I loved Sid. He convinced me not to listen to the many people who believed at the time… that you could not be a great quarterback if you could scramble. Go figure. That never made much sense to me anyway."
For the record, Young ranks second on the all-time list among quarterbacks with 4,239 career rushing yards. Randall Cunningham is tops on the list with 4,928 yards, but it's worth noting that three of the top four rushing quarterbacks are in the Hall of Fame - Fran Tarkenton is third and John Elway is fourth.
Take it even further, and six of the top 17 rushing quarterbacks of all-time are in the Hall - Bobby Layne ranks 12th, Roger Staubach 16th and Terry Bradshaw 17th.
So does this mean that being able to run the football is a key to greatness for quarterbacks? Not necessarily. For most of the quarterbacks who have rushed for a lot of yards, it was as much a matter of longevity as running ability.
But Gil Brandt made a good point when I discussed this with him a few days ago: "If you've got a guy who can scramble for a first down on third-and-nine just once a game, that's a big plus."
When it comes to scrambling, we've been doing just that the last four days here in Canton. And as always, it's been a highlight of the year.
Next year. The Class of 2006 will include at least two shoo-ins: the late Reggie White and NFL.com's own Troy Aikman. Should be a few other colorful players in the bunch. Regardless of who gets in, I'm already looking forward to my next trip to Canton, the football equivalent of mecca.
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