Here’s a look back on a memorable 2009 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival. The festivities provided me with a number of lasting memories but for brevity sake, I’ve picked just ten to share here.
10. Sunshine. Amazingly, nearly a half century worth of enshrinements have escaped inclement weather. The week leading up to the enshrinement included a foreboding forecast. Despite some rain on Saturday, just as Rich Eisen stepped to the podium to get things underway the first bright sunshine of the day appeared.
9. Mort for 10. Chris Mortensen from ESPN watched the game from the Fawcett Stadium press box. In the fourth quarter his son Alex was inserted at QB for the Oilers (aka Titans). After a couple of handoffs, Alex fired a 10-yard completion for a first down. Chris let out a quick cheer and several members of the media on hand gave a polite clap. Who knows what Alex’s future in the NFL will be but he’ll always have that memory of making it to the NFL and completing his first pass.
8. Tweet. If you follow us on Twitter you would have learned one of the real cool observations from back stage during Saturday night’s enshrinement. As Randall McDaniel completed his speech and was walking to the side stage for photos, he was tapped on the shoulder by Joe Greene. The former Pittsburgh Steelers great simply stated, “you’re one of us now.”
7. Mr. Wilson holds court. At a Friday press conference in the McKinley Grand Hotel in downtown Canton, Ralph Wilson, Jr. was mobbed by media. The line of day came when he referenced the time limit for his speech he was going to deliver the next day. “I’ve given them 50 years, they give me 12 minutes” he joked.
6. Great weekend. Media coverage of the weekend was extraordinary. We had more than 130 different media outlets covering the enshrinement and game. Charean Williams, a NFL writer from the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, President of the Pro Football Writers of America, and a member of our Board of Selectors, has experienced a number of Hall of Fame weekends. So, it was quite gratifying when she sent me a thank you email that stated, “Truly, it was one of the greatest weekends ever.”
5. Throwbacks. Kudos to the NFL for having the AFL’s 50th Anniversary Season kick off in Canton. Seeing the Bills, Oilers, and the officiating crew in the Throwback uniforms was special. The NFL had spent significant time in the Hall of Fame archives over the past several years making sure the uniforms were authentic.
4. Award winners. Congratulations to the award winners whose acceptance speeches didn’t make national television but nevertheless were filled with heartfelt appreciation. During Friday’s Enshrinees Dinner, Irv Cross (Pete Rozelle Radio-TV Award) and Peter King (McCann Award given by the Pro Football Writers of America) humbly accepted these prestigious honors. Cross reminisced about an elementary teacher’s impact on his life after losing his mother when he was in the fifth grade. King told the story of how soldiers, despite the dangers of being in battle in Afghanistan, set up camp and then immediately called home to get a score to the Giants-Cowboys game.
3. Randall’s second home. After returning from the press box after Sunday’s game I walked through a nearly empty Hall of Fame at around 12:30 in the morning. I bumped into Randall McDaniel and his family as they toured the closed museum. I congratulated him once again and told him I hoped he had a great weekend. His trademarked smile grew even larger after I said, “I hope you like your new home!”
2. Football’s back. Now, we know that the Hall of Fame Game isn’t the most exciting game of the year, but what a spectacular play to get the season rolling. A.J. Trapasso’s fake punt that resulted in a 40-yard touchdown for the opening score reminds us just how much we missed watching the NFL since February.
1. Bronzed. Seeing up close and personal the impact of what it means to be enshrined into the Hall of Fame shows me just how great of an honor it is to be a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Throughout the weekend, I observed countless times just how overwhelmed members of the Derrick Thomas and Bob Hayes families were about the honor bestowed upon their late family members. So many times from Thursday when they arrived in town to the Sunday night when it was all over, the humbleness shown by Randall McDaniel, Bruce Smith, Ralph Wilson, Jr. and Rod Woodson put everything into perspective.
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