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Hall of Fame 'Knocks': Nighttime Motown Mega-magic

Hall of Fame 'Knocks': Nighttime Motown Mega-magic

02/11/2021
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By George Veras
Executive Producer, Pro Football Hall of Fame

First-person on-site accounts of the Class of 2021 Pro Football Hall of Fame “Knocks on the Door.”

Seven “Knocks” in four days, each with unique challenges between travel, COVID testing, sticking to plane and crew schedules, and weather challenges. A tight schedule was needed to reduce the risks of leaks, since the announcement of the new Class of 2021 and revealing the “knocks” would not be known until the airing of “NFL Honors” at 9 p.m. Feb. 6 on CBS.

Also, if the knock was at a front door, the honoree and his family would have to walk outside a few steps (for COVID safety). Neither Baker nor the camera crew could go into the house.

We left Denver – after surprising Peyton Manning – and arrived at a cold and snowy Detroit at 7 p.m. to hustle over to the home of Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

By all accounts, his first-time nomination came with the credentials as a breakthrough model as wide receiver. The “Megatron” tag came with a 6-foot-5 height with speed like a Tyrek Hill, strength like a linebacker and a leaping ability like an NBA rim-banger. But even with these skills, he was not considered “flashy.” Johnson was a quiet, hard-working player on perennial losing teams with few skill players in the cast.

The last living Detroit Lion in the Hall was Dick LeBeau in 2010. Alex Karras will make it in as part of the Centennial Class of 2020, but his career is a distant memory for many fans. Although raised in Georgia and playing at Georgia Tech, Calvin married a native Detroiter and lived in a close-by suburb to the city. The home felt “Michigan” with an all-brick front with a wide, cathedral-like front door that would provide plenty of space for Calvin and the family to step out.

The “insider” for this knock was longtime Detroit PR Director Bill Keenist, a great friend of the Hall with Joe Horrigan and with this author when he was producing the “NFL Today” and most recently David Baker.

Baker and Pat Lindesmith, the Chief Partnership Officer and Senior Vice President of Gold Jacket Relations, reached out to Bill. It was the right choice. He has a close relationship with Calvin and his wife, Brittany, and an endearing love for Calvin’s genuineness and kind heart. For Bill, it was an honor to be involved.

He set it up perfectly and knew Brittany would be home because she is pregnant with their second child and Calvin Jr. is a toddler. Other sources confirmed Calvin is a homebody.

It was 8:30 p.m. when crew and Baker parked several blocks away and rendezvoused with Bill in front of the house. At least the cold and dark kept the neighbors indoors!

As most homes have today, the doorbell had a camera, so Baker positioned his knock position as far to the left as he could, but the crew behind him did not. But the glow of lights over the front door and through the frosted glass from the foyer mixed magically with a light, misty snow falling in the darkness. Baker knocked, and through the tinted glass surrounding the door we could see the image of Calvin approaching.

He opened the door with a tank top, shorts and slip-ons with no socks. He had seen the camera but, thankfully, had not connected the dots.

“Oh, no. Oh, no. This can’t be,” he said. “I thought I saw cameras. I should have known!”

Megatron’s megawatt smile grew even bigger. Then, tears. Disbelief and an almost incomprehensible realization that he was a Hall of Famer led us to believe he really didn’t expect it with his first year of eligibility.

He called for his wife and son as Baker began, “It is my honor and privilege to have you join the Pro Football Hall of Fame, in recognition of your Hall of Fame career and your Hall of Fame life.”

Off to the right was a beaming Bill Keenist, who later wrote to Baker: “Thank you again for allowing me the opportunity to share in this incredible moment. It absolutely meant (and will forever mean) the world to me. And I know the history of AMERICA’S PASSION is in great hands.”

Like many players, Calvin Johnson left the game not with the best of feelings. Now those feelings are all gone, washed away by recognition from his peers that he has the chance to represent greatness and excellence to the next generation.

Johnson innocently asked Baker, “So, you are going back to Canton?”

Baker replied, “No we are not, we are going to do more knocks.”

Calvin, who had gotten the Hall of Fame spirit, said, “I guess you are going to collect more tears.”

Inspiration from “The Most Inspiring Place on Earth” has begun for Megatron, now Poet Laureate Calvin Johnson.

To see more video footage from the Knocks, tune into NFL Network at 8 p.m. Thursday (Feb. 11) for “The Hall of Fame Knocks.” At 8:30 p.m., the network will broadcast “The Gold Jacket Class of 2021.”

Watch Calvin Johnson's "Knock"

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