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Longtime Hall visitor laments missing 'best weekend in sports'

Longtime Hall visitor laments missing 'best weekend in sports'

08/11/2020
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By Howard Balzer
SI.com
(Reprinted with permission; originally posted Aug. 7)

As training camps forge on in the NFL in what is an unprecedented summer, this weekend is the first true casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In what was slated to be the first of a dual Centennial Celebration, the streets of Canton, Ohio, are quiet on the day of what would have been the Pro Football Hall of Fame Gold Jacket dinner Friday night for five modern-day players (Steve Atwater, Isaac Bruce, Steve Hutchinson, Edgerrin James and Troy Polamalu), two head coaches (Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson) and three contributors (Steve Sabol, Paul Tagliabue and George Young).

The over 4,000 volunteers, many of whom plan their vacations to help during the weekend, aren’t as busy this year.

The Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers were scheduled to begin the NFL season Thursday night with the enshrinement ceremony Saturday. It all went by the wayside, along with three days of events celebrating the birth of the NFL on Sept. 17, 1920. Part of that was to be another enshrinement ceremony for the 10 senior players selected by a blue-ribbon panel.

After everything was postponed, it went from being labeled “20 in ’20” to “a lot more fun in ’21,” when (hopefully) this year’s class of 20 will be enshrined next summer, as well as potentially eight others: five modern-day players, one senior player, one head coach and one contributor.

On Friday, the Hall’s board of directors approved a four-year plan that implemented having coaches decided separately from modern-day players. The contributor’s committee was established in 2015 because of the difficulty of electing those deserving since they would effectively take the spot of a player and add to the logjam of quality athletes that then continues to build.

That was also the case with coaches, which has now also been rectified. It was a great move by the board after the Hall staff, led by president and CEO David Baker, made a compelling argument for the change.

As I get personal here, I have often said the enshrinement celebration is the best weekend in sports and my most favorite thing each year.

My first trip to Canton was in 1980 and there have been around 30 trips since then, including the last 13 before this year. There’s nothing better than seeing over 100 Gold Jackets come back each year for their special “family reunion,” as they welcome new members to the brotherhood.

Being at the Friday dinner where that specific year’s enshrinees receive their Gold Jacket for the first time after walking the gauntlet of previous inductees before they reach the stage. Witnessing the emotion and passionate speeches on display during enshrinement night.

It’s doubly satisfying being a 17-year member of the selection committee and also co-hosting the weekly Pro Football Hall of Fame show on SiriusXM NFL Radio (Channel 88) with Gold Jacket James Lofton and former Hall executive Joe Horrigan, the pre-eminent league historian.

Interviewing numerous Hall of Famers for our regular show and Saturday special on SiriusXM and always pinching myself, thinking, “These are Hall of Famers. Never take it for granted.”

Like I said, there’s nothing better.

Last year, while interviewing Warren Sapp, he was asked if he could believe it had been six years since he had been enshrined in 2013 with the mention that it’s true that time really flies.

Sapp, the philosopher, noted, “I’ve always said: Days drag, years fly and decades zoom.”

Yes, they do. Now, we all only hope that the 2020 season can go off without a serious hitch, time truly does fly and that we all do our part to get this dreaded virus under control. Then, before we blink an eye, look forward to everyone once again convening in Canton in 2021.

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