David Baker: Stay focused on Twice the Fun in 21


By David Baker, Special to The Canton Repository

Even when you know it’s coming and you think you are prepared for it, a punch in the stomach still can take your breath away.

About 8 p.m. Thursday, that punch – the full realization there would be no events linked to Enshrinement Week Powered by Johnson Controls this year – hit the entire Hall of Fame Family.

And it hurt.

At that moment, under less tragic, non-pandemic circumstances, thousands of great fans would have been inside Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. Our Centennial Class of 2020 enshrinees would have just been introduced between the lines of players from the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who a few minutes later would kick off the Hall of Fame Game and the 2020 NFL season before a national television audience.

The best four days in football on a crowded and bustling Hall of Fame campus would follow in rapid succession, with the State of the Hall, Ray Nitschke Luncheon, Gold Jacket Dinner, HOF Grand Parade, Enshrinement, the Enshrinees’ Roundtable, the Concert for Legends and lots of parties in between. This Centennial Class and our Centennial Enshrinement Celebration would produce our greatest Enshrinement Week ever.

We knew it, and all the tremendous volunteers and partners in Canton knew it, too.

Even the weather Thursday night was perfect for the first football game of the new season: clear and 75 degrees. And the forecast – as we later witnessed play out over the next two days – was equally spectacular.

But, unfortunately, we welcomed no new Enshrinees. No Gold Jackets — the living Hall of Fame members who return each year to celebrate with Canton and their new teammates. No VIPs.

The 4,800 dedicated Enshrinement Week volunteers, along with the thousands of spectators who would have filled Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium to capacity were, instead, “social distancing” at home.

I received lamentations and conciliatory words from many, but a Thursday morning email I received from Commissioner Roger Goodell was especially poignant:

DB —

I’m reminded that today is the original date of this year’s Hall of Fame Game and what would have been the kickoff of this year’s Hall of Fame Weekend. I can only imagine the disappointment that you and your staff must feel. However, I know that the hard work and dedication of all in Canton will help make next year’s HOF weekend an “epic” celebration that will make everyone associated with the NFL very proud.

Please give my best to all, along with my sincere hope that everyone remains “strong and focused” on the future.

My Best,


Please know that the entire Hall of Fame Family misses all of you. We miss hugging you. We miss laughing with you. We miss Honoring the Heroes of the Game with you. We miss serving the Hall’s Mission, which, quite frankly, is needed now as much as ever to unite our broken and hurting country.

So, I just wanted to share how much we miss you, love you and appreciate you, and how very much we are committed to making next year “epic” and the greatest gathering in the history of football.

Get ready for “Twice the Fun in ’21”!

The VERY best is STILL ahead! I promise you.

David Baker is president and CEO of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.