“This is football heaven.”
The town of Canton, Ohio will be bursting at the seams this weekend in what is an unprecedented celebration never seen before in the 58 years since the Hall was christened with its first class in 1963.
The 2020 year was supposed to be more special than normal. Honoring the 100th anniversary of the National Football League, the Hall planned for its regular class to be enshrined in August and then a Centennial Class in September in conjunction with that Sept. 17 birth of the league.
Unfortunately, the pandemic intervened and everything was delayed a year. That meant the 28-person class from 2020 would join the 2021 class in a weekend that has put pressure on hotels and everything associated with this phenomenal event.
The city of Canton loves this so much, they have about 4,000 volunteers every year and many plan their vacations around it to be available.
The Hall did lessen somewhat the length of the ceremonies by enshrining eight posthumous members of the 2020 class and one from this year the night before the April draft in Canton. They already have their busts on display in the indescribable gallery, but the families will still be recognized on Saturday and Sunday and at the Gold Jacket dinner Friday night.
There will be 12 speeches Saturday and seven Sunday to go with 19 Gold Jackets put on for the first time Friday evening. Needless to say, emotions will be high even as the enshrinees have been told to keep their speeches at six minutes and that Academy Award-like music will be played if the eight-minute mark is reached.
Pardon me for getting nostalgic in the month after I turned 70. At this time of year, I often think back to 1980 when I made the trip to Canton for the first time while working for The Sporting News. I was blown away by the weekend; everything about it. A vow was made to never miss another one.
My work for the St. Louis Rams got in the way in 1997, and that began a 10-year absence from Canton. After all, there was practice to report on and the first scrimmage of camp on Saturday of Hall of Fame weekend.
Then, 2007 happened. I started working for SiriusXM NFL Radio in the offseason and at one point, producer Doug Mortman asked me if I was interested in going to Canton and co-hosting a show on the day of the enshrinement. I didn’t hesitate for a second. The next seminal moment was when I arrived in Canton that summer and thought to myself: How could I have ever believed that a training camp practice in August is more important than being in the city where the history of the sport is housed?
There is nothing better than taping interviews with Hall of Famer after Hall of Famer in the days preceding the weekend and then playing them back-to-back-to-back-to ... well, you get the picture!
Earlier this week, I joined Mark McClune on the Extra Point Podcast to give my early thoughts on Cardinals camp and the upcoming enshrinements for the Hall of Fame. Listen in the links down below:
As the Hall has said this year, “It’s twice the fun in ’21,” and yes, there will be two pre-enshrinement shows I will be doing with Buffalo’s Vic Carucci on Saturday and Sunday. Plus, a Thursday show, which is the usual Pro Football Hall of Fame radio show I do most every week and have been co-hosting since 2015 with Joe Horrigan and Hall of Famer James Lofton.
Humbled to be part of the Hall’s 48-person selection committee, this is something I promised myself never to take for granted, always knowing how special it is.
It’s even more special this year, thanks to my history in St. Louis and covering the Greatest Show on Turf years (and some bad ones). Wide receiver Isaac Bruce will be enshrined on Saturday, following in the footsteps of running back Marshall Faulk, tackle Orlando Pace and quarterback Kurt Warner. Hopefully, in the next few years, wide receiver Torry Holt and head coach Dick Vermeil will be the next ones to join them.
Cornerback Aeneas Williams wasn’t on the Super Bowl winning team for the 1999 season, but he was with the Rams when they lost to the New England Patriots two years later after having a great career here in Phoenix with the Cardinals.
As a selector and presenter for Bruce, while also contributing to the other presentations, there is no better feeling than helping great players and great people receive the highest honor an individual can achieve in his sport.
Yes, this is football heaven. Canton, here we all come. It doesn’t get any better than this.