Honor the Heroes of the Game. Preserve its History. Promote its Values. Celebrate Excellence Everywhere. That is the mission of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. This small town 60 miles south of Cleveland is the home of football. Since September 7, 1963, over 10 million fans have visited the hall from all over the U.S. and abroad. This truly is an amazing stat because the population of the town is a little over 71,000. The Hall of Fame is in Canton because the NFL was originally founded in Canton on September 17, 1920. A lot of great things happened on September 17th but I digress.
The city’s population swells during the first weekend in August. This is when a group of former players or contributors are inducted into the Hall of Fame with as much fanfare as winning a championship. On Thursday, the class is introduced before the Hall of Fame game. This preseason game officially kicks off the football season. On Friday, the class is treated to dinner and awarded their jackets. They must first walk down the aisle of former Hall of Famers wearing their gold jackets. It is truly a surreal moment for the current inductees to be welcomed by those that paved the way for them. After dinner is completed, they are adorned with their gold jacket, making them official members of the Hall of Fame. On Saturday, there is a parade that morning honoring the current class while mixing in former Hall of Famers. That evening, each member of the current class gives their acceptance speech. Before they give their speech, each of their chosen presenter helps them unveil their bronze bust that will go into the Hall of Fame. On Sunday, they are provided a luncheon. After eating, a roundtable discussion of the current class is conducted, in which they speak openly and honestly, about the weekend, what it means to be in the Hall of Fame, and other questions. This year there was seven members of the 2017 Hall of Fame that enjoyed that above stated moment. Morten Anderson, Terrell Davis, Kenny Easley, Jerry Jones, Jason Taylor, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Kurt Warner made up that group.
Morten Andersen was a kicker that played 25 years in the NFL. The majority of those all-time leading 382 games were played with the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. He is the all-time leading scorer in the NFL with 2,544 points. He recounts the “knock on the door”. This is when the President of the Hall of Fame, Dave Baker, knocks on your hotel door and gives you the announcement that you have been selected among the several finalist. Andersen said, “Twenty-five years, I believe. I asked my wife, while we were in the room with some friends, ‘That’s an awful loud knock for room service. Is this a club sandwich?’ Dave (Baker), you didn’t have a club sandwich, but it was sure a nice alternative. I’m tremendously humbled and excited to be in this class.”
Terrell Davis played all seven seasons with the Denver Broncos. He was only one of four players to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season. He won two straight Super Bowl titles and was the MVP in Super Bowl XXXII against the Green Bay Packers. This former Georgia Bulldog stated, “I’m shocked. I felt that it was getting close, but the one caveat was L.T. being in the same class, and I knew he was going in. So I really thought that there’s no way they’re going to put two backs in the same class. When I got the knock, obviously, I was shocked. I said that the best chance that I would ever have would probably be 2018. Of course, I was ecstatic that they didn’t look at it as two backs in the same class like I thought they viewed it.”
Kenny Easley also played seven seasons in the NFL. All his years were with the Seattle Seahawks. He was known for his hard hits and was named Defensive Rookie of the Year. He won the AFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1984, leading the league with 10 INTs. He waited 25 years to get that “knock”. He said, “I had given up on the process, what had happened, to be truthful with you. But I have to thank, really the people in Seattle, the fans in Seattle who sort of launched the campaign for Kenny Easley in the Hall of Fame. To have my work reexamined after 20 years is really significant, very different, but I’m very excited about the opportunity, particularly for my family and friends and folks from the ‘80s who saw me play. It’s a unique experience. I’m very excited.”
Jerry Jones has been the man behind the “star” since 1989. Yes, the Dallas Cowboys star. He transformed that franchise back to its winning ways. He won three Super Bowls in his first seven years as owner. He made AT&T stadium the “9th Wonder of the World”. Jones said, “It’s been fabulous in the 28 years to think that I’d be sitting here. So when they hit that door, I don’t mind telling you that my eyes were red. We went crazy. We knew what the door was all about, and I just knew how special it was to be with the great people that have been recognized by the Hall of Fame.”
Jason Taylor was a defensive end for 15 years, the majority of those 233 games were with Miami Dolphins. He was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2006. He holds the NFL record for 6 TDs on fumble recoveries. When Taylor got the “knock” he said, “I couldn’t open the door. I was shaking as I walked to the door. As soon as I opened it and as I saw Dave with the big smile on his face, the tears started coming in a little bit. That is the best hug I have had in a long time. It was a great moment. I just can’t thank everybody enough.”
LaDainian Tomlinson (LT) played nine of his eleven seasons as running back for the San Diego Chargers. He rushed for over 1,000 yards in his first eight seasons. He was the NFL MVP in 2006, when he set the NFL record with 31 total TDs and scored 186 points in a season. LT stated, “Yeah, first I cried. It was a long day thinking about it. You’re with tons of family and waiting for the knock at the door, or the call, but the knock at the door came, and I’ll tell you it’s like nothing else that I’ve ever experienced. I got emotional right away, because I just thought about the journey. I thought about being a small-town kid from up the road, and to now, going to Canton, Ohio.”
Kurt Warner played quarterback for 12 years, primarily with St. Louis Rams and the Arizona Cardinals. He went from bagging groceries, to arena football, to undrafted MVP of Super Bowl XXXIV. He was a two-time NFL MVP in 1999 and 2001. His third Super Bowl appearance came in the 2008 season with the Cardinals. Warner’s “knock” was extremely special. He mentioned, “The President of the Hall of Fame now was actually the commissioner of the Arena Football League when I played in the Arena Football League, and so now to have him come knock on the door and tell me where our journey has come from way back then to now. It just kind of makes you reflect on everything. Our journey is unlike anybody else’s. It is such an honor to end up in Canton.”
It was truly remarkable to see how the city of Canton caters to everyone who comes to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If you ever get a chance, put it on your list of cities to visit. Like the Hall of Fame’s purpose says, “To help EVERY fan experience a Hall of Fame Life by creating ‘The Most Inspiring Place on Earth!’”