Most Denver Broncos fans watched all of or at least some of the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies on Saturday—certainly enough to catch the eloquent speech by Shannon Sharpe which highlighted his relationship with his late grandmother.
But there are so many moments and snippets of moments that find a place in someone’s memory back, I thought I would share a few.
It is great to be at the Inductees’ Reception on Thursday night, watching the inductees, young and old, mingle with each other.
Approaching the McKinley Hotel for that Thursday night dinner, the great 49er Bob St. Clair was sitting on a bench outside the hotel, relaxing as he was about to light up a cigar. We made eye contact and he just smiled and winked. It reminded me of another Hall of Fame, the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, and the way that some of the fellows sit on the rocking chairs on the front porches of the old Cooperstown hotels, just waiting, watching, and savoring.
Like that, this was a slice of Americana, with Canton the perfect locale—where it all began at a Hupmobile dealership.
When Richard Dent went in for the Chicago Bears, it reminded me that he is the 27th Chicago Bear to go in, including two who played (one was the owner) on the team that would become the Chicago Bears–the Decatur Staleys—back in 1920. George Halas and George Trafton both were on the Staleys then, and both are in the Hall of Fame now.
As my wife Jo Ann and I sat with pro football writers Bob McGinn, this year’s winner of the Dick McCann Award, Rick Gosselin, Ira Miller and Howard Balzer at that Thursday dinner, I remembered reading how in the earliest days of the NFL, Halas not only owned the Bears, coached the Bears, and played for the Bears (he also played right field for the Yankees during his career), but after the Bears’ games he would personally become the reporter and make an appearance at each of Chicago’s newspapers. He would write a piece, and they would run it—which makes it very amusing when any current player refuses to talk to the press. George Halas typed the stories himself to get publicity for the early NFL.
Deacon Jones opined, as he has many times—one of the great lines ever, about the Hall of Fame—that “This is the place where everyone is equal, every guy just as big, just as fast, just as good.”
Looking at Frank Gifford, one of my all-time favorites and the very first player to have a television career, and how once upon a time we were flipping through the Hall of Fame game program together, and he stopped on his bio and said, “Jim, every year I come here, and I open the program and fine my bio, and when I do, I just cannot believe I am in it.”
Frank Gifford is very modest, but he is among the greatest of the greats, don’t kid yourself.
When he stopped playing and missed a year after that hit by Chuck Bednarik in the Eagles-Giants championship game, in which “Concrete Charlie”—Bednarik’s nickname—went both ways, Gifford, a Pro Bowl halfback, sat out an entire season. Then he came back, as a wide receiver, and made the Pro Bowl again!
These guys were players, and they still are.
How about Les Richter of the Rams? They traded 11 players to Dallas for his draft rights, even though they knew that he could not play for them for two full years due to his Army commitment, having received his draft notice.
Richter made the Pro Bowl his first eight seasons with the Los Angeles Rams.
When Bobby Bell was introduced, I thought of the words of his Hall of Fame coach Hank Stram, who said Bell could have been a Pro Bowler at every position except cornerback and quarterback.
We saw Shannon Sharpe several times throughout the emotional weekend, and whenever a hug was made, it kept occurring to me that his own body is as firm as that bronze they made of him.
Every individual was deserving, and there are many more to come.
Including future and past Broncos, who will be considered by both the normal committee and by the veterans committee as well.
At the end of the induction speeches and presentations, as everyone was walking up toward the various party tents that had been set up for the inductees, all the dignitaries were scurrying toward their individual parties, which fans behind ropes on either side of the walkway hollered for autographs. Everyone is in a hurry at this time, making autographs real tough for those diehard fans. A lot of the greats understandably were moving fast—after all, the speeches had run long, some folks had travel plans backing them up, so it was completely understandable.
Then I saw a Hall of Famer who had stopped to sign for fans, signing the full time as he walked toward the Sharpe party tent.
It was John Elway.
Every day he shows us all over again how to do it right.