The Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio
Canton, Ohio is to football fans what Hollywood is to movie buffs. What Washington, D.C. is to political junkies. What the Vatican is to catholics. The heart of rock ‘n roll may be in Cleveland, but the heart of football is in Canton.
I made my first trip to Canton to cover the Pro Football Hall of Fame 50th anniversary celebration and 2013 enshrinement festival. Also taking place, a golden anniversary reunion of more than 120 Hall of Fame alumni, making it the largest group of hall of famers ever gathered in any sport, at any time…in any place.
The weekend was a football festival (literally). But for me, it was made up of moments. Special moments. Starting with getting dressed…
Before making the drive from Indianapolis on Friday, I put on my pearls. Along with a shirt that says, Do Things With Passion Or Not At All, because it seemed appropriate for the weekend. And it was. I swear, I heard angels sing when I first walked into The Hall. Coincidentally, that also happens when I walk into Louis Vuitton.
Shortly after arriving, I interviewed Cris Carter and asked him what he had to say to Vikings fans who supported him in his journey to the Hall of Fame. He looked me in the eyes, got weepy (again), and said the one regret he had in his professional career was that he never was able to bring a championship home to the people of Minnesota. I grew up a Vikings fan in Minnesota. I thought about the people I love. My dad, who made me a football fan. My great-uncle Elliott. My cousin Tim. His wife, Tina, who will have to print this out for Elliott to read (thank you, Tina). They deserve a championship. And I hope they get one.
A few hours later, I was at the Canton Memorial Civic Center, standing outside the entrance to the gold jacket dinner. Standing around together were many of the former football greats: Jim Brown, Joe Greene, Joe Namath, Troy Aikman, Jerry Rice…all in gold jackets. And all waiting to be introduced inside. One by one, they walked in to a chorus of music and cheers. It was hard not to get choked up at the sight.
After they were all assembled inside and I was about to do the same, a cart came up behind me. It was wheeling seven gold jackets on hangers. When put on, those jackets took football men Larry Allen, Cris Carter, Curley Culp, Jonathan Ogden, Bill Parcells, Dave Robinson, and Warren Sapp and turned them into football royalty.
On Saturday, I took time to go through the Hall of Fame museum. It was surreal, taking a walk through the history of the sport. Especially with its past rooted in Minnesota, like mine.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame museum
After strolling down memory lane, I turned the corner and found myself face to face with football’s present and future, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. I introduced myself, shook his hand, and thanked him for being a steward of the sport.
Not long after, I ran into the beloved former coach of my Colts, Tony Dungy. I told him we miss him back in Indy, but enjoy seeing him on TV. And I did even more so, as I caught the end of the Hall of Fame Game from my hotel room on Sunday night.
On the opposite end of the personality spectrum, I met one of my other NFL favorites, Jon Gruden. I told the former Buccaneers coach a story about my husband teasing me for recording and watching every episode of Gruden’s Quarterback Camp. He smiled, gave me a big hug, and told me I was the best. Yes, I know Jon Gruden tells many people they’re “the best”…but I’m just happy to count myself among them.
I also had the chance to meet people like me…people who love the sport of football and love to tell the story of it. Many of them helped me in some way. And some, I now consider friends.
Unlike the players, my road does not end in Canton. In fact, for me…Canton could be some kind of beginning. Because, when you do something with passion…you never know where it’s going to lead.
Get started on your road to Canton today.
Wherever your Canton may be.