By Robert Kunz
The Pro Football Hall of Fame celebrated the induction of its 55th class over the weekend of Aug. 3–5 in Canton, Ohio. Inducted into the hall this year were players Morten Andersen, Terrell Davis, Kenny Easley, LaDainian Tomlinson, Jason Taylor, Kurt Warner, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame now number 307 since the first class in 1962.
Class of 2017
The road to Canton was quite divergent for the members of this year’s class. Only Tomlinson and Taylor were first year eligible candidates to make it to the final cut.
Tomlinson played 11 seasons for the San Diego Chargers and New York Jets. After being selected as the fifth player in the 2001 NFL Draft, Tomlinson rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first eight seasons, and by the end of his career had rushed for 13,684 yards, which today is still ranked as the fifth highest rushing total in NFL history. Tomlinson was named to the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 2000s, was a five-time Pro Bowler, and was the 2006 NFL’s Most Valuable Player.
Taylor was also named to the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 2000s, and his career sack total of 139.5 currently ranks him seventh in NFL history. Taylor was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2006, was dominant in the 2000s with the most NFL sacks recorded from 2000-2011, was a six-time Pro Bowler, and was named first team All-Pro three times.
The road to Canton was not as easy for many of the other honored players in the Class of 2017. Davis was elected in his 11th year of eligibility. Despite being only the fourth player in NFL history to rush for over 2,000 yards in 1998, a two-time Super Bowl Champion, a Super Bowl MVP, and an All-Decade player of the 1990s, Davis played only seven seasons, appearing in only 78 games. His 7,607 yards and 60 touchdowns in those 78 games showed he was one of the greats of the game from 1995 to 2001, but unfortunately a knee injury cut short a great career. If it were not for his performance in the post season, Denver and John Elway might have not been able to take home two Super Bowl titles.
Easley was a standout safety for the Seattle Seahawks from 1981 to 1987, but like Davis was limited to a career than spanned only seven seasons and 89 games due to injury. Easley was drafted as the fourth player in the 1981 NFL Draft after an All-American college career at UCLA. He would go onto to be selected the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, the 1984 Defensive Player of the Year, an All-Decade Player of the 1980s, a five-time Pro Bowler, and would be selected NFL All-Pro four times. After 25 years of eligibility, Easley was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Senior Committee.
Warner probably took the most unlikely path to enshrinement of any of the 307 Hall of Famers to date. Playing for teams like the Iowa Barnstormers (Arena Football League) and the Amsterdam Admirals (NFL Europe), or working at a Hy-Vee grocery mart in Cedar Falls, Iowa after not finding a home on an NFL roster are hardly the typical early careers of a future NFL and Super Bowl MVP. Warner finally received his chance in the NFL with the 1998 St. Louis Rams. He went on to play 12 seasons with the Rams, New York Giants, and Arizona Cardinals. Along the way, far removed from Arena football, Warner earned two NFL MVP (1999 and 2001) awards and helped the Rams win one Super Bowl. He was named the MVP in Super Bowl XXXIV. He appeared in one other Super Bowl with the Rams, and one with the Cardinals. Warner was the first quarterback to throw for 300 or more yards in three Super Bowls, and held the record for most passing yards in a Super Bowl game with 414 yards (he held the top three passing yards spots with 414 yards, 377 yards, and 365 yards) until Tom Brady passed for 466 in this year’s New England Patriots Super Bowl win.
Anderson joined a very exclusive player position in the Football Hall of Fame when he was selected as only the second kicker (Jan Stenerud inducted in 1991) for enshrinement. Anderson had a 25-year career and was regarded as the one of the best (if not the best) kicker in the history of the NFL. Anderson set NFL career records for field goals (565), points (2,544), and games played (382). He kicked 40 fields goals over 50 yards, and amassed an incredible point-after kicks and field goals percentages of 98.8% (849 made in 859 attempts) and 79.7% (565 made in 709 attempts), respectively. Anderson was selected to the NFL All-Decade teams in the 1980s and 1990s, while being named to seven Pro Bowls. Despite all of Anderson’s achievements and records, it did take him until his fifth year of eligibility to finally make it past the finalist cut and reach enshrinement.
Jones was elected as the 23rd contributor and 16th Dallas Cowboy to the Hall of Fame. Jones purchased the Dallas Cowboys in 1989 for a reported $140 million and has grown the Cowboys franchise to a worth of over $4 billion dollars. Jones started those early years with controversy by getting rid of legendary coach Tom Landry and trading away Hershel Walker. Those early moves started another dynasty period for the Cowboys with coach Jimmy Johnson, and players Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, and Michael Irvin. The Cowboys went on to win three Super Bowls in Jones’ first seven years of ownership. Jones is also recognized for his leadership in sports marketing and promotion that has grown the size and popularity of both the Cowboys and the NFL.
While there have been a number of induction parties over the years at the Glenmoor Country Club outside Canton, nothing has yet to match the enormity of the party thrown by Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones. Jones’ celebration for an estimated 1,500 guests is reported to have cost between $10 and $16 million. A good percentage of that bill, $4 million, was for a two hour live performance by Justin Timberlake.
Timberlake was quoted prior to the party, “We’re stoked to be here tonight. Greatest owner in the history of sports being honored tonight.” Timberlake’s set included some songs by Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley. Jones and his wife, Gene, are lifelong Elvis fans.
Cowboys Pro Football Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Roger Staubach, Michael Irvin, Tony Dorsett, Bob Lily, and many non-Cowboys Hall of Famers were in attendance. The entire 2017 Dallas Cowboys football team, 90-man roster and coaching staff, who had just played in the Hall of Fame preseason game the previous night partied well into the night.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, former, Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson, Jon Bon Jovi, Warren Buffett, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie joined in the celebration. No wonder why the usually packed Player’s Hotel bar and restaurant only hosted Larry Little and Leroy Kelly. Everyone was checking out the biggest induction party to hit Canton. Rumors were that at least one past president and Secret Service would be part of the guest list, but Clinton and George W. Bush were only present via a pre-recorded video message.
Jones had no issue with making a few laughs for this guests with printed party napkins that read “Jerry-ism” – Definition – “An excerpt from an interview, press conference or dialogue with the Dallas Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones; causes confusion by the audience, friends and family; holds a deeper meaning that very few people understand”.
The induction weekend schedule did see some major changes again in 2017. The Hall of Fame game between the Dallas Cowboys and the St. Louis Cardinals was played on Thursday night rather than its typical Sunday night slot. Filling the Sunday night schedule was the Legends Concert which this year featured Toby Keith and Kid Rock.
The Legends Concert, now in its third year, had been featured on Friday night. This change allowed the Gold Jacket Dinner and Ceremony to go back in its usual Friday night slot. All the Class of 2017 inductees received their gold jackets at this ceremony.
At this ceremony all the Hall of Famers are individually announced and take their place for a few moments at center stage. If you ever attend a Hall of Fame weekend, this is one event to not miss. Everyone in the crowd was in awe as almost 120 Hall of Famers are in one gathering and their announcement takes away some of the challenge of recognizing 120 Hall of Famers.
Since this event is quite a bit smaller than the induction ceremony, the audience has the closest viewing of all these greats. Returning to Canton for the Gold Jacket Ceremony were Joe Namath, Lawrence Taylor, Joe Greene, Jim Taylor, Franco Harris, Roger Staubach, Jim Brown, and Emmitt Smith, just to name a few. Notable to me were Mike Singletary and Larry Csonka, since I do not remember ever seeing them in the 20 or so trips I have made to Canton over the years.
Another opportunity to see a large assembly of Hall of Famers and the best photo opportunities is the reunion photo on the steps of the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately this year, a large storm cell with thunder and lightning raced across the Hall of Fame grounds just minutes before the photo. This weather threat, while brief, caused the cancellation of this year’s photo.
Signings and collectibles
The number of paid signings around Canton this year seemed a little more limited than in past years. At the Hall of Fame grounds, Panini Inc. and the Hall of Fame sponsored signings of over 45 Hall of Famers on Saturday afternoon. The guests ranged from Emmitt Smith ($210), Roger Staubach ($140 to $160), Michael Irving ($135), and 2017 Inductees LaDainian Tomlinson ($100) or Kurt Warner ($125). There were also 17 guests that were in the $25 price range including Elvin Bethea, Joe DeLamielleure, Ken Houston, Jan Stenerud, Willie Brown, Curley Culp, Chris Hanburger, Marv Levy, Lenny Moore, Billy Shaw, Ron Yary, Lem Barney, Larry Little, Jackie Smith, Ron Wolf, Rickey Jackson and Tom Mack.
Meyer’s Lake Ballroom was host to a card show with special autograph guests Lawrence Taylor, Ted Hendricks, Dermontti Dawson, Eric Dickerson, Bob Lilly, Ron Mix, and more.
I was excited to attend this show to see Bob “Boomer” Brown for the first time, but unfortunately Brown cancelled a few days before the show. I thought the Meyer’s Lake Show had the best deal of the weekend with the appearance of Chris Doleman for $40 on any item with a free HOF inscription. Since Doleman is a tough signer it was a great way to walk away with his signature on a full size helmet or jersey.
I was hoping to get lucky with some autographs of Hall of Famers that I have not been able to obtain over the past 20 years. My focus was on some of the longer tenured inductees that I had yet to add to my collection or see in person, a few newer guys who have recently been inducted, and the Class of 2017 inductees. I was able to meet and get an autograph for the first time of Larry Csonka and Mike Singletary. While I was happy to get an autograph of Csonka on an old Sports Illustrated magazine, it was nothing like his show autograph. One could not make out a Larry or a Csonka in this script.
Tony Dungy, Darrell Green, Charles Haley, and Orlando Pace were four more current inductee I was hoping to get, but in the end this proved a tougher task than expected. I was only successful with Coach Dungy who gave me a beautiful signature on his 2016 Goal Line Art card. Pace turned me down on three separate occasions, and I could not even seem to get an acknowledgement of any sorts from Haley. My most prized signature of the weekend was a first time autograph from Emmitt Smith. That is one I thought I would never obtain outside a paid show.
I was very happy to come home with Hall of Fame mini-helmets signed by Tomlinson, Davis, and Warner. Tomlinson and Davis were first-time autographs for me and both were very cordial and pleasant encounters. I had recently paid for signatures of Andersen and Easley at the July CSA show in Chantilly, Virginia so my focus was on the remainder of this year’s class.
I did have a few limited opportunities with Jones, but was not successful with the Cowboys owner. The most difficult signature of the Class of 2017 in my experience was Taylor. He arrived in Canton the latest of all the new class members, and I saw him only a couple of times. There was one moment where I took coverage inside a doorway from a thunderstorm, and a minute later while I was waiting out the rain, Taylor also ran for cover to this same doorway. He would not come inside nor would he sign for the four people waiting out the rain. He took a moment and sprinted to a waiting car. That was the only time during the weekend that I prayed for a minute of a little harder rain in hopes Taylor would have sought shelter inside.
The enshrinement weekend was missing a production set of Goal Line Art Cards for the first time since 1989. The 2017 Goal Line Art Card Sets production was halted. I did reach out to Goal Line Art, Inc., and while they could not elaborate, they are hoping for a resolution in the near future.
Goal Line Art Cards are my favorite collectible of any of the Hall of Fames. Panini did create a Hall of Fame Class of 2017 card set. These sets can be purchased from the Hall of Fame for $4.99. The Hall of Fame Gift Shop also has a limited number of signed collectibles from the Class of 2017.
The $700 million dollar expansion of the Hall of Fame to turn it into a world-class destination continues to march towards a major opening in 2020. The Hall of Fame website has a Centennial Countdown to Sept. 17, 2020 which is in celebration of 100 years of the National Football League’s inaugural season. The latest count as of this writing is 1,134 days.
I was bit surprised that I did not notice more progress since last year’s induction weekend visit. Much of the work has been dedication to improvements to the football stadium and those are very noticeable, but no other major changes are clearly visible.
There are more local single family homes empty or torn down on the two streets adjacent to the Hall of fame Grounds, but quite a few homes still remain.
Some milestones in the past year were:
Johnson Controls becomes the main corporate sponsor and the project is now named “Johnson Control Hall of Fame Village”.
New Orleans Saints Owner Tom Benson has the on-site football stadium renamed to “Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium”.
The Hall of Fame Hotel broke ground on April 25 of this year and is scheduled to open in 2019. The four star hotel will be a Curio by Hilton brand.
Expanded plan for more entertainment with an indoor football field, a basketball arena, convention space, a virtual reality experience, and a football themed waterpark.
Besides the 2020 Hall of Fame induction and the Centennial Celebration, the Hall hopes to move the 2020 NFL Draft to Canton as well. Courtesy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame is the updated artist’s recreation of what this “Disneyland” of football will look like when all the project phases have been completed.
So who might be honored in 2018? Some expected finalists are sure to be Randy Moss, Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, and Terrell Owens. Senior Committee selections could include Ken Anderson, Jerry Kramer, and Jim Marshall. During Super Bowl weekend 2018, the Class of 2018 will be announced. Mark your calendars.
Robert Kunz is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at email@example.com.