Honoring the Elite in Canton

By Robert Kunz

The Pro Football Hall of Fame (Canton, Ohio) has a deep tradition of honoring past greats of the Green Bay Packers. The first induction class in 1963 honored Curly Lambeau and Don Hutson, and between that first class and 2016, twenty nine players, coaches, and front office personnel representing Packer green and gold have been honored in Canton. I have been present for the Hall of Fame inductions of James Lofton, David Robinson, Reggie White, and Ron Wolf over the past 15 years, but none of those had the anticipation as this year’s induction of Brett Favre. In my opinion, this is the most special Packer fan induction since 1977 when Bart Starr and Forrest Gregg were both honored.

Class of 2016 HOF

The living members of the Class of 2016 take their first photos with more than 100 returning Hall of Famers. (All photos by Robert Kunz)

I was a high school sophomore living in Wisconsin at that time. Being born and raised in Wisconsin, I am more than a bit biased towards the Packers. I have been a fan for as long as I can remember, and following the Packers was always a family tradition. I have really treasured watching the legacy of Bart Starr, Brett Favre, and Aaron Rodgers over the years.

After seeing many other inductions over the years where the Civil Center and Stadium events were filled with Steelers, Cowboys, and other team jerseys and emblems, it was exhilarating to see the green and gold of Green Bay wherever you looked. I could not take a step inside or outside of my hotel without seeing Packer hats, shirts, and jerseys. What a thrill it was to hear “Go Pack Go,” “Go Pack Go” for every Packer announced at the beginning of the enshrinement ceremony. The crowd response grew louder and longer in duration as they alphabetically announced the Packer Hall of Famers Willie Davis, Forrest Gregg, Paul Hornung, James Lofton, David Robinson, Jan Stenerud, Jim Taylor, and Ron Wolf who were in attendance that day. And the last class of 2016 inductee announced to the stage was Brett Favre. The roar started to intensify, even before the announcement, as the crowd knew Favre was last to appear on the large stage already overflowing with almost 130 Hall of Famers.

The number of Hall of Famers returning for the 2016 celebration weekend was a near record 124 returnees. The Hall of Fame announced a record 141 Hall of Famers in attendance over the weekend, with that total including the wives of eleven deceased Hall of Fame members.

Still, the 130 Hall of Famers on stage far exceeds the 40 to 60 Hall of Famers that would be present at a baseball or basketball induction ceremony. Some of the greats returning to Canton this year were Joe Namath, Sonny Jurgensen, Warren Moon, Jim Kelly, Bob Griese, Tony Dorsett, and Earl Campbell (to name just a few). Joe Montana and Steve Young were there to honor 49ers owner and 2016 class member Edward DeBartolo Jr. Jim Brown was there celebrating his 45th Hall of Fame reunion (class of 1971) and Gino Marchetti at 44 years (class of 1972) were the two longest tenured Hall of Famers in attendance. Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers were also in attendance at the ceremony.

Favre town hall radio

Brett Favre’s Town Hall radio show for SiriusXM

The large contingency of returning Hall of Famers could be seen three times during the weekend. At Thursday’s Gold Jacket dinner, at Friday’s reunion photo, and at the induction ceremony. All three of these events had a very strong Packer fan presence.

Joining Favre in the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2016 were fellow NFL players Marvin Harrison, Kevin Greene, Orlando Pace, Ken Stabler, Dick Stanfel, 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr., and coach Tony Dungy. Mr. Stabler and Mr. Stanfel were honored posthumously.

Class of 2016

Brett Favre retired after 20 seasons as the NFL’s all-time leading passer with 6,300 pass completions, 10,169 pass attempts, 71,838 passing yards and 508 TDs with the Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, and Minnesota Vikings. Favre was a Most Valuable Player three consecutive seasons from 1995 to 1997, was selected to 11 Pro Bowls, was a member of the 1990s All-Decade Team, and helped lead the Green Bay Packers to a victory in Super Bowl XXXI.

Marvin Harrison was the 19th pick in the 1996 NFL draft out of Syracuse, and from 1996-2008 would accumulate an amazing 1,102 career receptions, 14,580 yards and 128 touchdowns with the Indianapolis Colts. Harrison set the single-season reception record (143) in 2002, was selected to eight Pro Bowls, and was an NFL’s All-Decade Team member for the 2000s.

Kevin Greene retired with 160 sacks, third all-time at the time of his retirement, while playing for the Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers, Carolina Panthers, and San Francisco 49ers. Greene was selected to five Pro Bowls and, like Favre, was a member of the All-Decade Team of the 1990s. Orlando Pace, a native of Sandusky, Ohio and a college player at Ohio State, was the first player selected in the 1997 NFL draft. At the tackle position he would help lead the powerful St. Louis Rams offense that also featured Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk. Pace was selected to seven Pro Bowls.

Tony Dungy would start his coaching career as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs, and Minnesota Vikings before starting his Hall of Fame head coaching career. Dungy would be the head coach for 13 years (record 148-79) with the Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Indianapolis Colts. At Indianapolis, Dungy would win five divisional titles and advanced to the playoffs all seven years as the head coach. Dungy, Harrison, and Peyton Manning would lead the Colts to victory over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI.

HOF chat

Marcus Allen, Bob Griese, and Joe Namath talk prior to the Hall of Fame reunion photo.

Edward DeBartolo Jr., owner of the San Francisco 49ers from 1977-2000, built the 49ers into a perennial power house with the hiring of head coach Bill Walsh and drafting of quarterback Joe Montana. During the years of DeBartolo’s ownership, the 49ers would win 13 division titles, would make the playoffs 16 times, and would become the first NFL franchise to win five Super Bowls (XVI, XIX, XXIII, XXIV, XXIX).

Honored posthumously were Ken Stabler and Dick Stanfel. Stabler was the Oakland Raiders quarterback leader during the 1970s. From 1970 to 1979, the Raiders would have a winning record in each of his nine seasons as a starter. His play during that period earned him a spot on the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1970s. Stabler would lead the Raiders to five AFC title games and retire after 15 seasons with 27,938 yards and 194 touchdowns. Stabler would also play for the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints.

Stanfel was an NFL player and coach. He played guard for the Detroit Lions, and the Washington Redskins during the 1950s, earned a spot on the All-Decade Team of the 1950s, and was named first team All-Pro in five of his seven seasons. Stanfel played college football at the University of San Francisco with fellow Hall of Famers Ollie Matson, Gino Marchetti, and Bob St. Clair.

Encounter at Favre’s Town Hall on SiriusXM Radio

Brett Favre kicked-off his debut for SiriusXM NFL Radio with an intimate “Town Hall” live show from the Pro Football Hall of Fame grounds on August 5. This is Favre’s first regular sports media role, as he will host a series of hour-long broadcasts for SiriusXM radio during the 2016-17 NFL season.

Favre is co-hosting a show discussing the latest headline player news and stories from around the NFL. He joins Hall of Famers Tim Brown, Mike Haynes, James Lofton, Anthony Munoz and Bill Polian on SiriusXM.

Favre and former Packer quarterback coach Steve Mariucci co-hosted the Town Hall

show. An audience of 30 SiriusXM guests sat in on the hour long talk about Favre’s early playing days and he shared some humorous and personal stories about his father and family. Mariucci talked about how Favre would be a guest at his home many times during those early years, joked about his kids teaching Favre to read, and the times when Favre would be the babysitter for his kids.

View a video of Favre’s show here:

The event concluded with a meet and greet with Favre, and SiriusXM set up a professional photographer to take pictures with Favre and each guest. I was lucky enough to stumble into an unclaimed spot for the show and had a great second row seat. It was a treat to be so close to one of my favorite NFL players, and the photo from the Meet and Greet with Favre turned out great. It was immediately emailed to a bunch of family and friends. A handful of the guests who waited until Favre was off to the next event of his busy schedule were also lucky enough to obtain an autograph.

Shows were in abundance

Four venues around Canton provided fans a chance to purchase autographs. Meyer’s Lake Ballroom held a Sports Card Show and arranged for over 20 autograph guests. This was a great show and kept up the tradition of the Belden Village Mall shows and Holiday Inn Belden Village shows of the past, with more affordable autographs. Beyond the two rooms packed full of dealer tables were guests that included Aeneas Williams, John Hannah, Buddy Bell, Mick Tingelhoff, Mike Haynes, Bobby Mitchell, and many more. Autograph prices ranged from $20 to $70, depending on the guest. I purchased a couple of Mick Tingelhoff autographs, as I had never gotten his signature before. Mr. Tingelhoff had a long, steady line. I expected this since he was an inductee from just the previous year. I made a special trip back the next day for Bobby Mitchell to sign a multi-signed jersey, but Mr. Mitchell will not sign jerseys. I made a bad assumption that while I knew he was not signing single signed jerseys that he would indeed sign a multi-signed item.

Champion Events Center held a signing with Brett Favre that was limited to 200 tickets. Pricing ranged from $220 for a small item to $400 for a premium item. Champion Events Center autograph guests included 18 returning Hall of Famers over two days. Some of the names brought into this show were Eric Dickerson, Dan Fouts, Kellen Winslow, Charlie Joiner, Warren Moon, Ray Guy, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, and Paul Warfield.

On the Hall of Fame grounds, two autograph sessions were sponsored by Panini and Fanatics Authentic. Panini sessions featured more than 40 Hall of Famers. Some of the notable Hall of Famers that did not do other shows were Bob Griese, Charles Haley, Sonny Jurgensen, Art Shell, Curtis Martin, and Bruce Matthews. Some of the Panini pricing seemed pretty good; Jim Kelly was priced from $50 to $60, and Fred Biletnikoff from $40 to $60. Others were priced higher; Mel Blount was priced from $100 to $150, and Steve Young was priced from $100 to $150. The Panini show featured 18 Hall of Famers for $20 to $30 (smalls or flats). I really missed not catching up on Ken Houston on a couple of items for only $20 each. The Panini show also featured 2016 inductees Kevin Greene and Tony Dungy. The Fanatics Authentic Autograph Session featured a VIP lineup and brought in the biggest names of the weekend. Signing at the Fanatics session was Dan Marino, Jerry Rice, Forrest Gregg, Franco Harris, Jim Brown, Jim Taylor, Joe Greene, Joe Montana, and Paul Hornung. The Hall of Fame also held a signing on Sunday that featured the living members of the class of 2016. This event was long sold out at a price of $425.

While touring the Hall of Fame and visiting their gift shop, I could not help but notice that the gift shop has a limited number of items signed by the class of 2016. For sale was a white panel football for $299, a brown football for $399, and a replica helmet for $499. When I added up the cost of the ball and the cost to purchase autographs of Favre, Kevin Greene, Marvin Harrison, and the other class members, the $299 for the white panel ball seems like a very good deal. So I made that purchase, and now have a very nice Brett Favre and class of 2016 signed piece for my collection. That purchase was also spurred on by the talk of collectors around Canton who believed that Kevin Greene and Marvin Harrison just do not sign for free. I learned that Harrison is a noted terrible signer.

Favre HOF locker

Brett Favre’s Hall of Fame locker.

I tried finding some items signed by the class of 2016 on the hall of fame website, but they were not listed. If interested, I recommend calling the hall of fame gift shop directly.

Those fans looking for free autographs or to get close to the Hall of Famers had a bit tougher time this year than in past years. I talked to quite a few autograph seekers who mentioned changes made this year that limited accessibility to the Hall of Famers. The hotel where the Hall of Famers have stayed for nearly 20 years also changed this year, and made camping out at the hotel for days much less fruitful. I went by the hotel each day to see how the crowd of 30 to 50 people (depending on day and time of day) was making out. By counts of a few collectors as of midnight Saturday, only 11 different Hall of Famers had stopped to sign for the crowd gathered there.

That was 11 Hall of Famers over four days, from Wednesday to Saturday. While the crowd was lucky to obtain autographs of Franco Harris, Warren Sapp, and Paul Hornung, they could only lament past years where the total was typically 30 or so over four days. I heard from multiple collectors who were only able to obtain one to two autographs each day. The Football Hall of Fame seems to be getting as tough as the Baseball Hall of Fame has been for years. The vast number of paid show options, I assume, also contributes to the Hall of Famers being less likely to sign for free.

I did have two opportunities with Joe Montana over the weekend, but he politely refused each of my requests. I did get a few autographs here and there, but the weekend just had a different feel. My fondest memories of the past were when the Hall of Famers took some time and talked with the crowd and you had a chance to get to know them a bit. That interaction seemed lost this year, maybe it was just so many changes that both the fans and the Hall of Famers were out of sorts.

Prior to the induction ceremony, Peyton Manning joined the two broadcast stages for brief interviews on the stadium floor. As Manning left the last stage, he did sign about a dozen autographs as he was being escorted to his seat. There was quite a mob around him, but there were a dozen very happy fans that were lucky enough to get the autograph of the new passing record holder and recent retiree.

Update on the Hall of Fame Village

The Hall of Fame is pushing ahead with the completion of its massive expansion with the Hall of Fame Village. The $500 million development project is scheduled to partially open (i.e. an on-site hotel) in 2018 with the major portions of the project scheduled for completion in 2019, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the NFL.

Some early phase work could already be seen during the 2016 enshrinement. The concert and enshrinement stage at the stadium was relocated from one end zone on the field to the side along the Hall of Fame building. A concourse, “Fan Plaza,” on this side of the stadium was also added that included some food and merchandise vendors. There is now a tunnel between the stadium and the Hall of Fame under this concourse. While this does make security much easier for the Hall it also limits the ability for fans to see their favorite players up close. The Hall of Famers in the past would walk down a row of barricades lined with fans waving and taking pictures. Hall of Famers and fans were once yards apart.

Pro Football HOF signed ball

Class of 2016 autographed football from the Pro Football Hall of Fame gift shop.

Now they are nearly a football field away. Also completed were multiple youth football fields which were used to house a clinic conducted by a dozen Hall of Famers on August 4. When the expansion is complete, there will be nine football fields.

The construction of the hotel and conference center plaza is planned to start in September, with the opening set for May 2018. The Hall of Fame needs to purchase and tear down a four block area of nearly 100 homes or 95 acres of land to complete their total expansion. I could see a dozen or so homes that looked like they were vacant and ready for demolition. Plans were unveiled for a four-star hotel, which will house 243 football-themed rooms, a two-story “commissioner suite” on the upper floors, a grand lobby with 40-foot ceilings and huge projection screens, a 600-person capacity ballroom, and multiple smaller meeting rooms.

When complete, the Hall of Fame Village will include:

1. The Pro Football Hall of Fame Museum.
2. Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium/Sports & Entertainment Complex.
3. Four-star Hotel & Conference/Convention Center.
4. Legends Landing (assisted living facility for retired NFL players, coaches, officials, administration).
5. State-of-the-Art Youth Sports Complex with nine football fields.
6. Center for Excellence (concentration on coaching, officiating, safety, health).
7. Main Street with restaurants, retail shops, and a 1,400-seat symphony hall.
8. HOF/NFL Family Experience (high-tech virtual reality experiences and rides).

When this expansion opens, I would think the number of returning Hall of Famers would set a new record. I am sure the Hall of Fame village will be amazing; I cannot wait to see the progress each year.

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