Emptying Out the Notebook From Canton

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 10, 2009 – 10:08 pm

What a great time in Canton at the Pro Football Hall of Fame this past weekend. Granted it was a very short trip for me – arrived in Cleveland at 9:30 Saturday morning and departed Cleveland at 7:25 Sunday morning – but the impression it left on me will last forever. It was my 1st trip to the hallowed grounds of football immortality, but I can assure you it won’t be my last. I can’t wait to go back, and I hope we’re back next year with Cris Carter and/or John Randle.

Although Carter clearly deserves to be there and will be there some day, I wonder if he will be denied for just 1 more year because Jerry Rice is a sure-fire selection for next year. Will they vote in both Rice and Carter (a pair of receivers who played simultaneously)? I don’t know. But maybe Randle will make it next year. After all, he was a finalist this past year.

Back to this weekend in Canton. As someone who appreciates the history of the game, the sights and experiences of enshrinement weekend are totally unforgettable. As a member of the Vikings organization, I had front-row seats during the enshrinement ceremony, placing me immediately behind Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Colts President Bill Polian. Jones and the Cowboys were there to see “bullet” Bob Hayes go into the Hall and Polian was there to watch Bills owner Ralph Wilson, Jr. and Bruce Smith go in. Polian was GM in Buffalo from 1986-1993.

Speaking of the Bills, Chris Berman, who presented Wilson, Jr., said it best when he commented that it felt like a home game for the Bills in Fawcett Stadium. Seriously, and without exaggerating, I bet that 6 out of 10 fans in that stadium on Saturday night were Bills fans, maybe more. The other team that was well-represented was the Steelers, who were proud to see Rod Woodson be enshrined. I know that Bills and especially Steelers fans had a shorter distance to travel (plus the Bills played in the Hall of Fame Game on Sunday night), but still, the showing that those 2 franchises’ fans gave was very impressive.

It was nice to see a smattering of Vikings jerseys, though. And it was touching to meet Conrad, a 6th grader, and his father, travel from Minnesota to Canton to watch Randall McDaniel go in. Conrad was a student of Randall’s last year.

Out of everything I saw, experienced and felt this past weekend, the most impressionable moment was at the beginning of the enshrinement ceremony, when Rich Eisen of NFL Network gracefully introduced every member of the Hall who was present that night. Again, as someone with a great respect for the history of this great sport, that moment was the ultimate. George Blanda was there for Heaven’s sakes! Jim Kelly, Marv Levy, Marcus Allen, Dan Fouts, Kellen Winslow, Sr., the list goes on. Some great names, and a great experience.

The next most impressionable moment for me was Randall’s speech. I am fortunate enough to know Randall personally, and in fact I chatted with him for quite a while about 2 weeks before his enshrinement. And I can tell you that he seemed legitimately nervous about his speech, and about the weekend in general. Not a bad nervous, just an anxious nervous. He’s said all along that he can’t believe it’s happening. And I believed he was experiencing both of those emotions. At the same time, I wasn’t surprised when Randall went out on that stage and delivered a beautiful speech. During his career, Randall was the ultimate performer and competitor. As all great players do, Randall stepped up and always performed. And Saturday evening was no different. He stepped up and performed, and gave a great speech, even comparing playing along the offensive line to teaching.

After the enshrinement, each new Hall of Famer celebrated at a personal after-party with family and friends. The Wilf family threw a great party for Randall, complete with southwestern cuisine (Randall is from Arizona), live music, plenty of Vikings alumni and even Viktor the Viking. Great job by Kimberly Fields and Deb Jones in organizing the party, and a great job by the Wilfs in being behind and supporting the operation.

All in all, it was a great weekend and one I’ll never forget. I hope to be back soon, and I can’t recommend any more that each and every one of you try to make it to Canton at some point in your time here on Earth.

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