I was trying to think of an appropriate start to this piece but I believe the President of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, David Baker, said it best when he took the mic on Saturday night before the Class of 2020 was inducted.
“You are attending the greatest enshrinement weekend ever.”
He was right.
A total of 23 Hall of Famers were inducted over the weekend which is by far the largest total of all time.
The 2020 Class never got their chance to give their speeches and have their busts revealed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both classes were honored during this historic weekend.
Double the classes.
Double the fun.
On Thursday, the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame Game was played as the Dallas Cowboys took on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
An old school rivalry kicking off a new school type football season.
To say that Steeler fans showed up this weekend would be an unbelievable understatement.
Approximately 65-70% of Steeler Nation were in attendance for the game, waving their Terrible Towels and the Stadium even played “Renegade”, which is a song by Styx that is usually played at Heinz Field on game days before a big defensive series for the Steelers.
That got the Pittsburgh faithful in Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium rocking.
With an event such as Hall of Fame weekend, you see fans of nearly every team.
Some wore jerseys of football royalty like enshrinees Peyton Manning and Troy Polamalu, while others wore jerseys that you see once in a blue moon like Kansas City Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen and former Cleveland Browns running back and one game wonder Jerome Harrison.
As for the game itself, it turned out to be a lot more entertaining than the 16-3 final score that Pittsburgh gained victory on against Dallas.
However if you liked defense, this was your kind of first half.
Each team surrendered a turnover including a handoff gaffe by Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph on the first drive of the game as he was trying to give the ball to wide receiver Chase Claypool on an end around but Micah Parsons fell on the ball to give the Cowboys position on the opposite side of the field.
In the kicking game, Pittsburgh went 0 for 1 and Dallas went 1 for 3 in the opening 30 minutes of play as the new jumbotron at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium read Cowboys 3, Steelers 0.
Now, if you’re a fan of offense like myself, things picked up quickly in the 2nd half, mainly for the team wearing black and yellow.
Former Tennessee Volunteer Joshua Dobbs found wideout Tyler Simmons in the right corner of the end zone and 4th-year running back Kalen Ballage punched one in the end zone from 4 yards away. A 48 yard Sam Sloman field goal later and the Steelers took home the win in Canton by the final score of 16-3.
If you think that 65-70% of Pittsburgh fans is a lot to fill in Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, try 80-90% on Saturday night’s enshrinement ceremony.
Any time throughout the ceremony an individual would mention even the state of Pennsylvania, Terrible Towels would be waving throughout the 18,383 person crowd.
It felt like Heinz Field on a Sunday in the fall.
I guess it didn’t hurt that three Steeler legends were being inducted that night.
2010 Defensive Player of the Year and 2-time Super Bowl champion Troy Polamalu, Super Bowl champ and 1992 AP Coach of the Year Bill Cowher and one of the anchors of the Steel Curtain defense of the ‘70s, safety Donnie Shell all had their busts revealed.
One of my personal favorite moments came when former Colts running back Edgerrin James was closing out his speech. He mentioned that not a lot of people thought that he would be accepted into the NFL due to his look of gold teeth and dreads. “You can’t have gold teeth and dreads and be accepted into the NFL. Look at my bust. Rocking the same dreads they said I shouldn’t.” The last part of his speech he gave brought the house down.
“Started with these gold teeth and ended with this gold jacket.”
Other inductees that were honored on Saturday include Harold Carmichael who is the tallest wideout in NFL history at 6’8”, Cliff Harris who spent 10 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys as a safety, Steve Atwater who is a 2 time Super Bowl champion with the Denver Broncos, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Steve Hutchinson who was a part of the NFL All-Decade team in the 2000s, Isaac Bruce who was a member of the then St. Louis Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” offense, Member of the 1985 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears Jimbo Covert, and legendary head coach of the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins Jimmy Johnson.
In Johnsons’ speech, he talked about the difference between dreaming and believing and how he has taken the initiatives of the latter.
“I never really dreamed.” Johnson said, “I was never a dreamer. Dreaming is old. I believed. I really believed.”
Speaking of believing, a lot of people believed that a few of the members of the Class of 2021 would have their place in Canton before they even played a snap in their NFL careers.
Peyton Manning and Charles Woodson were two of them.
Woodson gave a tearful speech talking about his family and asked everyone that was a family member, a teammate, a coach he had, or even someone who was a fan of his to stand, saying that they did this together. They are in the Hall of Fame.
Manning gave a speech with humor that only Peyton can pull off. He poked fun at the Hall of Fames’ new policy of a six minute time limit on speeches. Which gave Manning a chance to take friendly jabs at old rivals Ray Lewis and Tom Brady saying that Lewis’ speech when he got inducted in 2018 just ended and Brady will have to post his speech on his Instagram account when he gets inducted in the year 2035.
There was a significantly less number of Steeler fans in attendance Sunday night as the ones who took over Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium were a mix of Colts and Broncos fans. Each wearing the iconic number 18 on their chest and back. One fan had a jersey of the Indianapolis and Denver jersey split down the middle, honoring both teams that Manning played for. Even Tennessee Volunteer fans showed out honoring undoubtedly, their programs best quarterback.
Other inductees that were honored on Sunday include former Cowboys wide receiver and a player who people think his induction is long overdue Drew Pearson, a pioneer in the league as he is the first Mexican quarterback and head coach in NFL history Tom Flores, 9-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl 37 champion John Lynch, Calvin Johnson who is the third youngest Hall of Famer at 35 years old, trailing only Gale Sayers and Jim Brown, and Alan Faneca, who played a 13 year NFL career while dealing with epilepsy.
“Fifteen was a transformative year for me,” the Super Bowl champion guard said. “My dream of playing in the NFL was awakened, and that was when I was diagnosed with epilepsy. I vividly knew that I was not going to let anything prevent me from fulfilling this dream. I knew as long as I listened to my doctors and followed their guidance, along with a strong support system, I would be fine. I always told myself, and have spoken about the fact that epilepsy is part of me, but it does not define me.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame had a previous ceremony where they revealed the busts of inductees who have passed away this past April in Cleveland.
Those members include former Packers safety Bobby Dan Dillon, Detroit Lions tackle turned actor starring in the 1974 film “Blazing Saddles” Alex Karras, the first black lineman in NFL history who later spent time as an Illinois judge Duke Slater, Former Browns wide receiver Mac Speedie, Ed Sprinkle, who Chicago Bears head coach George Halas called him hisotrys’ greatest pass rusher, The general manager who hired Bill Parcells in New York, George Young, one of the greatest talent scouts in NFL history Bill Nunn, and multiple Emmy award winner and executive of NFL Films Steve Sabol.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame calls itself the “Most Inspiring Place on Earth.”
When you induct 23 Hall of Famers over the course of 48 hours in a newly renovated Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, you can definitely say it was an inspiring experience.