Hall Homecoming

One-hundred-and-twenty players are coming home, and two teams are going overseas. That is the tally as the NFL kicks off its opening preseason weekend -- Saturday through Monday -- by going back to its roots in Canton, Ohio while continuing to nurture the game in Tokyo, Japan.

In the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 40th Anniversary year, all 144 living members of the Hall have been invited back to Canton, the birthplace of pro football in 1920, for an "NFL Homecoming" celebration. The final number of attendees is expected to reach 120. That includes such legends as DICK BUTKUS, JOE NAMATH, ALAN PAGE, GALE SAYERS and LYNN SWANN. It is believed to be the largest gathering of Hall of Famers from any sport in one place at one time.

It is the second such reunion in three years. In 2000, to kick off the new century, all Hall members were invited back to Canton for "Pro Football's Greatest Reunion."

"Ever since that first reunion, it seems whenever I run into a Hall of Famer, he refers to that gathering and asks, ‘When will we do that again?'" says NFL Commissioner PAUL TAGLIABUE, whose idea it was to stage the first reunion. "The Hall of Fame's 40th Anniversary is the perfect occasion to again pay tribute to the game's greatest contributors."

Ninty-one-year-old ACE PARKER will be the oldest Hall of Famer attending, while STEVE VAN BUREN will represent the earliest Hall class (1965).

The returnees will honor their newest peers, the Class of 2003 – MARCUS ALLEN, ELVIN BETHEA, JOE DE LAMIELLEURE, James Lofton and HANK STRAM.

"My feet still haven't hit the ground," says DeLamielleure of his imminent induction. "It's not only for myself, it's for my family and all the people who made it possible. They're the ones celebrating the most."

DeLamielleure and his fellow classmates will have their bronze busts implanted in the Hall's new Hall of Fame Gallery, a $1.7 million renovation that opened to the public on July 3.

The inductions will take place this year on Sunday, rather than on Saturday as in past years. Last year, because of the amount of fans attending the induction ceremonies on the steps of the Hall of Fame, the event was moved to nearby Fawcett Stadium, the site of the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame Game Monday night.

And even that game will have historical significance.

When the Green Bay Packers take on the Kansas City Chiefs on ABC-TV at 8:00 PM ET, it matches the Super Bowl I

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Almost as awaited as the identities of the Pro Football Hall of Fame class every year are the names of the "presenters" of those inductees on their special day. The Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2003 presenters:

Inductees Marcus Allen Elvin Bethea Joe DeLamielleure James Lofton Hank Stram
Presenters Harold "Red" Allen Hornsby Howell Larry Felser David Lofton Len Dawson
Relationship Father Bethea's North Carolina A&T coach Former Buffalo News reporter/columnist Oldest son Hall of Fame quarterback under Stram

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