If you are a football fan and have not visited the Professional Football Hall of Fame then shame on you. The room where they have the inductees busts on display is worth the trip alone. The other exhibits are also a lot of fun to see and there are obviously many Packer items and memories to see and experience. So next time you head east or south, detour to Canton and live a little.
I spent six years of my conscious life living in Ohio, which is second on the list behind New York, where I lived for seven years. Folks from Ohio are great and Canton is a lot like Green Bay. They embrace the Hall of Fame and take pride in being the birthplace of professional football. Statistically and geographically, the place is very similar to Northeast Wisconsin. Akron is their Appleton, Cleveland is their Milwaukee and manufacturing is the legacy that business has left the area.
Columbus, with the big State University and Capitol is just southwest down the road. They had 100,000 people show up for the parade at 8 am. We left the Hall of Fame enshrinement dinner around 10 pm the night before and people were already sitting out. 10 hours before the parade started and folks were saving their spot. That takes commitment. Everyone we met was nice and happy to have us in town. I did not discover their version of the brat, but maybe next time.
We kept hearing the stat that 18,000 men have played professional football and only 235 have been chosen for induction into Canton. Do the math and that works out to 1.3% of all football players are good enough to make it into the Hall. Take out the coaches and owners and administrators and it is even less. One out of 100 men who play the game makes it into this elite club. It is quite and achievement.
Most Packer fans know the Packer Hall of Famers, but let me list them again: Herb Adderly, Tony Canadeo, Willie Davis, Forrest Gregg, Arnie Herber, Clarke Hinkle, Paul Hornung, Cal Hubbard, Don Hutson, Henry Jordan, Curly Lambeau, James Lofton, Vince Lombardi, John (Blood) McNally, Mike Michalske, Ray Nitschke, Jim Ringo, Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Willie Wood and now Reggie White are the Hall of Famers who spent a significant portion of their career with the Pack.. That is 21 names. Only the Bears have more with 26. The Giants are next after the Packers with 18.
Cowboy fans were there in overwhelming numbers. They drowned out the Giant fans, the Packer fans and interestingly the Eagle fans. They had two guys going in so it makes sense, but they were in attendance in numbers greater than I would have expected. I was not sure who had more friends and family members in Canton. Sometimes Warren Moon's contingent was dominant. Then Rayfield Wright's people were dominant. They were organized with hats and shirts signifying the occasion. Everywhere we went we saw folks who were there to see their guy go in. As you would expect, there were a few knuckleheads from the Raider nation all decked out in their Halloween costumes.
Harry Carson and Rayfield Wright had heartfelt speeches and Warren Moon's was punctuated by the fact that he is the first African American quarterback to make it. He was passed over by the league coming out of college and had to go to Canada. Whether racism had anything to do with it will be up to history to determine, but I was a boy in Seattle and watched him quarterback the Huskies to the Rose Bowl. At the tender age of 10, I could tell he was pretty good.
John Madden's effort was a combination of humor and tenderness. He was the most well known of the inductees, everyone knows Madden. Sara White gave a stirring rendition of what she felt Reggie would have said had he been alive. I must admit that I left after Sara was done and missed Troy Aikman's speech. It was 90 degrees outside and we were sitting on the field, which is Field Turf. It must have been over 100 hundred down there. We got to our seats around 12:30 and once Sara was done, it was over four hours later. Heat stroke was a distinct possibility for members of our group if we did not leave.
Each inductee gets to choose a person to present them for induction. Madden choose Al Davis, who needed a walker. Davis had presented nine times now. Harry Carson picked his son who is battling a rare blood disease. Warren Moon chose his agent Leigh Steinberg. Reggie's son Jeremy did the honors for the Whites. Rayfield Wright chose his college coach and Troy Aikman chose his old quarterbacks coach Norv Turner, who he said was the big brother he wished he had.
When my grandfather was inducted in 1971, Wellington Mara presented him and my father accepted the honor. He was 29 at the time. My grandmother presented Jim Taylor and Forrest Gregg for induction.
Former Packer linebacker Dave Robinson is from the Akron-Canton area and is on a few committees for the Hall of Fame. I saw him at the post induction party that Sara White threw on Saturday night. He told me that Sara and Jeremy did not exceed their time allotments.
There is not a better man to walk the earth than Dave Robinson. He is so much fun to be around that he just brightens up a room when he enters. I also want to say one more time that Dave belongs in the Hall of Fame.
The National Anthem
Reggie White's daughter, Jecolia, sang the National Anthem prior to the induction ceremony. I am no expert on things musical, but I was overwhelmed by her rendition. I saw Whitney Houston sing at Super Bowl XXV in what is considered the greatest Anthem performance to date, but Jecolia's performance moved me more. I know that the moment was right, but Whitney was a pop star. Jecolia just graduated from high school.
The League was there
Saw ex-Packer defensive coordinator Jim Bates in the Aikman section. Emmitt Smith was there. Darryl Johnston was too. My favorite sportscaster, Michael Irvin showed up, even though he vowed to never come until he gets in, which I hope is after he or I have died. Al Michaels and Chris Berman handled hosting duties of the various banquets and events. Approximately 70 Hall of Famers came back, including Willie Davis, Forrest Gregg and Jim Taylor. It was like an NFL Alumni reunion meeting spun out of control. Cowboy QB Roger Staubach got the most applause, according to my unscientific measurements. Packer executive Reggie McKenzie was sitting right in front of us during the ceremony. He did not have much to say.
The Long Lament
As much as it was a great experience to witness the Hall of Fame induction and be a small part of the whole event, it was with a sad heart when I left Canton. Induction into the Hall is the culmination of a person's career and Reggie was not there. I heard that he was the only player to be chosen in his first year of eligibility to be inducted posthumously. I only got to know Reggie during the last few years of his life and it was not football related. I did not know him well or for a long time, but like a lot of people he had a way of making you feel like you were one of his special friends.
Once there was a local TV reporter in Green Bay trying to make her bones and she figured that controversy was the ticket to a bigger market and a bigger job. She chose Reggie as one of her targets and ambushed him one night at a fund-raising dinner. She was going to get a story or get a reaction from someone famous that might make her story.
Reggie was upset at the story she was pursuing, which I guarantee you was completely bogus. He was also upset that she bothered him on such a night. She made an attempt to disrupt the evening's festivities to sensationalize her report. On that effort, she was unsuccessful, but she did upset Reggie. He went looking for someone to vent to and it happened that I was the person he ran into first. I am not a small man, 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds, but to see Reggie White coming at you with a purpose will give you pause. Even in a suit he is imposing. We only spent a few minutes together, but he vented and I listened. The story was obviously phony and the reporter is long gone.
Small moments like that are what I remember. I remember being at lunch or dinner and having Reggie say grace. I remember the voice and the complete confidence he had in everything he did. I wish he were still around because I coached at Vanderbilt and he played at Tennessee and for the first time in decades, Vandy beat UT. More than once he had teased me about the sad state of Vandy football. Revenge would have been sweet. Reggie accomplished great things with his life on and off the field. People can use his example to do the same. His widow implored us to do so during her speech to accept the honor. He accomplished big things, but it is the little things that I will miss. Others miss him more, but we all should pray for him and his family.
Editor's note: John Lombardi is the grandson of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. His football experience includes stints with two teams in the World League (now NFL Europe); in the scouting departments of the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans; and graduate assistant coach and director of football operations at Vanderbilt. E-mail him at email@example.com.