Friday night I was up close and personal with the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2013 along with over 100 other Hall of Famers at the Enshrinees’ Gold Jacket Dinner in Canton, Ohio. The class of 2013 included Larry Allen, Chris Carter, Curly Culp, Jonathan Ogden, Bill Parcells, Dave Robinson, and Warren Sapp. It was the 50th anniversary of the Hall of Fame and to commemorate the occasion all but seven of the living Hall of Famers were in Canton that night. It was the largest amount of Hall of Famers from any sport in one place at the same time.
I have worked as a personal security escort for five years for this event and this was the first year that every inductee was friendly and great to be around. It made for a great evening. Dave Robinson, who was a linebacker for Lombardi’s Packers in the 1960s, wandered off before the evening could even get started. Chris Carter got the night off to a great start when he quipped, “The Hall made me wait 30 years so I’m going to make everybody wait another 30 minutes.”
We escorted the inductees through various rooms of diners in the Canton Fine Arts Center and Canton Civic Center. I was assigned to Larry Allen, who could not have been more friendly and personable. The players and coach were introduced to each room of fans, family members, and former teammates to a round of applause and multiple handshakes and back slaps. The biggest ovation of the night in each room went to Jonathan Ogden, which was surprising considering Canton is Browns country along with a sickening pocket of Steelers fans. Little known fact, at least by me, Ogden was an honorary captain for the Ravens in the most recent Super Bowl so he was sporting two giant rings. The former Ohio State Buckeye Chris Carter was serenaded with constant chants of O-H, which after a few rooms he stopped responding with I-O; understandable because if he answered each chant, Carter wouldn’t have done anything else all night.
In a tale of two extremes, Chris Carter used hand sanitizer after each room because of all of the handshakes, while Larry Allen didn’t wash his hands the entire evening. Even after using the restroom twice for number #2. In personal security there are things you don’t want to see, and that will be burned into my brain forever. Also despite all of his bravado and famous sound bites as a coach, Bill Parcells was quiet and reserved.
After a few rooms, an extremely intoxicated lady grabbed Chris Carter in the hallway and had to be pulled off of the Viking great. This was hilarious to Larry Allen. This would not be our last run in with this drunken fool. After the commotion, Carter asked Allen who was the toughest player he went up against, Allen answered that they were all tough, but Warren Sapp was his hardest match-up. Sapp was not within earshot so this was not said just to blow smoke for Sapp’s benefit. One of the rooms was filled with fans with disabilities and Chris Carter went to each of them for a handshake and a quick moment. It must have been very moving because Carter was brought to tears from the emotion.
We entered a room in the Fine Arts center where this March I exchanged vows with my beautiful wife. I mentioned this to Larry Allen and he congratulated me and asked how the marriage was going. I assured him that everything was great. Then the drunk lady reappeared attempting to get Larry Allen to sign a Warren Sapp shirt because she was his biggest fan. I told her to go sit down and sober up.
Once all of the members of the current class arrived at the main area and were served dinner, each member of the HOF that was in town was individually introduced to the crowd. It was disappointing to see Chris Carter’s son Duron Carter, who gave the introductory speech for his father the next day, texting on his phone during the majority of the ceremony. Duron failed out of both Ohio State and Alabama, which takes some doing since you can take classes such as AIDS Awareness and Beginning Golf to stay eligible. I felt Duron, who has NFL dreams, should have witnessed the Hall of Famers all come to welcome his father to their elite club. He wouldn’t have hurt for Duron to see what hard work and perseverance can lead to. The largest ovation went to Cleveland Browns Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, who coincidently was the only Hall of Famer to not wear his gold jacket that every member receives upon induction. Another loud ovation went to Don Shula, who needed the assistance of two police officers to walk on the stage. The winningest coach in NFL history was not in good shape so his appearance was both saddening and inspiring. Speaking of poor health, former Bills quarterback, Jim Kelly, who was recently diagnosed with jaw cancer, looked to be in great spirits. No ill effects of the disease or his fight were visible.
Lawrence Taylor decided to accentuate his gold Hall of Fame jacket with jeans and flip flops so he sure classed up the evening. After LT’s introduction, our drunk friend from earlier latched on to the controversial linebacker and WrestleMania 11 main eventer, having to again be peeled off a former player.
At the end of the evening I was supposed to take Larry Allen to his private car to be taken back to his hotel but instead Allen decided to board the Dallas Cowboys party bus with Jerry Jones and both their families. It looked like it would be a great time but alas my night as Larry Allen’s shadow had come to an end. The whole experience was amazing as other NFL and sports media dignitaries such as Ray Lewis, Roger Goodell, Chris Collingsworth, Chris Berman, Rich Eisen, and Al Michaels took in the ceremony. The strangest celebrity in attendance was former NBA shooting guard Ron Harper who was seated with Chris Carter’s family. Who knew? It was a night that Canton, Ohio, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the NFL, and past and current inductees all shined brightly and I was grateful to get a behind the scenes peek at the extravaganza.