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Twice the Fun in ’21: The Pro Football Hall of Fame Experience

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to experience Enshrinement Week at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. The weekend featured both the 2020 and 2021 Hall of Fame class inductions. This was due to the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the 2020 Enshrinement Week to be rescheduled to 2021. The week was appropriately hyped as “Twice the Fun in ’21” as both classes were enshrined in the same weekend.

This year, many NFL legends were inducted into the Hall of Fame. Troy Polamalu, Edgerrin James, Calvin Johnson, Charles Woodson and Peyton Manning highlighted the two star-studded classes. Others who waited long after their first year of eligibility into the Hall of Fame who were finally inducted feature Tom Flores, John Lynch, Steve Atwater and Drew Pearson.

As a long-time fan of Peyton Manning, Enshrinement Week was a must-attend for me. Manning has always been a true class act, a team player and a great role model to his fans. To add to that, he is one of the greatest to have ever played the quarterback position. No one could ever out-prepare and rarely outplayed Manning due to the work he put in every day.

Thursday: Hall of Fame Game

My enshrinement week started with a long five hour drive to Canton, Ohio from central Pennsylvania. Upon arrival, my girlfriend Shyanne and I checked into our hotel in the Akron/Kent area. After that, we immediately left to attend the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers. Parking had to be done at the Stark County Fairgrounds about a mile away from the stadium. Buses were lined up shuttling guests to Tom Benson Stadium.

After we arrived at the stadium, we attended the Hall of Fame Game Fan Party Tailgate. The tailgate featured live music, free drinks and a buffet of food. The party was located at the fan experiences tent right off of Stadium Park Drive. The tailgate pass was included in our Hall of Fame ticket package.

After spending about an hour and a half at the tailgate party, it was game time. Rescheduled from 2020, the Hall of Fame Game was a showdown between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys. The two teams combined for eight total players entering the Hall of Fame this year. Mason Rudolph (Pittsburgh) and Garret Gilbert (Dallas) both started at quarterback as Ben Roethlisberger and Dak Prescott were held out of the preseason opener. First round picks Micah Parsons (Dallas) and Najeem Harris (Pittsburgh) both made their preseason debuts in the game.

Meeting Peyton

One of the only reasons I chose to attend the Hall of Fame game was to see the pregame ceremony introducing the year’s Hall of Fame class. In years past, this presentation took place on the field at Tom Benson Stadium. However, this year it took place in a VIP area in the stands. Since seeing Peyton Manning was one of the few reasons I wanted to go to the game, my girlfriend Shyanne told me I should try and get close to their section and see him. With that being the only way I would be able to see him, I chose to go down to catch a glimpse. However, what happened next was completely unexpected.

After a speed walk through the corridor of Tom Benson Stadium, I was able to get up the steps to the section next to the Hall of Famers. Around this time, NFL on Fox was doing their own presentation of the players on the broadcast. I was finally able to see Peyton Manning and managed to take some pictures of him. After Fox’s presentation, Shyanne texted me asking if I made it down and if I saw him. I sent her pictures of him and started to head back up to our seats.

As I made my way down the steps, I heard a very familiar voice that I’ve heard in countless press conferences, interviews and commercials. I look over and Peyton Manning himself is making his way into the corridor. In shock, I go up to him to say hello and congratulate him on his Hall of Fame induction. Manning expressed his gratitude, and I asked him for a picture. At first, I thought he said “No man I’m on the run.” So I reply, “Okay thank you anyway.” I start to walk away, until Peyton told me, “No man let’s get one on the run quick.” I got my selfie, thanked him for everything and went back to our seats.

Peyton Manning poses for a picture with me.

The Game

After I got back to our seats, the Hall of Fame game was underway. For me, the entire game was overshadowed by what had just happened minutes before kickoff. Cowboys rookie first round pick Micah Parsons started his preseason debut with a fumble recovery on a muffed Steelers exchange. The Cowboys scored a field goal on their opening possession after the Steelers held them on 3rd and goal. The field goal would turn out to be the only points the Cowboys scored all game, losing to the Steelers 16-3 to begin the preseason.

Our seats at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game at Tom Benson Stadium.

Saturday: The Canton Repository Parade

After taking an easy day on Friday, it was time for the Canton Repository Parade on Saturday morning. The parade featured floats, marching bands, returning Gold Jackets and the members of the 2020 and 2021 Hall of Fame classes. After looking around for parking, we finally made it to the parade about five minutes after it began. We ended up walking in the parade for a few blocks looking for our seat. One of the nice things about the parade was how there were sections dedicated to each of the 32 NFL teams. Being around Broncos fans and seeing John Lynch, Steve Atwater and Peyton Manning in the Hall of Fame parade with all of them was pretty special.

Everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves at the parade. The atmosphere was very energetic especially considering the early start time to the parade. In our section, Peyton Manning got the most cheers of the day. Some other crowd favorites were Alan Faneca’s big float and Edgerrin James’ Hall of Fame lowrider. The parade was a great chance for fans to get up close to the legends without paying a fortune to see them. It was $10 to reserve a spot on team bleachers, but watching from the sidewalk was free. All of the Hall of Famers engaged with fans. The parade was a great way to kick off the enshrinement portion of the weekend.

Meeting Pete Rose

After the parade was over, we made our way to the Belden Village Mall to meet Pete Rose. Pete Rose is the all-time leader in hits as a member of the Cincinatti Reds and Philadelphia Phillies. Rose went on to become the general manager of the Reds until 1989. His stint ended after he was banned from baseball due to a gambling scandal.

The Pete Rose meet and greet was hosted by the Ohio Sports Group. The cost was $59 for an autograph and a picture. The line was long but it moved quickly. As I got up to him, I shook his hand and engaged in some conversation. We were the last people in line, so we had a few more extra minutes than everybody else. He asked where I am going to college, to which I replied, “Bloomsburg University.” He congratulated me and we were on our way.

Sunday: The 2021 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony

Sunday was the big day, the main event of the whole weekend. The 2021 Hall of Fame class was being enshrined into football immortality. The whole class included Alen Faneca, Tom Flores, Calvin Johnson, Bill Nunn, Drew Pearson, John Lynch, Charles Woodson and Peyton Manning. The 2020 Enshrinement Ceremony was the night before, however, in an effort to save some cash we chose to just watch that on TV at Dave and Buster’s.

Prior to the enshrinement ceremony and the tailgate party, we visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame museum. The museum was obviously crowded, but still a good experience. Roger Goodell’s iconic chair from the 2020 NFL Draft was on display right in the lobby. From there was an area dedicated to the first 100 years of the NFL. There were jerseys, helmets, footballs, pads, etc., used in big games during the NFL’s first century. The 100 years display did a great job showing the evolution of the sport, from the leather helmet days to now. An instant replay booth was also on display, where guests can go in and review a play and make the right call.

In the instant replay booth, I reviewed a New York Jets scoring play. The dispute was whether or not the ball hit the pylon before the player stepped out of bounds. I ended up making the correct call, and left the booth. About a half an hour later, I realized that I was missing my Hall of Fame Experiences folder issued by the Hall of Fame. It had the tickets to the upcoming tailgate party. We backtracked, and found the envelope in the replay booth. The envelope was there, however, my tickets were not. In a panic, I went down to guest services all the way at the fan experiences tent. Thankfully, despite rules saying they can’t do anything about stolen or lost tickets, they were able to replace my tickets right away.

After we got the ticket situation straightened out, we returned to the Hall of Fame museum. We went through the Lamar Hunt Super Bowl Gallery, and into the Super Bowl theater. In the theater, they showed highlight reels of both the Chiefs and Buccaneers seasons to the Super Bowl. When it was time for the Super Bowl, the theater turned into another room with an even bigger screen. We were shown an NFL Films presentation of Super Bowl 55. NFL Films always does a really good job making the presentations. They make the viewer feel like they are a part of the game.

After the theater, we went into the area where they have all 55 of the Super Bowl rings on display. While we were looking around, I notice security setting up barriers and creating a lane. It turns out, they were getting ready for the returning Gold Jackets that were going to be at the ceremony. We stood next to the barrier to see who was going to come out. We saw legends like Dan Marino, John Elway, Troy Polamalu, Roger Staubach and Emmitt Smith. I even got a high five from Hall of Famer Champ Bailey. It was all a nice surprise as we did not expect to see the Gold Jackets walk through there.

After the Gold Jackets came through, it was time for the 2021 Enshrinement Ceremony. We sat in section 122, almost right across from the center of the stage. The Master of Ceremonies was none other than ESPN’s Chris Berman. Berman was always a favorite of mine on ESPN. This year, the inductees’ acceptance speeches were limited to six to eight minutes. While I thought this was a questionable rule at first, every speech was still very enjoyable and each was well thought out. Peyton Manning was the third person to speak. According to Rich Eisen of NFL Network, Manning asked not to be put on last. Peyton had the biggest crowd reaction of the night by far, followed by Charles Woodson. The Enshrinement Ceremony went at just the right pace, not too slow, but not rushed either. It was awesome hearing all of the Hall of Famers talk about their football careers and how they got there.

After the ceremony, fireworks blasted in the skies of Canton, Ohio. Hall of Fame weekend came to a conclusion. It was certainly a once in a lifetime opportunity. Getting to see my favorite football player inducted into the Hall of Fame and meeting him will always be a weekend very difficult to top. I hope to make it a tradition to go to Canton every year for future ceremonies. It was a one of a kind atmosphere the whole weekend, one that will keep me going back every year.