By Robert Kunz
Northern Ohio became a sports collector’s dream destination during the first weekend in August. Mike Trout and the Angels were the visiting team at Jacobs Field in Cleveland, the National Sports Collectors Convention was taking place at the I-X Center in Cleveland, Justin Thomas was winning the WGC Bridgestone Invitational an hour south in Akron, and a few miles further down the road in Canton, more than 120 Pro Football Hall of Famers gathered for the 2018 enshrinement ceremony.
Each year the Pro Football Hall of Fame seems to break a record with the number of returning Hall of Famers, consistently surpassing 100-plus returning. Eight new members were honored in the Class of 2018, bringing the total number of inductees since its first class in 1963 to 318 members.
Enshrined this year as part of the Class of 2018 were Ray Lewis, Randy Moss, Brian Urlacher, Terrell Owens, Brian Dawkins, Jerry Kramer, Robert Brazile, and Bobby Beathard.
All seven players elected were dominant in their era and each is recognized as an NFL All-Decade Team Player. Lewis, Moss, Urlacher, Owens, and Dawkins are All-Decade Team players of the 2000s, while Brazile was selected for the 1970s team, and Kramer for the 1960s team.
The election of Kramer and Brazile were a long time in the making. Kramer was an 11-time finalist and was elected by the Senior Committee after 45 years of eligibility. Kramer was an offensive guard in the Lombardi-Era Packers that won Super Bowl I and II. His key block led the way for quarterback Bart Starr’s game-winning touchdown in the 1967 NFL Championship game, which came to be known as the “Ice Bowl.”
Neil Leifer’s image of Kramer hoisting Vince Lombardi on this shoulder adorned the January 22, 1968 cover of Sports Illustrated. Kramer was selected All-NFL five times, and was selected to three Pro Bowls.
Brazile was elected for induction in his 29th year of eligibility. Brazile was the sixth overall pick in the 1975 NFL Draft and was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year his first year. Brazile played 10 seasons without missing a game, was a five-time All-Pro, and was selected to seven Pro Bowls. He was a punishing linebacker nicknamed “Dr. Doom.”
Owens and Moss are two of the top receivers in the modern history of the NFL. When they retired they ranked second and third in receiving yards (Owens-15,934 yards and Moss-15,292 yards), and second and third in receiving touchdowns (Moss-156 TDs and Owens- 153 TDs).
Owens also finished in the top 10 in career receptions, and owned the record for receptions in a game with 20 receptions from 2000 to 2009. Brandon Marshall broke that record with a 21 receptions in a game.
Moss still holds the record of most receiving touchdowns in a season with 23. Moss was selected as an All-Pro four times and to the Pro Bowl six times. Owens matched that with one additional All-Pro selection.
Based on statistics there could easily be a debate regarding Moss being a first ballot hall of fame selection, while Owens had to wait through three attempts before being selected for enshrinement. There was a lot of coverage of Owens deciding not to attend the weekend in Canton and instead make his enshrinement speech from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Lewis played 17 seasons as a linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens. He was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year award winner, a Super Bowl MVP, and his 50 career takeaways (interceptions and fumbles) ranks second among linebackers since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. In addition, Lewis was selected to 12 Pro Bowls and was an eight-time All-Pro.
While Lewis joined Johnathan Ogden as the only Ravens players in the Hall of Fame, Urlacher became the 28th Chicago Bears player in the Hall of Fame. His 1,229 tackles in 13 seasons are most by a Bears player, surpassing greats like Mike Singletary and Dick Butkus. Urlacher was named the 2000 Defensive Rookie of the Year and the 2005 Defensive Player of the Year. He was also selected to five All-Pro teams and was an eight-time Pro Bowler.
Dawkins excelled as a safety for 16 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos. Dawkins was selected to five All-Pro teams and was a nine-time Pro Bowler.
Beathard was selected as a Contributor for his work with the Dolphins, Redskins, and Chargers. He helped propel teams to seven Super Bowl appearances, including four victories. Beathard was the director of personnel for the 1972 Dolphins team coached by Don Shula, general manager for the Redskins teams that won Super Bowls XVII and XXII, and he was part of the San Diego Chargers Super Bowl XXIX appearance.
Lewis, Moss, and Urlacher were inducted in their first year of eligibility. While it is rare that three players are elected in their first year of eligibility, it has happened 10 times. The last time was in 2013 when Larry Allen, Ogden, and Warren Sapp were elected. The first time was in 1977 with the selections of Bart Starr, Gale Sayers, and Forrest Gregg.
Crowds of fans chased the Canton area for a glimpse or autograph of their favorite Hall of Famers. Each year it gets more difficult to get access to the Hall of Famers, and it seems like the crowds get bigger as well. With more people looking for autographs, collectors who put in long days do have some success. Some of the bigger names that I saw sign for fans were Cris Carter, Jerome Bettis, Franco Harris, Morten Anderson, Kurt Warner, and Jason Taylor. Willie Roaf, Lenny Moore, Mike Munchak, and Paul Krause were also favorites who signed quite a bit for fans.
The class of 2018 proved to be much more difficult for fans than the Class of 2017. While I was able to obtain autographs from Terrell Davis, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Warner as new inductees last year, I was not able to obtain a single signature of Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, or Randy Moss.
A few Hall of Famers also got some items signed. Joe Greene was filling up a full-sized Hall of Fame helmet, and Paul Warfield was filling up a white panel football. A number of Hall of Famers also took footballs and helmets to the Ray Nitschke luncheon on Friday.
Lewis did sign a few autographs at a Wednesday evening event hosted by Joe Gibbs and also on the Hall of Fame grounds on Friday. I did have two chances with Lewis, but was unsuccessful. I did find Lewis and his parents at one point in time with no one else around, not another fan or collector to be seen, but Lewis stated he did not want to sign while he was with his parents.
The second encounter was at the Hall of Fame, Lewis came right next to me where there was a line of fans looking for autographs, and he did sign for three smaller boys standing next to me but that was all.
Moss pretty much proclaimed that his induction weekend would not be about signing autographs. Anyone who approached him early in the weekend was quite strongly and frankly told “no.” I did not see Moss after the induction ceremony to see if his interactions with fans got any better.
I was surprised that Urlacher did not seem receptive to signing autographs or interacting with fans on a number of occasions. For example, after the Saturday morning parade, on two occasions as he was getting into or out of a car, a number of fans were yelling for him to take a few moments. I cannot say with certainly that he even acknowledged the crowd either time.
SiriusXM Sports Radio did hold an hour long live “Town Hall” broadcast from Canton with Urlacher. I was one of the 20 lucky people to sit in on this radio show. It was a memorable hour for me, and I am sure it was for a number of the people in the audience sporting an Urlacher Bears jerseys. During that hour, listeners got insight into his fondest moments in the NFL, his favorite play, the significance to him winning the 2005 NFC Championship game, and the disappointment of the Bears not playing well in Super Bowl XLI. Listeners also got a glimpse of him as a retired player, a busy dad running around three kids, and his interests in mountain biking, golfing, and fishing. He also talked about how humbled he was to be inducted as a first ballot selection to the hall of fame.
After the radio show, there was a meet and greet with Urlacher and each attendee got a handshake and photo taken with him. There were no autographs, much to the displeasure of those who were hoping for one. I tried to stick around until Urlacher left the building, but he had two more interviews to do, and security ran him out the building as he was late for his next scheduled event.
Beathard, Kramer, and Brazile also had busy schedules that made obtaining autographs from any of them a difficult task. Those who found any of these three with a moment to spare were lucky and likely successful. I was able to find Kramer sitting down and he did sign for me. He took his time and has a beautiful signature. I did joke that he should teach penmanship to the younger players.
The Hall of Fame did hold a Class of 2018 signing on Thursday, Aug. 2. The cost of that class signing was $500, and did not include Terrell Owens, who was not in attendance. The signing went on sale on June 12, and sold out quickly. I selected the easier route and ordered a class signed white panel football from the Pro Football Hall of Fame for $500. It was nice since this item did include a Terrell Owens signature as part of the class.
I looked at the Hall of Fame store online a few days after the induction and the Class of 2018 signed white panel footballs and full-size helmets were sold out. They still did have a Wilson brown football of the Class of 2018 with Owens included for $699. The Hall also still had quantities of individually signed footballs and mini-helmets on sale. Prices ranged from $99 (Beathard, Brazile), to $199 (Kramer, Moss), to $249 (Urlacher, Dawkins, Lewis). I did not see similar individually signed items of Owens. The Hall of Fame store also sells Panini 2018 Class Card sets ($5), yearbooks ($10), silver coins ($25), clothing, and many more items featuring the Class of 2018.
On Friday and Saturday, there were three main signings in the Canton area. There were also dozens of Football Hall of Fame guests at the National Sports Collectors Convention an hour north of Canton.
The Hall of Fame and Panini hosted nearly 50 guests at the Hall of Fame grounds. Tozzi’s Italian Restaurant and Banquet Hall had a memorabilia show with 17 guests, and Crave the Auto ran a show with 30 guests.
While the Hall of Fame had great pricing on Carl Eller ($25), Bob Griese ($40), Claude Humphrey ($25), and Emmitt Thomas ($25) autographs, I chose the Crave the Auto show since it had three guests that I never see sign for free. I purchased autograph tickets for Dave Casper, Orlando Pace, and Charles Haley. Casper was $30 on a flat or $40 on a premium item, and Pace and Haley were $55 each.
It turned out to be a good choice. I got signatures of three Hall of Famers that I could never get another way. The location was convenient, parking was plentiful, lines were short, and food was available at a very reasonable price. These were my last autographs of the weekend.
While I have had better weekends in Canton over the years, I was happy to get first-time autographs of Pace, Haley, Dawkins, and Jason Taylor. I also got Jerome Bettis and Steve Largent on key pieces.
I did get turned down by Darrell Green and Marvin Harrison, and was really hoping for any opportunities with Michael Irvin, Tony Dorsett or Art Monk, but those never materialized. I had high hopes for a Moss, Lewis, or Urlacher, but this year it was not meant to be.
I have been reporting on the progress of the Hall of Fame Village for the past two years, and if you look back a couple of years, the original planned date for the opening of the on-site hotel and some other major elements was going to be in the summer of 2019. Walking around the grounds you can see major progress on the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium and a number of Sports Complex Football Fields, but the hotel construction has not yet started.
A number of homes in the adjacent streets have been torn down, but still a good number of homes remain standing (yet vacant). Pockets of homes here and there are still occupied. With construction planned to start this fall, the 2019 induction will not see the opening of any of the Hall of Fame Village buildings. The 2019 season will be the NFL’s 100th season, so expect to see some events for that special milestone. There are hopes of securing the 2019 or 2020 NFL Draft in the Canton or Cleveland area.
There will be a big push for some elements completing in 2020. Sept. 17, 2020 will mark the Centennial of the NFL. Media releases have announced that there will be a large, week-long celebration at the Hall of Fame Village, and every player who ever played in the NFL will receive an invitation. The birthplace of the NFL wants to make Sept. 17, 2020 something very special to honor all those who played the game. u
Robert Kunz is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.