Nearly 100 of football’s greatest players and coaches celebrated the enshrinement of the Class of 2022 into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Aug. 5-7.
The class honored Tony Boselli, LeRoy Butler, Richard Seymour, Bryant Young and Dick Vermeil as the five living members who attended the festivities in Canton, Ohio. Art McNally, 97, the first referee to be inducted, was unable to attend. Honored posthumously were wide receiver Cliff Branch and linebacker Sam Mills.
Boselli, Young and Butler were all previously honored by the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1990s and all would play for just one NFL franchise in their careers — the Jaguars, 49ers and Packers, respectively. Boselli became the first Jacksonville Jaguars player to be selected to the Hall of Fame after becoming the second player selected in the 1995 NFL Draft by the expansion team. The offensive tackle would be voted to five Pro Bowls. Young would be credited with 89.5 sacks and was voted to four Pro Bowls.
In Butler’s 12-year career he was credited with two firsts, including the first defensive back in NFL history with 20 interceptions and 20 sacks. The second became a big part of Packer lore when, on Dec. 26, 1993, Butler took the first Lambeau Leap. On an unlikely play, Butler forced a fumble that was recovered by fellow Hall of Famer Reggie White, who lateraled back to Butler for the final 25 yards for a touchdown. Butler leaped into bleachers to the joy of fans, and today the celebration is a fan favorite after Packer touchdowns at Lambeau.
Two 1993 Green Bay Packer ticket stubs from that first Lambeau Leap game were on sale for $1,999 on eBay. One was signed by Butler and both were PSA authenticated and slabbed. A similar ungraded, unsigned stub sold in early June for $525 and that same ticket is now for sale for $1,200. Other stubs have recently sold between for $150-$250.
Richard Seymour was a seven time Pro-Bowl selection, was named to the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 2000s, and helped the New England Patriots to three Super Bowl victories. A defensive tackle, he would accumulate 57.5 sacks and 496 tackles. His competitive nature took him in another direction after his NFL career and he is estimated to have earned more money (nearly $650,000) than any pro poker player.
While the fairy tale story of Kurt Warner, featured in the 2021 movie “American Underdog,” is well known, I have to admit, I did not realize there is just as great an underdog story with Sam Mills, who played Division III college football at Montclair State. At 5–9, he was deemed by many as undersized. He did earn All-American honors in college but was undrafted in the 1980 NFL Draft. Mills was a preseason cut by the Cleveland Browns and was cut in a second trial with the Canadian Football league. He pursued his dream and finally got playing time with the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars in 1983. Prior to that break, Mills started work as a high school teacher.
In three seasons with the Stars, Mills would have an impressive 592 tackles and two championships. His Stars coach, Jim Mora, landed a job in New Orleans after the collapse of the USFL, and Mills would join the Saints as well. In the next 12 seasons for the Saints and Panthers, Mills would “keep pounding” through a stellar career with 1,319 tackles and five Pro-Bowl appearances. Mills and Warner would follow a similar path with induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
You can still find Mills-autographed cards for $100-$150, and his USFL rookie card from $20-$60.
A tragic turn took place in 2003 when Mills was diagnosed with cancer and died in 2005 at the age of 45. In 2003, the Panthers created the “Keep Pounding Fund,” which has raised more than $1.4 million for cancer research. After the coin toss at each Panther home game, a person who has overcome adversity is tasked with hitting a six-foot Keep Pounding drum four times to represent four quarters of play.
Warner’s miracle success story is also part of the career of 2022 inductee and head coach Dick Vermeil. Vermeil came out of a 15-year retirement to coach the St Louis Rams. After a combined nine wins during the 1997-98 seasons, first-string quarterback Trent Green went down with an injury during the 1999 preseason. Warner took over the team and led the Rams to a 13-3 record. Vermeil would lead “The Greatest Show on Turf” to a win in Super Bowl XXXIV (January 2000).
Some 20 years earlier, Vermeil led the Philadelphia Eagles to their first Super Bowl. That Eagles team included Hall of Famers Harold Carmichael and Claude Humphrey. Vermeil is one of only six coaches to take two different teams to the Super Bowl and the 19-year span between Super Bowls is the longest to date in NFL history.
Cliff Branch had world-class speed and set a NCCA championship record in the 100-meter dash when he stepped on the field for the Oakland Raiders in 1972. Branch would have multiple 1,000-yard receiving seasons in an era where that feat was very rare. He would become the seventh member of the 1974 Oakland Raiders offense to be inducted into the Hall of Fame (eighth if you count punter Ray Guy). That is a record for any single unit in NFL history.
The Raiders were dominate in the ’70s with victories in Super Bowls XI, XV and XVIII. Branch was a big part of that success and owned a number of postseason receiving records at the time of his retirement.
AUTOGRAPH SIGNERS IN CANTON
The number of returning Hall of Famers again far surpassed all the other major sports with nearly 100 returning legends. I was able to see up-close all but a handful of those 100. Among those on hand were legends Jerry Rice, Lawrence Taylor, Emmitt Smith, Joe Greene and Franco Harris. Even Terrell Owens, after snubbing his own induction weekend came, to honor his former teammate, Bryant Young. Owens did wear his gold jacket to the induction ceremony.
Five of the oldest class members on hand were Jim Brown (1971), Ron Mix (1979), Bob Lilly (1980), Bobby Bell and Paul Warfield (1983). Many from the 2020-2021 combined induction from last year also returned, including Carmichael, Steve Atwater, Jimbo Covert, Alan Faneca, Steve Hutchison, Edgerrin James, Calvin Johnson, Drew Pearson, Donnie Shell and Rod Woodson.
Special guests in Canton also included coach Jim Mora, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, current Chief’s head coach Andy Reid and former players Mark Brunell and Trent Green.
The Hall of Fame again held a Class of 2022 autograph session ($300 for the five living members in attendance), and sponsored individual signings of more than 45 Hall of Famers. Sixteen Hall of Famers were priced $30 or less.
The top autograph price was Calvin Johnson at $225. Hall of Famers Tony Dorsett, Steve Young, Marcus Allen, Dan Fouts, LeRoy Butler, Kenny Easley and Mel Blount were all $100 or more. The best deal was Tim Brown for $65.
The induction celebration was packed with events, including an NFL preseason game on Thursday. Friday events included the reunion and class photo-op in downtown Canton and the Gold Jacket Dinner. Saturday was jam-packed with a parade with Hall of Famers riding in convertibles. Later in the day were the induction ceremony and a finale concert featuring rock band Journey. This year’s schedule was a bit different with the ceremony moving to noon on Saturday and the concert moving from Sunday night to Saturday night.
The Hall of Fame is still selling a Class of 2022 football signed by five members (even the Hall of Fame class items were not able to include McNally) for $399, and had some individual autographed mini-helmets as well. An autographed mini-helmet of LeRoy Butler complete with HOF inscription is $129, a nice option since I do not believe Butler signed for free at any time during the weekend.
The Hall of Fame is also selling an eight-card Class of 2022 Panini card set for $5,
Butler was by far the toughest signer. I saw many collectors around town that had items signed by one or more of the other four 2022 class members, but not a single Butler-signed item was noted after the first three days. On Wednesday and Thursday, Bryant, Seymour and Boselli signed quite a few items for fans around the hall and player hotel.
While there were fewer options this year for signings at places like the Belden Village Mall or Meyer’s Lake Ballroom, Alan Faneca appeared at a local Eagle Giant food store (following Jerome Bettis and Joe Greene in prior years), and there was a give-away for the first 250 fans for a signed copy of Eric Dickerson’s new book “Watch My Smoke.” I had hoped that Dickerson was also going to be on hand to sign a personal item, but he was only in attendance at a nearby VIP event.
Dave and Buster’s Sports Bar in North Canton also had former NFL players Andre Rison, Antonio Freeman, Dorsey Levens and Jimmy Smith for paid signings.
The area outside the player hotel was packed with more than 80 collectors at times, but players like Lawrence Taylor, Micheal Irvin and Dickerson did come over and sign a few autographs. Jerry Jones and Chris Carter did their best to sign for everyone.
HALL OF FAME EXPANSION
There has been an amazing amount of progress on the Hall of Fame expansion project in the past year. The 100,000-square-foot Center of Performance Dome has been added and is scheduled to open in 2022. The retail promenade’s Fan Engagement Zone exterior has been completed. While there were no open stores yet, the Coming Soon signs included Top Golf Swing Suites, The Brew Kettle, Don Shula American Kitchen, Build-A-Bear workshop, Smoosh Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches (owner Isaac Bruce) and a Sports Betting venue.
The Play Action Plaza has a new operating Zip Line and is awaiting a Ferris Wheel from Cleveland. The north end of the site is being prepped for a future waterpark and Hilton Tapestry hotel. Those are scheduled to open in 2024.
The $600 million expansion is progressing, but the project has not been without its difficulties, including financing, a pandemic, a downturn in the hospitality industry, supply chain issues and recent inflation. One bit of sad news is that sponsor Johnson Controls wants out its multimillion-dollar sponsorship deal.
ROAD TO 60
Next year is the 60th anniversary of the first class of the Hall of Fame. With 183 currently living members, maybe the Hall can beat its record of 120 returnees for the 50th anniversary in 2013.
The Hall has stated that the Center for Excellence Dome will be used for future induction events, so I would expect more changes again next year. Some possible 2023 inductees include Darrelle Revis, James Harrison, Joe Thomas, Zach Thomas, Ken Anderson, DeMarcus Ware and Devin Hester.