By Brooks Roland
The bucket list. That old term we use to describe things we want to do or see in our lives before we “kick the bucket”. We all have one. Some of you have crossed a few items of your bucket list. Perhaps others haven’t checked off any goals on theirs. I know that I’ve got several things on my bucket list that I’d still like to cross off before my time is up. This past weekend, I was able to take one item off that list when I went on a road trip with my family to see the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Yep, that’s right, my parents and I drove over a thousand miles to Canton, Ohio to watch seven men up on a stage give speeches and give thanks to those that helped them achieve pro football’s greatest individual honor. We’d been wanting to make the trip for years, but it was something that we just kept putting off. However, when Buccaneer great Derrick Brooks was announced as one of the members of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2014, we knew that this was an opportunity we just couldn’t pass up. My family always went on road trips when I was growing up, so we threw it back to a simpler time, piled into my mother’s car, and the three of us hit the road to Ohio, taking turns behind the wheel along the way.
Arriving in Canton, you can’t help but notice that the Pro Football Hall of Fame is THE attraction in a town that is the quintessential version of small-town America. As soon as we arrived on Friday, we knew that parking was going to be very hard to come by, as there were already plenty of fans there for events outside of the museum. Almost all of the locals that live in the homes nearby were charging for parking and even accepting payment to reserve a spot for the following day’s induction ceremony, which is what we ended up doing. We entered the museum and I quickly realized that I was entering a football geek’s paradise. This place has everything! From the original minutes from the meeting in which the NFL was founded, to old game-worn cleats, jerseys, and helmets worn by players during record-breaking moments both past and present, to old game programs and tickets, and everything else in between, we were in football heaven.
However, it was the hall featuring the busts of each member of the Hall of Fame that attracted the most visitors and the most traffic. Everybody there was reaching for their camera phones to take pictures of the busts of their favorite players, and I was no exception. I probably took about 250 photos the entire weekend at both the museum and the induction ceremony. And of course, I had to snap a few photos of the busts of Tampa Bay’s first two Hall of Famers, Lee Roy Selmon and Warren Sapp.
The induction ceremony was the following evening, and for a time, it looked like it was going to get rained out. But thankfully, Mother Nature cooperated and the show would go on as planned. We found our parking spot that we paid for the day before (thankfully the home owner kept his word), and we made our way to Fawcett Stadium for the ceremony. You’d have thought that a game was being played there that day. There were so many people walking around the surrounding neighborhood, hanging out in the party tents drinking beer, playing cornhole, and sporting their favorite team’s jersey. You could feel the buzz in the air and it meant that football was returning very soon. We took our seats in the third row in anticipation of what was to come, and the first thing that popped into my head was, “We are surrounded by greatness”. When you go to a football game or any other sporting event, there might be a small handful of players participating that you could say are truly great. On this night, there was greatness all around. Guys like Jim Kelly, John Madden, Marv Levy, and Lawrence Taylor all rode by on golf carts to get to the stage for the start of the inductions. Where else can you see this happen? Usually I’m pretty reserved when it comes to seeing famous athletes, but I found myself snapping photos like a crazed fan boy.
After the returning Hall of Famers were introduced, the ceremony began with each member of the Class of 2014 making their way to the stage one-by-one. Now if you’ve ever attended a graduation ceremony of any kind, it’s really easy to tune out the speaker and letting your mind wander. That wasn’t the case on this night. I thought that every speech was entertaining and interesting in their own way. Our own Derrick Brooks started things off with a speech that didn’t feel like it was that long even though there were some grumbling that he went too long. Sure, the speeches went long, but you know what? It’s their Hall of Fame speech! They only get to do this once, so I had no problem with each guy taking their time up on stage. They’ve earned it. And Brooks delivered his speech in typical Derrick Brooks fashion: classy, understated, humble, and thankful to the people in his life that helped him get to this point. I found myself hanging onto every word. Especially his quote about humility, where he uttered a line that we could all use in our day-to-day lives. “Humility, as I once learned, is not thinking less of yourself, but it’s thinking of yourself less.”
As the night went on, each speech was fun to listen to for different reasons. Claude Humphrey spoke about his family, his time in college and how it prepared him for the NFL, and even mentioned how, Jerry Glanville, who was an assistant coach when he was in Atlanta, used to leave two tickets for each game for Elvis Presley. Aeneas Williams absolutely owned the stage with his speech, talking about how he walked onto Southern University’s football team just a couple of weeks before the season started and engaging the crowd to participate with his two favorite phrases, “Begin with the end in mind” and “Die empty”, meaning to leave it all out there. Walter Jones spoke of his upbringing in a large family in rural Alabama and even thanked his agent, as Jones was known to hold out of training camp and then show up right before the season started and not miss a beat. Ray Guy, the first punter ever elected, had perhaps the line of the night when he said that the Pro Football Hall of Fame now had a “complete team”. Andre Reed mesmerized the numerous Bills fans in attendance with his speech about how big of an influence his parents and siblings were when he was growing up in Allentown, PA. When his speech ended, the Bills fans roared when Jim Kelly stood up and threw one final pass to Reed before they embraced on stage. Michael Strahan capped off the night with the funniest speech, regaling the crowd with plenty of stories throughout his playing days.
In closing, if you call yourself a football fan, you need to make at least one trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame to see the museum and an induction ceremony. The drive up there and the long drive back were both worth the time and the effort, and I promise that you won’t be disappointed. As Bucs fans, we can only hope that Ronde Barber, Tony Dungy, or John Lynch get in. Maybe if we’re lucky, we’ll get to see all three of those guys get to put on gold jackets and take their place in pro football immortality. If you’re a Bucs fan and that happens, do yourself a favor and make the trip to football paradise. You can’t put a price on being surrounded by greatness for a night.
You can follow me on Twitter @BrooksR987