Sunday, August 10, 2008

Fans Take on Canton

The Trip to Canton

Even as a Guru of the bigs, I had not been to the NFL Hall of Fame. Nestled in a small city in Ohio about 4 hours away, the idea of a trip to see the legends of the game enshrined on one building was too much to pass up. And even though some people believe it is just a hallway named the Hall of Fame, I wanted to see for myself. A couple of my friends and I packed up some memorabilia, permanent markers, and a couple jerseys and headed northwest towards Canton. This past weekend six players were enshrined, three of which were from Washington, my city of football. And when half the inductees are Redskins, it's time to head to Canton.

Arriving Sunday around 1pm, we decided to head into the Hall to take in what has manifested into such a rich collection of memorabilia, stories, and multimedia commemorating a sport that America loves. And apparently to take all this in requires a small fee of $18. Wristband aside, I was spellbound at how this small building (from the outside) was able to hold over 150 years of football. We milled around at the start of the museum looking at each NFL team set-up with a authentic helmet and a small poster behind it commemorating each team. As exciting as that sounds, let's keep walking.

Moving on, we entered into the "head" room, where all the enshrined players, well are enshrined in golden metallic busts of them, most of which look nothing like them. Obviously, I wouldn't know everyone one, but seeing the greatest players who played the game that I love was breath-taking. Baugh, Tarkenton, Smith, Payton, Unitas, Young, Aikman, Ditka, Madden, just amazing to see these men, enshrined as if they were in front of you. Then there were rooms where you could pick different players and watch clips of them, and them talking. One screen held Unitas, Payton, and Baugh which I watched. The fact that they talked about their playing and now they are now dead gave me goosebumps, and reminded me of what these men had done for the game of football. After watching a short film and snapping some photos in front of the Lombardi Trophy, it was time to leave.

But yet, there was a football game going on that evening, that we had tickets for (what a plot twist!!!). Redskins hosted the Colts at Fawcett Stadium, home to several high school and collegiate teams. Holding around 24,000 and change, we had tickets first row by the endzone. Great seats, and even though it was a pre-season contest, it was still football. I decided to get some autographs, and even though names like Harrison and Manning were not in attendance, it bothered me little as my eye was on the Big 4 7. Chris Cooley, my favorite player for the Redskins, did not emerge until middle way through the warm up period. But the way the crowd reacted seeing the figure that resembled a lumberjack was phenomenal. Walking out of the tunnel, the 6'3" 240lb TE out of Utah State was greeted with a loud thunderous applause and his trademark Cooley chant. "They're not booing him, they're saying Coooooooollleyyyy." He waved to the fans indicating he would be over to chat and sign some memorabilia. But what was funny was that fans weren't the only ones trying to get memorabilia signed. Cooley, unknown to almost all fans except my friends and I, was carrying a small holder of playing cards to get signed. Very funny and entertaining to us, and in the slim case that you are reading this Cooley, I need one of those eBay paintings!! Cooley went through some stretches and warmed up, then turning towards the fans. As he walked past I screamed, "Cooley!!" He turned to me and waved, absolutely making my day at the game and walked to the larger portion of fans. I gave chase and around 5 minutes later had my ticket stub signed. Many other fans (30-40) also got his autograph, most likely dwarfing any other player's number of signatures easily.

And I think that's what draws people to Cooley. He's a regular guy, who just happens to catch any ball in his area and make the Pro Bowl. Even him talking to the fans was as if it was any other conversation to him. That's what makes him a NFL player that any fan can appreciate. And by the way, my signed ticket will not be under eBay listings. Adding onto that, Cooley had 2 catches during the game, for right around 10-15 yds.

And if the trip could not get any memorable to me, there was a moment that will stick in my mind for a very long time. During the pre-game warm ups, there was a program on the screens about the Redskins' season last year. The subject of Sean Taylor soon took over the screen, and the whole stadium with it. I commented to my friend that during this time would be the quietest the stadium would be the entire game there. If the screen had been muted, there would have been sheer silence. Looking across the field I noticed that many players were not moving, but glued to the screen that the fans were watching. Portis, Cooley, and others were near the 50-yd line still watching the presentation. Many of them were on the screen talking about the passing of Taylor, most of whom were choked up in the clips shown on the screen, which in turn was affecting them watching it. Daniel Snyder, owner of the Redskins, was also on the field watching this. A photograph came onto the screen with audio of Snyder talking about Sean Taylor. The photo was of Taylor giving a fist- pound to Snyder during the pre-game last year. For those who have never been to Fed-Ex Field, when the Redskins run out past Snyder, they slap his hand. The photo reminded me of the painting of God reaching out with one finger to touch "mankind." It shook me up, and as I looked at Snyder's reaction, it worsened the affect on me. Snyder slowly put a finger behind his dark sunglasses and wiped away a tear, taking a deep breath and slowly shaking his head. Sure this game is also a business, but what I saw proved that there is still a human side to the game, and that even though there are constant stories of teams bickering with each other, there is still a feeling of family and love shared amongst the players, and hopefully money will never take that away. They hadn't just lost a Pro Bowl player, they hadn't just lost a teammate, but a friend, a member of their family.

The game was great (Redskins 30-16) and I was thoroughly impressed with Colt Brennan, who not only acknowledged fans several times, but just was absolutely on point for the Redskins while in the game. Second string maybe? We'll have to see. I was also impressed with other rookies in the game, and I must say that with some off-season acquisitions the Redskins are contenders to make the playoffs again this season.

We got back into town around 2:30-3:00a.m., and even though I was tired, it was one of the best days of summer for me. Recap: (1) I experienced the Hall of Fame (2) I was able to be acknowledged by Chris Cooley, Jason Taylor, Tony Dungy and got Cooley to personally sign my ticket (3) The Redskins won (4) I got a taste of what this season for the Redskins will be like (winning). See you around like a donut. - The Guru

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