Incredible array of returning Hall of Famers joins new class at Gold Jacket Dinner

·4 min read

CANTON - It was cool to see the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2022 hanging out with the townsfolk at our well-kept 71-year-old auditorium Friday night.

The Enshrinees Gold Jacket Dinner is where the new guys say, "We're thrilled to be here," and where the biggest crowd of polite society of the year respond, "We're thrilled you came."

The living among the Class of 2022 (Tony Boselli, LeRoy Butler, Richard Seymour, Dick Vermeil, Bryant Young) never were and never again will be the stars of a dinner like this. The families of Art McNally and the deceased (Cliff Branch and Sam Mills) will take this night with them forever.

Hundreds of dinner tables were sardined onto the Memorial Civic Center floor, the Civic Center stage, and every side room on campus. Brass musicians in white jackets on a raised stage performed the Indiana Jones theme song as waiters snaked around.

The visiting football world did not join locals in recognizing the quintet's rendition of the original Cleveland Browns theme song. A diner close to the trumpet player put down his fork to applaud.

The room seemed 10 degrees warmer, in a good way, when the Class of 2022 got introduced as the last act of a four-hour night. This is always a classy event, no matter what they call it. Gold Jacket Dinner is the latest name.

The faces in the swarming crowd included many of the record 108 returning Hall of Fame members. No Hall of Famer wears his gold jacket with more appreciation than ex-Brown Joe DeLamielleure. Eleven whose introductions, by Hall of Fame QB Dan Fouts, drew extra juice were Jim Brown, Paul Warfield, Emmitt Smith, Franco Harris, Bill Cowher, Lawrence Taylor, Paul Warfield, Orlando Pace, Tony Dorsett, Jim Kelly and Jerry Rice.

Testosterone never retires. Fouts, an ex-Charger, inadvertently introduced the non-present Rod Woodson to the stage when he meant to say Charles Woodson, who was there. Charles Woodson, an unamused ex-Raider and Ohio native, went back to his dinner seat.

Trying to be a good sport, Fouts turned the head table and apologized for throwing "an interception."

It's too bad the new "Gold Jackets" didn't get to shake some of the hands that made Canton a Hall of Fame city. Such as …

A mountain of a man named Moose used to tend bar at the Arcadia.

"It's Moose's place," they would say to an approaching newcomer.

Moose, it became understood with no further questions, was the one who looked like Moose. He also owned the Arcadia. The steak sandwich was real good.

Moose had stories about the Canton Bulldogs who won NFL championships in the 1920s. He knew the guy from Massillon who launched the Cleveland Browns. He saw downtown Canton when it was roaring and when it was half dead.

He was as tough as they come, a fighter who wouldn't be surprised that downtown didn't have to stay half dead, even if he wouldn't be there for the comeback.

Moose almost never smiled, it seemed. It was his manner that made you comfortable. He'd have liked Centennial Plaza, which is a dink pass from the Arcadia, which is sill ticking. Check out the Plaza if you haven't seen it. It's part of the comeback.

The 29,000 men who have played at least one NFL game since the league launched in Canton in 1920 have their names etched at the Plaza. The Class of 2022 members spent part of Friday hunting for their names.

Friday's dinner was walkable from the Plaza. Go past The Palace Theater. Stroll by the library, then past the art museum, and, boom, you're eating steak under the soft lights on a basketball floor, surrounded by 4,000 red seats soon to be filled from diners from the side rooms.

Emcee Rich Eisen introduced the luminaries, saying "quit it" when Roger Goodell drew a few boos, and calling Chris Berman "the legend." Berman will be back, back, back as master of ceremonies for Saturday's enshrinement.

Canton's Marion Motley, along with Bill Willis, Woody Strode and Kenny Washington — Black trailblazers in pro football in 1946, all deceased — were announced as the first recipients of the Ralph Hay Pioneer Award. Hall of Fame President Jim Porter met a representative from each family on a center stage, amid a standing ovation.

Porter requested and received a standing O for "the 2,700 volunteers who make this all happen."

The returning Hall of Famers constituted quite a group. Eleven more: Orlando Pace, Lynn Swann, Franco Harris, Cris Carter, Jerome Bettis, Tony Dungy, Marcus Allen, Steve Young. Howie Long, Dave Robinson, Larry Csonka.

At the last they passed out the gold jackets. This wasn't a night for the recipients to do more than make you wonder about everything that must go through their heads.

The living will speak Saturday in Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. Perhaps the others will take in the evening with Moose.

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This article originally appeared on The Repository: Enshrinee Gold Jacket Dinner brings together new, old Hall of Famers