On The Scene with Bonnie-Jill Laflin: 2011 NFL Hall of Fame

Last weekend marked the sixth Hall of Fame weekend I’ve attended with my father in Canton, Ohio.  It’s an event that runs much deeper than the ceremony you see on television and is one of the most special in all of sports.  Before I give you an inside look at Hall of Fame weekend, let me first congratulate my three good friends who were inducted.

Starting off with Deion Sanders, my longtime friend.  I was actually once called “The Deion Sanders of the sidelines” because I, too, made the jump between the Niners to the Cowboys as a cheerleader. I’ve been friends with Deion forever, to the point that he calls me, “little sis.” After following Prime Time so closely through all his teams, it was so meaningful to see him finally get the most important honor in all of football.

I have the same feeling for my friend, Marshall Faulk, who I’ve known for eight or nine year now.  Even though he went up against my Niners all the time as part of the Greatest Show on Turf, he is beyond deserving of this honor.

Shannon Sharpe is also a good friend, and everyone knows he had been rejected by the Hall twice,a shame considering he broke virtually every tight end record. Being snubbed deply affected him as he’d speak open about it with friends, so congrats to Shannon for getting that well-deserved monkey off his back. This honor was especially emotional for him considering the poor background he came from. And we’re not just talking a little poor; Shannon didn’t have electricity or running water growing up.

Me and dad with new Hall of Famer, Shannon Sharpe

It was honor to be invited, and I’m so thankful I could share in their special moments.  On to the festivities!

The Hall of Fame event is actually a full weekend that kicked off on Friday with a tour of the Hall of Fame museum.  For me, it’s so neat to see where it all began and revisit the history of the very first team, the Canton Bulldogs.

After a couple hours of relaxation at the hotel, we headed to the Enshrinement Dinner where the inductees officially got their gold jackets.  The organizers have all of the Hall of Famers come back and welcome to soon-to-be new members into the Hall.  In a particularly moving moment that night,  Shannon cried on stage while embracing his brother, Sterling.

The next morning was the big parade, and when I say “big” I mean “200,000 people big.”  The floats were filled with both the old and new Hall of Famers and extend for miles and miles.

Then, of course, the main event is on Saturday evening with the new class being officially enshrined.  You likely watched on television so I won’t give you a recap, but I will concur that even in person Deion’s bust looks nothing like him…well at least before he added the doo-rag.

Me and dad with Deion’s bust…I think!

After the ceremony is party time, which this year took place on site. Shannon Sharpe hosted a party, while Deion and Marshall did a joint affair in conjunction with their charities.  The soirees had very different feels, especially when it came to the food.

I hit up Shannon’s first.

Shannon’s party had a feeling of intimacy.  In addition to family, he was joined by former teammates and Hall of Famers John Elway and Rod Woodson, as well as former teammate Terrell Davis.  It was a sweet , classy affair with an incredible spread, the highlight of which was a chocolate fountain.

Then came time for Deion and Marshall’s party which had a guest list of 400 of their closest friends and was headlined by Snoop Dogg and Nelly.  (Nelly, being from St. Louis is extremely good friends with Marshall.) An endless list of NFL luminaries were in attendance – Jerry Jones, Michael Irvin, Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, the NFL Network guys – the list goes on and on.  But perhaps the most memorable part of the Deion/Marshall party was the cuisine, which was catered by Popeye’s! That’s right, chicken, mashed potatoes, corn and all that stuff.  As a vegetarian, I, of course, stayed far away.

Me and Dad with the always colorful “playmaker,” Michael Irvin 

And then there was Sunday.  Well, what would have been Sunday if the lockout had ended just a couple weeks earlier. The loss of the Bears/Rams game was simply devastating for the city of Canton. The city estimates it lost revenues of around $1.5 million due, and the crowds were noticeably sparser. It was especially a bummer for Marshall, who would have had droves of Rams fans in town for the game adding to the cheers.  And of course the Bears fans always show up in huge numbers, and this year would have been no different with Richard Dent’s induction.

But even with the slimmer crowds and lack of football action, the weekend was just as sacred as usual for all the inductees.  Until next year’s class.