Friday, August 02, 2002

Hall steps back, ceremonies move to stadium

AP Sports Writer

        CANTON, Ohio — With crowds growing every year, officials at the Pro Football Hall of Fame decided a few months ago to move the 2002 induction ceremonies from the steps out front to the stadium next door.

        Perfect timing.

        Jim Kelly's coming, with at least 1,200 guests, said Hall spokesman Joe Horrigan.

        For the first time since 1965, Saturday's induction ceremonies won't take place atop the steps in front of 2121 George Halas Drive.

        Instead, they've been moved across the street and into Canton's 20,000-seat Fawcett Stadium to accommodate the overflow crowds that have overrun the grounds in recent years.

        This year's class — Kelly, George Allen, John Stallworth, Dave Casper and Dan Hampton — will be the first in 37 years to give their induction speeches from a spot other than the Hall's front steps.

        As preparations continued Thursday, a few Hall of Famers stopped by to pick up credentials.

        One was Dan Dierdorf, who could have walked over.

        Shading his eyes from the blazing sun, Dierdorf stood on the bottom step and looked back toward the front doors of the Hall.

        “It's a special place,” said Dierdorf, Class of 1996.

        He knows football's shrine better than most. Dierdorf grew up less than a mile away, and nearly 40 years ago, the former St. Louis Cardinals tackle was there when NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle broke ground for the Hall.

        “My dad and I watched Pete put the spade in,” Dierdorf said. “I used to ride my bike here and watch all the ceremonies and games.”

        Dierdorf has mixed emotions about seeing the ceremony moved.

        “I'm a traditionalist, so I'd like to see them stay on the steps,” said Dierdorf, who played his entire career in St. Louis. “I completely understand their reasons for moving, though. I'm just glad I got to go in from on the steps like my heroes did. But it was time for the change.”

        Officials had been considering the move to Fawcett — site of the Hall of Fame game — for the past few years, Hall spokesman Pete Fierle said.

        At recent ceremonies, the crowd swelled to the point where it wrapped around the entire building. Many fans couldn't get close enough to see or even hear the speeches.

        Adding to the problem was that prime spots in front of the steps were on a first-come basis, so fans began arriving in the early morning hours to be close to the stage.

        “It got to be too much,” Fierle said. “Now in the stadium, we can hold bigger crowds and everyone will be much more comfortable. We thought this was the right time to try it.”

        The inductions of Kelly and Stallworth are bringing an abnormally large contingent of fans who are driving in from Western Pennsylvania and New York.

        Kelly told Hall officials he'll probably be adding names until Saturday.

        Also for the first time, the Hall placed 9,000 reserved tickets at $10 each on sale for Saturday's ceremonies. As of 5 p.m. Thursday, seven were left.

        There are also 9,000 free, general admission seats available for the ceremony, which will take place in the east end zone at Fawcett.

        Fierle said there were initial concerns that moving the ceremony would take away some of the charm and intimacy of the enshrinement. But he said the stage configuration will provide ideal sight lines and bring the Hall of Famers closer to the fans.

        “We're excited about it,” Fierle said. “We think it's ideal.”

        So does Dierdorf.

        “More people are going to get to come,” he said. “More people will be able to see. More people can share in the festivities, and that's what it's all about.”

        Before leaving, Dierdorf looked across I-77 and pointed in the direction of his boyhood home.

        “Right on top of that hill, on 36th Street,” he said. “My mom still lives there, and I'm sleeping in my own bed this weekend. I'm the only guy in the Hall who can wake up, put on his yellow jacket and walk to the ceremony.”


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