Saturday, August 8, 2009

On the road to Canton

I'm heading off to Canton to cover the Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions of Ralph Wilson and Bruuuuuuuuuuuuce! Smith. Should be fun.

I'm glad that Ralph is finally getting in. It's long overdue. Without him, the AFL never would have survived and flourished. He bankrolled several struggling franchises, including the Oakland Raiders and old Boston (now New England) Patriots. He also helped broker the merger between the two leagues, and through the years has been one of the NFL's more sane voices. (He was one of only two owners that voted against Art Modell's move of the Browns out of Cleveland.)

Of course, we, here in Western New York, have benefitted the most by having a big-time franchise to follow all these autumns. The Bills helped put the region on the map, and whether you love 'em or hate 'em, they've added to the region's quality of life.


I was there for the compelling speeches of former Bills coach Marv Levy and quarterback Jim Kelly. Ralph and Bruce are going to have a difficult time matching Levy's humor and erudition and the poignancy of Kelly, who paid tribute to his late son, Hunter, who was in the audience that day and died a few years later.


It will be interesting to see if Ralph and Bruce stick to the 12-minute limit imposed by ESPN, which is covering the event live. As a veteran of about 20 Baseball Hall of Fame ceremonies, I can attest that there's nothing worse than a long, rambling speech.

I remember covering one year when former baseball commissioner Happy Chandler filibustered for 45 minutes. Frank Robinson was next up to the dais, and assured he would not be as long-winded as the ex-Commish. Well, Robby proceeded to go even longer under the blistering Cooperstown sun. Surprisingly, none of the fried fans or reporters suffered heat stroke. I don't remember a word Robby said after his failed promise. I was just praying for his speech to end as quickly as possible.

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