Pro Football Hall of Fame president David Baker can sell next season’s Enshrinement Week with a straight-forward pitch: He’s hoping for the “greatest football gathering ever.”
“We will have more Hall of Famers,” Baker told Sporting News. “We will have more enshrinees. We will have more history, and we will have more hope for the game and the country to celebrate than ever before. It’s really going to be cool.”
That senses of hope could produce a memorable weekend for the NFL. The Pro Football Hall of Fame will announce a loaded 2021 Hall of Fame class — one that will be announced at the NFL Honors on Saturday night. Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson, Jared Allen, Reggie Wayne and Calvin Johnson are among the players who might get the call this weekend.
2021 Pro Football Hall of Fame finalists
|Jared Allen||Clay Matthews Jr.|
|Ronde Barber||Sam Mills|
|Tony Boselli||Richard Seymour|
|LeRoy Butler||Zach Thomas|
|Alan Faneca||Reggie Wayne|
|Torry Holt||Charles Woodson|
|Calvin Johnson||Bill Nunn|
|John Lynch||Tom Flores|
|Peyton Manning||Drew Pearson|
It’s not the only class that will be enshrined in Canton, however. The 2020 class — which featured five modern-era inductees and 15 Centennial Slate inductees — also will be coming. Last year’s Enshrinement Week, of course, was canceled because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.
2020 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrines
|Steve Atwater*||Harold Carmichael|
|Isaac Bruce*||Jim Covert|
|Steve Hutchinson*||Bobby Dillon|
|Edgerrin James*||Cliff Harris|
|Troy Polamalu *||Winston Hill|
|Bill Cowher||Alex Karras|
|Jimmy Johnson||Donnie Shell|
|Steve Sabol||Duke Slater|
|Paul Tagliabue||Mac Speedie|
|George Young||Ed Sprinkle|
*Denotes Modern Era selection
For Baker, however, it’s more than just a pitch. The preparation for Enshrinement Week — which is scheduled Aug. 5-9 in Canton, Ohio — it’s about honoring the history of the game. He’s quick to point out that the NFL was founded on Sept. 17, 1920, in Canton in the aftermath of the Spanish Flu pandemic.
“I think people wanted to come together,” he said. “They wanted to get out and do something. They wanted to grab hold of life again. It’s interesting with all the technology, all the Zoom meetings and all the virtual stuff, but I think there are lots of people that feel the same way they did 100 years ago.”
Planning for that weekend, which could feature as many as 100 Hall of Famers, is underway. The 2021 Hall of Fame game featuring the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys would open the weekend on Thursday, Aug. 5. The Gold Jacket dinner and Hall of Fame parade are in the works. The 2020 class would be enshrined on Saturday and the 2021 class on Sunday. The Concert for Legends would cap that loaded weekend on Monday.
“We’re talking to the NFL and talking to the state, but there’s a pretty decent chance we might have the first full stadium for football in about two years,” Baker said. “That’s certainly the hope, and it would be a great way to begin by honoring these guys upon whose shoulders the game stands.”
That will be dicated — like most sporting events — on where the country stands with the COVID-19 pandemic this summer. Baker said the Pro Football Hall of Fame previously had only been closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas throughout its 58-year history before 2020, when it was closed for 93 days. The museum is working with its partner, Johnson Controls, and NFL chief medical officer Allen Sills to maintain a safe environment for visitors now.
Baker joked that he’s not giving too much away when he says Manning, who passed for 71,940 yards and 539 touchdowns, likely will be the next modern-era quarterback to become a Hall of Famer. Baker said if he does in fact make that call this weekend, then he anticipates Manning will be “the 8-year-old kid who started his journey and had that dream.”
That is the hope — and the history — that could be made this summer. In that sense, two classes are better than one, especially in 2021.
“I said that on a conference call last Sunday, and I had about 18 Hall of Famers on it,” Baker said. “They were saying, ‘Wait a second, you don’t know about my class!’ I think this is one of the finest classes ever if it was just the 2021 guys. I think you throw on to it that Centennial Class, and that’s what so special about this game in this time. I truly believe this is going to be the greatest football gathering ever.”