Saints history represented in Hall collection
Sunday, August 05, 2007
CANTON, OHIO -- On entering, you say hello to a larger-than-life sculpture of Jim Thorpe, running back of the Canton Bulldogs.
Ol' Jim is wearing an impassive look, the kind that leaves you wondering what he'd have to say about the high-tech building that has grown up around him, a building full of sound and fury, bells and whistles, with moving pictures of huge men at play, playing a game children play but on a larger stage.
The NFL Hall of Fame is planted in this city of 160,000 all because the American Professional Football Association was founded here 87 years ago in a downtown car dealership, at a time Thorpe and his Bulldogs were a dynasty in bloom.
Believe me, all you had to do was listen to the Master of Ceremonies at a Friday night function to realize the Canton clock stops once a year for Enshrinement Week.
The six men in the Class of 2007 were receiving their gold jackets and the Master of Ceremonies was in rare form, putting it all in a sort of hometown perspective.
"Greece may be the cradle of civilization," he gushed, "but Canton is the cradle of football. And sometimes that's more important."
So take that, Aristotle.
As for our guys, while the Hall of Fame house is still waiting to enshrine an honest-to-goodness Saint, it did welcome the late Jim Finks in 1995, who helped bring the franchise its first winning seasons under Jim Mora, this after Finks had done wonders for the Vikings and the Bears.
In '76, the Hall welcomed Jim Taylor, the longtime Packer who played his final home season for the Saints in '67.
And, in '82 it welcomed Doug Atkins, who played his final three seasons in New Orleans, doing it after logging 12 Hall of Fame seasons with the Bears.
Interestingly, it's not Doug's Chicago jersey that hangs in Canton. It's jersey No. 81, in black-and-gold. In the case of Red Grange, it is the Chicago Bears jersey, No. 77, that hangs here, on a mannequin of the Galloping Ghost, the man who picked up the torch from Jim Thorpe and sold pro football to record crowds.
To me, the most impressive piece of memorabilia in the Grange display is the ice tongs he used during his college days at Illinois, hauling ice to make money during the offseason.
In the gift shop, Paul Hornung, who would have been running the ball for the expansion Saints in '67, but had his career ended by a neck injury, was signing his name on a just-out book, "Lombardi and Me."
Before one screen, you could press a button and watch Alan Ameche of the Colts run up the middle in 1958 and beat the Giants in overtime for the championship.
You took a right past Jim Thorpe, moving past a row of displays, and there it is, the shoe, actually the half-shoe that Tom Dempsey used to kick that historic 63-yard, winning field goal to beat the Lions in Tulane Stadium.
You press a button and you hear the radio voice of Al Wester on Nov. 8, 1970 shouting in disbelief, "It's good, it's good, it's good."
You see a photograph of Dempsey on his follow-through, and the remarkable half-shoe on his right foot that made history. You do not see what appeared in the New Orleans States-Item the following day, when Tom was given a full shoe by the touch-up artist on the afternoon newspaper, believing the photograph was flawed, obviously unaware of the handicap Dempsey had overcome.
Nearby, a Saint many of you may not remember, linebacker Dennis Winston, shares a moment of history with Walter Payton. It was on Oct. 7, 1984 in Soldier Field that Payton was stopped by Winston after a 6-yard gain, a run that made Payton the No. 1 all-time rusher in NFL history, a total that would climb to 12,312 yards before the pride of Jackson State called it a day.
As the pride of the Big Easy, it's front and center on the front pages of The Times Picayune triggered by Hurricane Katrina, a display that begins with the shovel used in 1970 to dig the first hole in the building of the Superdome and continues on to the gold coin used to signify the Superdome's rebirth, the September day last year the Saints defeated the Falcons on Monday night. A Deuce McAllister jersey provides a fitting backdrop.
So the game, and life, bittersweet always, goes on. Take the Hall of Fame class of 2007. It includes always effusive Michael Irvin, the Cowboy wide receiver who was part of three Super Bowl champions. One of 17 children, Irvin is here with the whole bunch, also with a word of warning, delivered in typical Irvin fashion: "I don't want to hear that Michael Irvin's brothers went to the Hall of Fame and took home Troy Aikman's bust."
Then you have Gene Hickerson, an All-American at Ole Miss who became a blocker for three 1,000-yard rushers during his days with the Cleveland Browns.
When the 1964 Browns gathered three years ago to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the last Cleveland sports team to win a championship, Hickerson, at an autograph session, could not remember his last name. Six months ago, He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia. He's living now in a nursing home in Rocky River, Ohio.
Hickerson is here, but under obvious unfortunate circumstances.
Bobby Franklin, a quarterback teammate of Hickerson at Ole Miss, and later a defensive back with the Browns, was his friend's presenter Saturday night. Gene's son, Bob, spoke on his father's behalf.
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