CANTON, Ohio — For four days, often in early August, the city of Canton welcomes football fans from all over the country to its most illustrious event of the year.
As Enshrinement Week festivities kick off, fans cram into shuttle buses by the bunches to take the short drive from Stark County Fairgrounds to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Many are wearing jerseys of players who will become this year’s newest inductees. Others don T-shirts and hats of the teams that are best represented this year in Canton.
Former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner is among the seven inductees who will take the stage this weekend and join pro football’s most iconic group.
Carl Beck, a long-time fan of Warner from Daytona, Florida, walked through the Hall of Fame museum wearing a Warner Pro Bowl jersey. In his right arm, a Pro Football Hall of Fame replica helmet is awaiting the prized signature of the quarterback Beck has followed since the player’s days in the Arena Football League.
“I really believe (Warner) should go down as one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game,” Beck said.
It’s high praise for a quarterback who began his career in the Arena Football League and NFL Europe and didn’t make his NFL debut until the age of 28.
But, Beck didn’t just fall in love with the two-time MVP and Super Bowl champion because of his abilities on the field. He will most remember him for his character.
“The type of man that he is has so much to do with why I was first drawn to him,” he said. “His story, how he made it to the NFL, it’s all why I think he’s one of the best men to play football.”
Another fan, Jim Stille, stands out in the crowd wearing Warner’s No. 13 jersey from his days with the St. Louis Rams. He’s carrying around a folder full of old newspaper clippings from Warner’s time in St. Louis, most from the infamous 1999 season in which he led the “Greatest Show on Turf” to a Super Bowl victory.
Growing up in the St. Louis area, Stille went to games with his father when the now-Arizona Cardinals were located in St. Louis. He remembers those days vividly, mentioning his deceased father who he knows wishes could be in Canton with him for Warner’s induction.
“We went to every home game together both when they were the Cardinals and then the Rams,” Stille said. “I have a jersey that he gave me that I’m waiting to get signed by (Kurt).”
Beck and Stille make their way around the Hall of Fame grounds with friends and family, both eager to meet their hero and take in the scene when Warner addresses the Canton crowd on Saturday.
Before then, the Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys will commence the week’s festivities Thursday night at the Hall of Fame game in the newly renovated Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
On Friday, the day will begin on the steps outside the front entrance of the Hall of Fame as more than 120 Hall of Famers will pose for a group photo with this year’s inductees. In the evening, each inductee will receive their coveted gold jacket at the Enshrinees’ Gold Jacket Dinner.
Downtown Canton will provide the backdrop for Saturday morning’s annual parade featuring the Class of 2017 and all of the returning Hall of Famers. The week’s festivities will be highlighted by the Enshrinement Ceremony Saturday night at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
Warner, along with Morten Andersen, Terrell Davis, Kenny Easley, Jerry Jones, Jason Taylor and LaDainian Tomlinson will at last, be formally enshrined.
Lastly, the Class of 2017 will be center stage one final time Sunday morning for a roundtable presentation to both the media and the public.
For now, travelers to the Hall of Fame and fans of this year’s inductees are relishing Enshrinement Week.
“There’s only one reason why I’m here,” Beck said. “To see (Kurt) receive his glory.”