On a warm summer afternoon as I took a campus tour with my parents, the young guide took great delight in telling our group that Canton was only 20 minutes away and in August there were always fun events surrounding the induction ceremonies. “That’s nice,” I thought to myself, “but can we get out of this heat.” Well two months later, I enrolled at The University of Akron. While I chose the U. of Akron, for so many other reasons, that statement would be prophetic.
I took a part-time job working front desk at a hotel. One night after a long day’s work I went out with my co-workers. They asked what I was studying and I responded “communications with a concentration in entertainment and sports public relations.” They all began smiling. Wondering what was so funny, they let me in on the joke. Our property was often the host hotel for major sporting events including what was then the WGC-NEC- Invitational (now the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational – we’ll look at Tiger’s recent win) and the Pro Football Hall of Fame Ceremony.
One year later, I first experienced the task of balancing my avid fanhood with being a professional. In 1999, our property played host to the Dallas Cowboys. I truthfully spent the week leading up to Hall events alternating between screaming and crying with excitement. MY Dallas Cowboys were staying at the hotel where I worked. When the elevator doors opened and Michael Irvin walked on the floor larger than life, smiling from ear to ear, I was so glad that I was leaning up against the hallway desk. Next was Emmitt Smith followed by a rookie Dat Nguyen. I was in blue and silver HEAVEN!!!!
Fast forward to 2013 and I’m back in Akron, OH for the Hall of Fame festivities. My beloved Dallas Cowboys are playing in the game, yet this year’s experience is much different. I’m no longer an eager college student. I returned as a professional in the sports industry. Instead of watching the activities, I’m part of festivities. They began Friday night when I attended the party held in honor of Warren Sapp. I walked up to the spot with a fellow journalist and my girlfriends from college. He’s a beat writer for one of the NFL teams. We arrived at the club and Warren Sapp, Cris Carter and Willie McGinest are standing on the patio taking pictures with their fans and signing autographs. The adoration of the fans was tangible. Guys without access to the party are soaking in their once-in-a-lifetime chance to spend time in the presence of football greatness.
The street is lined with every type of luxury car imaginable and caravan limo bus services. I’m standing there watching everything, trying not to stare. While attending these types of sports social events is not new for me, I definitely don’t remember all of this activity in Akron in 1999. When I was in school all of the events took place in Canton. Akron was where the teams, media and others associated with induction ceremony stayed but not where people partied. Things changed.
As the night wore on, there were more and more football celebrities, sports journalists and network producers in attendance. For many it was like a family reunion. The Hall of Fame events are one of the few times other than the Super Bowl and maybe the Pro Bowl activities where everyone of this stature is together in the same space.
The next day we travel down to Canton which is a madhouse. People have turned their yards into parking lots – several homeowners even spray painted white parking lines on their yards. Fans were in full force representing for their teams. Vikings, Eagles, Cowboys, Giants, Patriots, Dolphins and of course Tampa Bay fans are everywhere. Media trucks, and tents lined the hall for the after induction parties. That night, the inductees dazzle the crowd with touching tributes and passionate speeches, many bringing the audiences to tears. It was truly an incredible experience as both a fan and as a professional. I can’t wait to go back again next year.