I may be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure it was only on one occasion that I had to write a “what I did on my summer vacation” essay for a teacher on the first day of school. I believe it was in the 6th grade, and what a lucky fluffy-headed little bastard I was to only face that annoyance once in my life. Even better, that was one of the rare summers in my childhood worth writing about. If it had been almost any other year, I would’ve had to pick between telling the truth (“slept until noon every day, then watched Leave it to Beaver reruns until my brain cells started spilling out onto the living room carpet”) and lying to avoid embarrassment (“interned for Larry Bird.”) But what I actually did over my twelfth summer was pretty cool: interned for Kevin McHale. Kidding! I flew with my 13-year-old brother to Vermont to visit relatives. That’s right, just him and me, 3,000 miles with no adult supervision. (Attention, fellow students from Mr. Smith’s class 34 years ago: suck on THAT.)
The recent vacation for us Webb’s was a memorable one, and it didn’t even involve the Boston Celtics. It started out like clockwork: we arrived at our destination (this time Ohio) on a Wednesday, after taking a red-eye out of San Diego on Tuesday, preceded by my obscene procrastination of numerous pre-trip duties on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.
We went to Canton, a charming town about an hour’s drive from Cleveland, 73,000 residents, a little over 200 years old (the town, not the residents). Obviously, we were there for the same reason thousands of other Americans were: the small Dunkin’ Donuts branch off Fulton Drive with the perkiest service in the state. Well, that and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
With all due respect to that fine establishment, finding a more overpriced place for traveling NFL fans would be harder than finding a funny joke about porcupines that doesn’t include the word “prick.” It is every bit as expensive as the parking, concessions, and merchandise shelled out for at stadiums every year. Still, we are happy we made the trip, because you only get one shot to see the late Junior Seau (this year’s lone first-balloter) officially welcomed into the same mecca as the likes of Johnny Unitas, Lance Alworth, and Walter Payton.
We and the other few thousand tackle-junkies in town got what was both a rare treat and a curse this time around. 2015 marked only the third time since the opening in 1963 that the maximum number of inductees allowed (eight) were in the same class. As you might imagine, the cursed part of attending this ceremony was the sheer length of time; more new members means a lot more time spent hearing speeches, even if they meet the management’s “short & sweet” rule.
Alongside Junior’s bust onstage were those of five other players and two team executives: Jerome Bettis, Will Shields, Tim Brown, Charles Haley, Mick Tinglehoff, Ron Wolf, and Bill Polian.
Regarding sitting through speeches, you parents out there have no doubt irritated your children from time to time (especially if you’re a hobbyist like me), and there’s no irritant like sheer boredom—it’s right up there with undercooked lima beans and the “accidental” misplacement of a favorite stuffed animal. Well, the boredom was in abundant supply for my son and daughter that evening, and us too. By “us” I of course mean my wife and me, plus the other spectators, the friends & family of the speakers, the employees of the Hall of Fame and Tom Benson Stadium on duty, the ones off duty, the millions watching from home, the gallery of hall-of-famers onstage flanking the podium, and former Saints/Chiefs tackle Willie Roaf. (I know he was among the hall-of-famers, but look at him–dude’s a freakin’ gallery himself.)
The boredom-supplying irritants, in order of turn onstage delivering/perpetrating their acceptance speeches: former Bills and Colts general manager Bill Polian, former Raiders wideout Tim Brown, and former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis. Oh, they took a while, they did. These guys spoke for so long even their busts started to yawn. I won’t address Polian, because he spoke earlier and took less time than the other two. Bettis neither, because he was the final inductee and us Webbs’ butts were happily in the car by the time he started speaking. No, I’m going to address Brown here, because Junior’s slot was right after his, and he played for the evilest team in the history of organized sports.
Tim: I’m a fan of one of the top three NFL clubs who hate yours the most, but I know as well as anyone that you should’ve made it to Canton years ago. Like long-awaited enshrine Art Monk and never enshrinedees Don Coryell and Kevin Greene, you are proof that numerous members of the Selection Committee are too stupid to operate a bookmark, let alone judge Hall-worthiness. That said, what the bloody HELL was with that speech? You were up there longer than Wolf, Tinglehoff, Shields, and Haley were combined! What, were you tired of being one of the very few Raiders whom the masses didn’t revile with every fiber of their being? Were you breaking in a new set of vocal chords you got for your birthday? Had you recently watched Police Academy and were hoping something would happen with the podium?
Look, normally I’d appreciate it when someone lends me a hand torturing my munchkins and training them to hate the Silver & Black, but I was stuck there with them aging through your yammerthon. It would’ve been nice if you had told the media ahead of time about the massive ear-molestation you had lined up. I could’ve planned ahead, you know! Brought a pillow, maybe some knitting, perhaps a few Michael Crichton books.
Show people a little courtesy next time you’re scheduled to give a speech, and good luck in your new career as a mild sedative.
For any of you who haven’t been to the PFHOF but plan to down the line, I have a few suggestions to help make your visit more enjoyable:
1) Bring some pain killers for your feet. Touring the museum involves a fair amount of walking as it is, but if you’re there the week of the enshrinement ceremony, when they close off the main lot for their planned festivities, expect to park off-site and hoof it a few blocks. In early August, the Hall’s motto is “Parking Lots Are For Pussies.”
2) Given the overall amount of time and activity involved, don’t tour the museum the same day as the enshrinement. Four out of five doctors surveyed said football enthusiasts shouldn’t abuse their bodies, and the fifth one’s a drunk about to lose his license.
3) If you’re going to pull the ol’ “hey, you know these busts are actually the members’ heads dipped in bronze, don’t you?” gag on some strange kid, make sure there are no witnesses.
4) If you plan on having your kid ask an employee “there aren’t any jock straps displayed here. Did all these guys go commando?” make sure there are several witnesses.