HOF inductions taking new steps

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 2, 2002


-- Shading his eyes from the blazing sun, Dan Dierdorf stood on the bottom step and looked back towards the front doors of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

''It's a special place,'' said Dierdorf, Class of 1996.

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He knows football's shrine better than most. Dierdorf grew up less than a mile away, and nearly 40 years ago, the former St. Louis Cardinals tackle was there when NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle broke ground for the Hall.

''My dad and I watched Pete put the spade in,'' Dierdorf said. ''I used to ride my bike here, and watch all the ceremonies and games.''

On Saturday, for the first time since Dierdorf was a kid, the induction ceremonies won't be held on the steps in front of 2121 George Halas Drive.

Instead, they've been moved across the street into Canton's Fawcett Stadium to accommodate the overflow crowds which have been growing bigger every year.

This year's class -- George Allen, Jim Kelly, John Stallworth, Dave Casper and Dan Hampton -- will be the first not to give their induction speeches on the steps since 1965.

''I'm a traditionalist, so I'd like to see them stay on the steps,'' said Dierdorf, who played his entire career in St. Louis. ''I completely understand their reasons for moving, though. I'm just glad I got to go in from on the steps like my heroes did. But it was time for the change.''

Officials had been considering the move to the 20,000-seat Fawcett -- site of the Hall of Fame game -- for the past few years, said Hall spokesman Pete Fierle.

At recent ceremonies, the crowd had swelled to the point where it had wrapped around the entire building. Many fans couldn't get close enough to see or even hear the speeches.

Adding to the problem was that prime spots in front of the steps were on a first-come basis, so fans began arriving in the early morning hours to be close to the stage.

''It got to be too much,'' Fierle said. ''Now in the stadium, we can hold bigger crowds and everyone will be much more comfortable. We thought this was the right time to try it.''

Plus, there's the Kelly factor.

The former Buffalo Bills quarterback has a guest list that's growing by the minute. At last count, No. 12 had invited 1,200 of his closest family and friends.

''That kind of finalized it,'' Fierle said with a laugh.

With Kelly and Stallworth going in, Hall officials are expecting thousands of fans to drive in from Western Pennsylvania and New York for the inductions.

The Snyders of Lancaster, Pa., have already arrived.

Brian Snyder brought his wife, Mary, and sons Brad and Eric. They're die-hard Bills fans.

''I promised her that when Kelly made it, we would come,'' Snyder said after making the 6-hour drive to Canton. ''Here we are.''

Also, for the first time, 9,000 reserved tickets at $10 each were sold for Saturday's ceremonies. As of 5 p.m. Thursday, seven were left.

There are also 9,000 free, general admission seats available for the ceremony, which will take place in Fawcett's East end zone.

Fierle said there were initial concerns that moving the ceremony would take away some of the charm and intimacy of the enshrinement. But he said the stage configuration will provide ideal sight lines and bring the Hall of Famers closer to the fans.

''We're excited about it,'' Fierle said. ''We think it's ideal.''

So does Dierdorf.

''More people are going to get to come,'' he said. ''More people will be able to see. More people can share in the festivities, and that's what it's all about.''

Before leaving, Dierdorf looked across I-77, and pointed in the direction of his boyhood home.

''Right on top of that hill, on 36th Street,'' he said. ''My mom still lives there and I'm sleeping in my own bed this weekend. I'm the only guy in the Hall who can wake up, put on his yellow jacket and walk to the ceremony.'' The Associated Press