Jim Nantz tells us each year about a golf championship with “a tradition unlike any other,” which certainly sums up The Masters Tournament. The NFL has a tradition, too, and the participants feel every bit as special as the Masters champion. That even applies to Ray Guy, whom the Pro Football Hall of Fame president feared had died during that football tradition in 2014.
Super Bowl weekend includes the Hall of Fame announcement
The NFL has had to curtail some of the hoopla associated with Super Bowl weekend because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and partying in general is tame in Tampa this week. However, there will be a game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and there will be an announcement of the next class of inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
In a normal year, the finalists for the next Hall of Fame class are determined in the fall. The 48-member selection committee then meets on the Saturday before the Super Bowl to determine who will be inducted. Most finalists are already in town, courtesy of the NFL Network, and those making the final cut are notified personally at their hotel by David Baker, the president and CEO of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Baker began that tradition in 2015 but had to alter it this year because of the pandemic. Although the announcement of the inductees will again be made the day before the Super Bowl, the rest of the timeline was pushed up by two weeks to spare those who didn’t make it the inconvenience of traveling during the pandemic. Yahoo Sports reported that Baker flew around the country to notify the lucky ones.
The knock on the door has been a tradition since 2014
The final stage of the Pro Football Hall of Fame process the past six years included personal notifications by David Baker, the organization’s president and CEO. At 6-foot-9, Baker makes for an imposing presence when he shows up to knock on the doors in the hotel where finalists stay in the days leading up to the Super Bowl.
That’s how it worked last February when the honorees included Steve Atwater, Edgerrin James, and Troy Polamalo.
Baker made the decision to do it that way when he took over in 2014 because doing it by phone felt too impersonal.
“How do you make a grown man cry? You tell him they’re going to be in Canton, Ohio,” Baker said.
The NFL Network picks up the tab for bringing the finalists to town. Covering the expenses for 18 invitees is no small matter, but the network winds up with some great reactions captured on video for the maximum of eight candidates receiving the good news.
The Hall of Fame president thought he killed Ray Guy
Special teams players have always had a difficult time garnering votes for selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That was the case for Ray Guy, who was an outstanding punter for the Oakland Raiders from 1973-86.
The Raiders shocked NFL observers by making Guy their first-round draft pick in 1973, but he went on to earn first-team All-Pro honors three times and appear in seven Pro Bowls. His name was bandied about for years after his retirement, but Guy faced resistance. Hall of Fame voters couldn’t get beyond his career consisting of 1,049 punts – roughly the number of plays a starting lineman takes part in during a single season.
In 2014, new Hall of Fame boss David Baker had the honor of phoning Guy with great news.
“I said, ‘Hey Ray, this is Dave Baker, I’m the new president of the Hall,’” Baker told Yahoo Sports, “and he’s got that slow, southern Mississippi drawl and he said, ‘Yes, sir.’ And I said, ‘Ray, it is my great pleasure …’ And I got that far and I could hear him fall to the ground and his phone was rattling around. His wife is saying, ‘Baby, honey, are you OK?’”
There was a long wait for Guy to regain his composure and resume the conversation.
“I thought I’d killed my first Hall of Famer,” Baker joked. “But eventually he said, ‘Hey, I’m really sorry, I don’t think I understood until right now how much this meant to me.’”
That was the moment that inspired Baker to make the notifications in person and bring in the NFL Network cameras.