CANTON, Ohio — When people think of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there are two objects that usually come to mind: the bust, and the gold jacket.
While former Rams quarterback Kurt Warner's bronze bust will be revealed on Saturday during the enshrinement ceremony, Warner received his gold jacket on Friday night during an event shown live on NFL Network from the Canton Civic Center.
Witnessing the Gold Jacket ceremony from the inside is a unique experience because there are many aspects of the show that aren't displayed on television. About 400 people — families of the inductees, NFL team officials, and many from the local community — were seated around circular tables for what amounted to dinner and a show. There were three tables at the head of the room — two for the Hall of Famers, and then one higher up in the middle for the emcee and honored guests.
There was also a stage in the middle of the room, which was where the inductees would receive their gold jackets.
The live broadcast began at five p.m. pacific — eight o'clock local — but the event really began with a cocktail hour three hours earlier. Then once the hour flipped to six, the assembled guests began to get seated at their tables for the meal. During dinner, a horn quintet played a wide variety of music — from the theme to Pirates of the Caribbean, to the Beatles' "Yesterday," to Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing."
Finally at 7:15, the program commenced with a video presentation featuring commentary and highlights from the Hall of Fame class of 2017 — kicker Morten Andersen, running back Terrell Davis, safety Kenny Easley, Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones, defensive end Jason Taylor, running back LaDanian Tomlinson, and, of course, Warner. Jones' words from an old press conference — "There is no substitute for winning" — started the video.
Then master of ceremonies Rich Eisen took his place at the podium, declaring that after Thursday's Hall of Fame game between the Cardinals and Cowboys, "Football is back."
It's after a few remarks by honored guests — among them commissioner Roger Goodell, Canton mayor Thomas Bernabei, and Executive Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame C. David Baker — that the real show begins. If you watched the gold jacket ceremony, you saw all the inductees walk between two long rows of returning Hall of Famers to the middle stage in the middle of the room. But what you don't see is each of those men being introduced.
Each of the Hall of Famers has his career accomplishments listed and his name called as he walks into the room. It's a thrilling sight to see many of the greatest to ever play professionally — Jim Brown, Joe Namath, Emmitt Smith, Jackie Slater, Marshall Faulk, and Orlando Pace among them — all standing side by side, waiting to greet those who will join them in football immortality.
They form two lines, one on the left side of the room, and another on the right. That's when the live broadcast begins. And as shown on the telecast, each member of the class of 2017 gets greeted through the long line.
Each inductee is introduced individually, standing on a small stage with a sea of gold jackets in front of him. For Warner, the first three to greet him were Faulk, Slater, and Pace — all former Rams.
Because it's a television show, there were pauses in the event to allow for commercials. And during one of those breaks, singer/songwriter Paul Anka came on stage to sing a special Hall of Fame edition of a song Frank Sinatra made famous, "My Way."
But this came with a surprise, as American business magnate, investor, and philanthropist Warren Buffett — who had been seated at the head table — came on stage to perform, too. Aside from the inductees receiving their gold jackets, this was the most unforgettable aspect of the night, to be sure.
At long last, the Class of 2017 received their gold jackets individually, albeit with commercial breaks in between. Taylor received his first, and Warner last among the group.
When it was his time, Warner walked up to the stage with his wife, Brenda, who will also introduce him for his enshrinement speech on Saturday. As they walked out, a video played with highlights of Warner's career, including his Super Bowl XXXIV MVP-winning performance for the Rams. Then Brenda Warner helped her husband remove his suit jacket, and helped place the gold jacket on his shoulders. While many inductees walked around the stage to wave to the crowd alone, Warner held his wife's hand to keep her there with him — a symbolic gesture of how she has been along on the journey with him.
You'll see Warner sporting his piece of football immortality as he makes his enshrinement speech on Saturday night. Warner is slated to be the last speaker during the ceremony, which begins at four o'clock pacific.
As we approach Kurt Warner's enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame check out some of the best photos from his career.