The Steelers will have a huge presence in Canton, Ohio later this summer, with Bill Cowher, Troy Polamalu and Donnie Shell being enshrined as members of the Class of 2020 on Aug. 7, and Alan Faneca as a member of the Class of 2021 on Aug. 8. In addition, Bill Nunn was enshrined in April as a member of the Class of 2021 and will be recognized during the ceremony as well. Leading up to the enshrinement, we will feature some Hall of Fame stories and moments as part of the Countdown to Canton. Today we focus on the presenters.
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Once a player, coach or contributor is selected to the Hall of Fame, there is one thing everyone starts to wonder. Who will be their presenter?
People try and guess who it will be, figure it out using logic, and sometimes no logic at all.
But it's something that comes from the enshrinee's heart. It's always a person who has had a huge impact on them, not just in their career, but personally as well. It's someone who truly means the world to them for multiple reasons.
And this year, for the Steelers, having five new members being inducted in 2021, including four who will be part of the August enshrinement, they went with their heart.
Bill Cowher, Alan Faneca, Bill Nunn, Troy Polamalu and Donnie Shell are all part of the Class of 2020 or Class of 2021, heading into the Hall of Fame this summer. Nunn was already enshrined posthumously in April as a part of 'Hall of Famer Forever,' and his granddaughter, Cydney Nunn, did the honors of unveiling her grandfather's Hall of Fame bust.
For the others, that moment of glory will come Aug. 7 for the Class of 2020 which includes Cowher, Polamalu and Shell, and Aug. 8 for the Class of 2021, which includes Faneca.
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Bill Cowher --->> Art Rooney II
For some newly elected Pro Football Hall of Famers, it takes a while to decide who their presenter is going to be.
For Bill Cowher, it took no time at all.
After it all set in, after the shock and excitement of getting the news live during the CBS NFL Today pregame show from Hall of Fame President David Baker in 2020, Cowher knew who he wanted his presenter to be.
Steelers President Art Rooney II.
Cowher had planned on making the announcement on March 17, 2020 at the American Irelands Fund Pittsburgh Gala, an event where he was to be honored and one that holds special meaning to the Rooney family. Late Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney was a founder of the American Irelands Fund and started the dinner. When the event was forced to be canceled, the announcement was delayed for a year.
"When you think about your presenter for the Hall of Fame, you think about your mentor, not just your presenter," said Cowher. "I think about two of my biggest mentors, Marty Schottenheimer, played for him, coached for him, transformed what I did and what I thought about.
"And then Dan Rooney. I came there 34-years old. The stories. The lessons. The history. Just the principles that he stood for. I certainly left there a better coach, but also left there a better person.
"When you think about your presenter, when I got nominated into the Hall of Fame that Saturday night, when I was coming back that night, I remember sitting there with (my wife Veronica) V, and the next day I saw Jimmy (Johnson) go in, and I said who will be my presenter. V and I looked at each other and I said, this is a no-brainer. I am going in there as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers for 15 years, that is why I am going in. I am going in there because I was introduced to Pittsburgh as a kid, I came back there as a professional and I wound up being a professional because of the Rooney family. I say it all, from (Dan's wife) Patricia, to Dan, to John and Pat his brothers, to everybody. To me it was a no-brainer.
"My presenter is going to be Art Rooney. I called Art up that night and I said Art, you're the only one because you knew me before and you knew me after. You knew what our family was all about because it's all about dynamics of family. I was working for one, we vacationed together, we were one big family. Yes, you're held accountable. Yes, you had to make tough decisions. But no one knew me better, or knows me better, than Art Rooney. And it's an honor to have you present me."
Rooney said he is honored to be Cowher's presenter, something that really touched him.
"It's going to be a great honor," said Rooney. "I was sitting at home last year and my phone rang and it's Bill and I had no idea what he was calling about. When he told me this, I was really just speechless. It is going to be a great honor. Having worked with Bill that close for 15 years, and knowing each other, and having our families grow up together, it just so happened our kids were about the same age, so it was a fantastic 15 years and it's great our relationship has continued until today. It's going to be a special time, that's for sure."
Alan Faneca --->> Hines Ward
They were members of the same Steelers draft class in 1998, Alan Faneca taken in the first round, while Hines Ward was selected in the third round.
And now they will forever be tied together as Faneca selected Ward as his presenter for the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he is enshrined in August in Canton, Ohio.
"I was really thinking about a teammate from the beginning," said Faneca in an exclusive interview of selecting Ward. "It's so hard because so many people touch your life and I decided to go with Hines. We came in together, had such a bond, grew together as players and men.
"It's odd to say an offensive lineman and a wide receiver having that bond, but we had a kindred spirit. We pushed each other, leaned on each other, and I think he is the perfect fit for the guy to introduce me.
"We went through so much together. Even before that, coming out of college, we were on a lot of All-America teams together. We made those trips and had that connection before we got to Pittsburgh. It's just special. The whole journey is special, the process, to be able to acknowledge people along the way who were huge parts of your career, it means so much. To be able to acknowledge a guy like Hines who has meant so much to my career and my friendship off the field as well has just been great."
Faneca said he talked to Ward via Facetime to ask him to do the honors, and that Ward was floored by the request.
"He was caught off guard," said Faneca. "I wanted to do it and record it. I wanted to do it over Facetime. He had trouble getting Wi-Fi when I was trying to reach him. I was trying for about 36 hours to reach him. He was like is everything okay, he started to worry. I told him everything was fine. I just needed to talk to him.
"He was surprised. I think it knocked the wind out of him a little bit. He was honored and it was great."
Ward, who is one of the most outgoing, personable and talkative people you will ever come across, was actually left speechless when he got the call from Faneca.
"He was nervous about everything," said Faneca. "He was asking me all kinds of questions. I told him I couldn't answer them I was still trying to answer mine. I only have my questions answered so far. He was over the moon and was definitely floored and had all kinds of questions. I told him I didn't have answers but told him I would get him in touch with someone who could help.
"I don't think he knew what was coming. After he caught his breath after being caught off guard, he was excited and floored.
"He was at a loss for words. Hines is very rarely left without words. That is another fun part of the process. To be able to do that for somebody and leave him speechless. Every part of this process feels more real and special. Those who have gone through the process in the past have told me this is only the beginning. Every time some small things like that happens, it's a moment that is so special. I will never forget it."
Troy Polamalu --->> Dick LeBeau
Before he got a phone call from Troy Polamalu, all Dick LeBeau was hoping for was to be in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 7 to witness one of his prize pupils get enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2020.
Once his phone rang, he found out it would be a whole lot more.
Polamalu asked LeBeau, who was his defensive coordinator with the Steelers, to be his Hall of Fame presenter.
It didn't take even a second for LeBeau to accept. Because Polamalu is family to him.
"I am very honored. I can tell you that," said LeBeau. "I was so thrilled and happy for Troy when he got selected. I thought it would be unbelievably great if I was there just to see it. It was just so important to me that Troy go in, and that he got in with the first opportunity that was available to him. I had been telling everyone for five years that Troy would go in on the first chance he had because he was that great and certainly deserves it.
"Troy has a lot of people in his life. I would have understood wherever he went. I was over the moon when he did call and say he would like me to present him.
"Our players were like my sons. You saw it, you know personally how close we were as a defense. It's going to be great putting your son in there."
A father-son relationship truly is how things were with LeBeau and Polamalu, as well as the other players he coached during his two stints with the Steelers, the second one from 2004-14.
"I think there are many situations like that on that defense where we were so close to each other," said LeBeau. "They were extremely talented and were so successful. That 2008 defense, I don't know if anybody will put numbers up like that ever again. It was such an honor and a blessing to be a part of that.
"I think in the situation with Troy, his particular talent and ability matched up perfectly with the way I like to attack on defense. I think it was just a perfect union."
LeBeau said he doesn't plan on writing anything ahead of time, instead speaking directly from the heart, something that doesn't come as a surprise.
He admits that it will be the moment when he helps Polamalu unveil his Hall of Fame bust that it will really hit for him, something he remembers well from when he was enshrined into the Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2010.
"I couldn't think of a happier moment. It will be ever bit as happy as when we were unveiling my bust," said LeBeau. "I think there may be some more Steelers off of that group going in there one day.
"The popularity of Troy was nationwide, probably worldwide, but I can't substantiate that. I do know he was famous and well known and a favorite player of people across this country. That is where great, great stars end up. They end up in the Hall of Fame of their sport. In Troy's particular case, he is every bit as good a man, husband, and father as he is a football player. That is a great combination.
"I can't wait for it. That is one of the neatest things about getting to be there, have the honor to be there by his side, is to see his friends and teammates. I know when I went in in 2010, the franchise took the whole team there and they all sat back in the left together. I couldn't look back there at them. I would have started crying.
"It's going to be so neat to be back in that arena and see the guys that were there when I went in, now there to support one of their own who is going in. It's going to be great. A family reunion without a doubt."
Donnie Shell --->> April Shell
Donnie Shell had his Hall of Fame enshrinement delayed for a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but one thing he did right off the bat was announce who his presenter will be.
It will be his oldest daughter, April Shell, who is the principal at Summit Parkway Middle School in South Carolina.
"None of my kids remember when I played, so they are going to give a different perspective about me," said Shell. "Everyone knows me as Donnie 'Torpedo' Shell, a four-time Super Bowl champion. All of the fans know me as that. We are more than just football players. They will see I am a dad and a role model to my children. She will give a different perspective of me to Steelers Nation and the fans of the National Football League. As I was praying about it, I felt good about getting her involved. What she is going to do is collaborate with her siblings, Donnie and Dawn, and they are going to talk about me and what they want to do and how she is going to present it. She is going to do the presentation from that input."
Shell admits the decision wasn't an easy one, as everyone was offering suggestions as to who he should select, and he didn't want anyone to feel slighted.
"It was tough," said Shell. "It was a tough decision. That is why I wanted to pray about it. Once I got a clear idea in my quiet time, my prayer time, it was to be about my family. I knew April would be a good presenter. Her siblings agreed with the choice."
April Shell said she will get input from her siblings, Dawn and Donnie, on what she is going to say and is excited and honored to represent the family.
"I told him I've got your back pops, I got you," said April Shell. "When he told me, I knew it was a big stage. It's an honor to present him as others see him, but the other side of it, him being a dad and how he encouraged us all of our lives to be who we are. I will give a snippet of how it was.
"It's exciting. It's encouraging to get that out there, because that story isn't told. It's always the Super Bowls, what he has accomplished. But him just being dad, that story hasn't been told yet.
"It's my dad. I am used to singing his praises. I am not nervous. I am a principal at a middle school, so I get in front of people. But this will be a bigger stage. It's okay. I am really all right. I am really proud to do it."