Later this summer Jerome Bettis will enjoy the experience of a lifetime, something he has dreamt about since he retired from the Steelers 10 years ago. He will stand alongside seven other members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2015, taking in every moment of the Enshrinement Weekend.
But, before that happens, before it all comes together, there is planning to do. A lot of planning, mind you.
And it began when Bettis and his family visited the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio to get the lay of the land and learn what to expect and how to prepare for the induction weekend so that he can enjoy it when it arrives.
"The visit is very important," said Tammy Owens, Hall of Fame director of Gold Jackets. "When we used to go to the Pro Bowl we had a whole week with the class and their families. When that stopped we decided we have to have them here and it's worked out better. It's good for them to see the Civic Center, see how it's laid out, and see where their guests will be staying so they get a feel of the importance of it. When they go to do all of their planning it's easier for them to see where their guests will be seated. Plus it's nice to get to know them better."
Owens, who handles the A-Z arrangements for the inductees, has seen the benefits of Hall of Famers making the trip over the last few years, allowing them a better opportunity to stay focused on actual induction ceremonies in August as opposed to worrying about the small details then.
"We at the Hall of Fame, this is what we live for," said Owens. "We don't want this to be taxing on them. We don't want them to have to answer questions from their guests. They just send out their initial invite list and work with us from there on. When they get here we want them to be calm and enjoy every minute of it."
You would think the inductees would have plenty of time to visit the Hall of Fame during induction weekend and enjoy a long tour, but with the weekend so packed with activities, finding time to really take in the history isn't easy.
That's why Joe Horrigan, the Hall of Fame's Executive Vice President* *
Museums, Selection Process & Chief Communications Officer, took the Bettis family on a guided tour, showing them not just the Steelers' flavor at the Hall but the entire history of the NFL.
"I enjoy it because I have been here a long time and whenever you get a chance to show off, it's special," said Horrigan. "It's neat because these are guys I enjoyed watching, I admired and enjoyed watching them play. For me to be able to share something with them they didn't know about the game and the men whose shoulders they are standing on, I find that rewarding."
Hall of Fame President David Baker, who met with the Bettis family to discuss all of the details of the weekend along with the rest of the staff, also stresses the importance of the inductees touring the Hall.
"That is our goal, for them to see the Hall," said Baker. "When they are here for the enshrinement weekend they don't get a chance to see the Hall, to see the artifacts and everything. We want them to know, every player who ever played in the NFL that they are a citizen of Canton, Ohio. This is where the game began and it will always be their second home. Especially for our Hall of Famers, their bust will be in the room down the hall from my office for 40,000 years.
"Our job here is to honor them, to preserve the history of the game and promote the values they held so dear that made them great and celebrate their excellence."
While Horrigan has hosted plenty of Hall of Famers, he particularly enjoyed Bettis' visit, who was greeted by Steelers' fans who didn't even know he was going to be there that day.
Jerome Bettis and his family visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
"It is special whenever we have a Hall of Famer here, but when it's a Pittsburgh Steeler, it's kind of Steelers country down here and the fans going through the building recognized Jerome right away," said Horrigan. "It's even more special when you have a guy like Jerome who appreciates the history of the game and he also appreciates the fact that it took a couple of years to get into the Hall of Fame. It's a little more special coming and realizing the dream has been realized."
Horrigan knows while the reception for Bettis was great during his visit that it's going to be even bigger and better when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday, Aug. 8 and then the Steelers play the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, Aug. 9 in the Hall of Fame game.
"You can't ask for a better scenario, The Bus, the Steelers fans, the Steelers in the game," said Horrigan. "What more could one city ask for. We know Canton better be ready for the Steelers invasion. It's always been a great turnout of Steelers fans whenever a Hall of Famer in enshrined here. But the way we stepped up the enshrinement ceremonies, now in the stadium and a lot of celebration around it, we know it's going to be a three or four day Pittsburgh invasion of the city of Canton and we are looking forward to it."