CANTON, Ohio – The banners for Saturday’s parade are in place and the floats are getting the final-touch treatment. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is decked out to honor the Class of 2012, including a banner of each player hanging from Fawcett Stadium, space created in the Hall of Fame Gallery for the busts of this year’s inductees and a special mementos display that features one of Cortez Kennedy’s Pro Bowl jerseys.
This slice-of-Americana town is ready for Kennedy and the other members of this linemen-heavy class that will be inducted into the Hall on Saturday night. But is Kennedy ready for Canton?
The Seahawks’ eight-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle has known his weekend was coming since Feb. 4, when he was elected to the Hall. He has written, rewritten and tweaked his speech. He has invited more than 300 friends, family members and former teammates to his party that will be held after the nationally televised induction ceremony.
But while Kennedy likes a party as much as the next guy, this one requires him doing something that never has come naturally – getting up in front of several thousand people at Fawcett Stadium and talking about himself.
“You know, I can talk a little bit, but I never did talk (a lot) over the years,” Kennedy said.
He has received help fine-tuning his speech from Dave Pearson, the Seahawks vice president of communications, broadcast and web content; and Mike Sando, the NFC West blogger for ESPN.com who presented Kennedy at the Hall of Fame selection committee meeting in February.
“The wonderful thing is that those guys know when I talk from the heart, I’m better,” Kennedy said. “That’s what I am going to try and do Saturday night, just speak from the heart, just look at my notes and just roll with it.”
Truth is, Kennedy has no idea what awaits.
This weekend is about more than the induction ceremony, which will include his from-the-heart speech as well as an introductory speech from Dixie Fraley Keller, the widow of his longtime agent and friend, Robert Fraley, who died in a 1999 plane crash. It even goes beyond the parade that will precede the ceremony and the party that will follow it.
Just ask Warren Moon, the prolific passer who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006 and is now a member of the Hall’s board of directors.
“It’s like you’re trying to plan a reunion and a wedding, at the same time,” Moon said this week. “It’s a weekend filled with all these different people that have been involved in your life – whether it’s high school, whether it’s Pop Warner. I had so many different people from all the different phases of my career there that you want to try and spend time with them all.
“But you also know you have all these other obligations.”
Like the dinner on Friday night, when Kennedy will be presented with his Hall of Fame jacket.
“To me, that was the most memorable day,” Moon said. “Because once you get that yellow jacket I feel like you’re in the Hall of Fame. I felt like I was in then.”
Like the parade, that is expected to draw a crowd of 200,000. Kennedy will be riding in a convertible, as will the other members of this year’s Class – offensive tackle Willie Roaf, center Dermontti Dawson, defensive end Chris Doleman, running back Curtis Martin and cornerback Jack Butler.
“The parade was pretty incredible,” Moon said. “First of all, I didn’t think that many people lived in Canton, Ohio. I guess they come from all over the region. But it’s a huge parade. I couldn’t believe how long it was.”
Like the induction ceremony, where a guy who never was comfortable talking in public – but is always engaging and often hilarious in one-on-one conversations – will be center stage. Literally.
“There are nerves, no question about it,” said Moon, now the analyst for radio broadcasts for Seahawks games. “You want to get up there and you want to make sure you acknowledge all the people you want to acknowledge.”
Moon did not write a speech, but relied on bullet points and spoke “from the heart,” as he put it – and as Kennedy plans to do, as well. “I really don’t do a good job of reading,” Moon said. “It sounds like I’m reading.”
So what emotions can Kennedy expect to be juggling this weekend? Will the experience be surreal, a grind, exhilarating?
“It’s a little bit of all of that,” Moon said. “Because it’s a weekend filled with all these different people that have been involved in your life. There is a lot going on for all the guys.
“You try and somehow take it all in. But it’s almost impossible to do. So you sit back after it’s all over and reflect on it.”