CANTON, Ohio – The NFL’s most revered fraternity gathered Thursday night at the Canton Memorial Civic Center. More than 100 of the game’s greatest wore gold jackets and extended open arms.
Gino Marchetti, Joe Namath, Lenny Moore, Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk, Franco Harris, Steve Young, Bill Polian, Jim Taylor, Leroy Kelly, John Stallworth and so many others.
They formed a gauntlet of greatness.
They welcomed the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2016, including Indianapolis Colts’ luminaries Marvin Harrison and Tony Dungy, into the fold.
“You watched these guys as a kid, and now you’re here with them as part of the Hall of Fame,’’ Harrison told Indy Sports Central. “That’s when it starts to sink in.
“This shows what’s possible. You play because you love the game, but you can’t prepare yourself for this. I’m just fortunate it happened. A lot of good things took place for it to happy. I’m just happy to be there.’’
That was evident when Harrison officially joined the Gold Jacket Club. In the middle of the sold-out venue and with the bright lights beating down, Colts owner Jim Irsay assisted Harrison out of his blue suit jacket and helped him don his yellow Hall of Fame jacket.
For several seconds, Harrison stood alone as the cheers splashed over him.
A short time later, it was Dungy’s turn. He was assisted by former Pittsburgh Steelers teammate and long-time friend Donnie Shell.
“You really can’t prepare for this,’’ Dungy said. “These are guys you watched as a little kid. There’s teammates, guys you competed against and you want to say ‘Thank you’ to everybody for what they did.
“It’s just overwhelming. It was unbelievable.’’
Dungy was asked what was said to him as he made his way through the aisle of Hall of Fames.
Former Tampa Bay players “Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp said they’d never seen me look so good,’’ Dungy said.
Harrison was the Quiet One during his record-setting 13 seasons with the Colts. He was understated until he stepped on the field, where he transformed into one of the NFL’s most feared receivers.
Since retiring after the 2008 season, Harrison has remained out of the spotlight. That has included having only rare interaction with former teammates.
No more. Harrison noted he has had a reunion of sorts with Marshall Faulk. They were teammates from 1996-98, and now are forever linked by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Faulk is a member of the Class of 2011.
They shared a few moments prior to Thursday night’s program.
“I’ve seen Marshall now two or three times in the last two months,’’ Harrison said. “I hadn’t seen him before that in eight years. He just smiled. We just smiled at each other so hard.
“He said, ‘I knew you were a Hall of Famer.’ I said, ‘I knew you were, too.’ He said, ‘Welcome to the team.’’’
Harrison paused and surveyed the setting. To his immediate right at the honor table was St. Louis Rams offensive tackle Orlando Pace. To his left was Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre. Filling out the Class of 2016: Kevin Green, Eddie DeBartolo Jr., Ken Stabler and Dick Stanfel.
“You see Marshall. You see Eric Dickerson. You see all these guys, Marcus Allen and so many others,’’ Harrison said. “Yes, it’s sinking in.’’
Several of Harrison’s former teammates are expected to be on hand for Saturday’s enshrinement ceremony, including Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James. There will be a handful of players on hand he’s not been able to stay in contact with.
“It’s special,’’ Harrison said. “It’s guys I haven’t seen in years and that I haven’t even talked to or exchanged phone numbers with. They came here for me. That means more than anything.
“It is pretty special knowing you played with a lot of guys over the years. They get share this. They’re happy to be a part of my success.
“That’s what makes me more happy than anything. One person may be successful, but you can share your success with everyone else.’’
Irsay: such an honor
Irsay made no effort to disguise the immense gratitude he feels for being selected by Harrison to present him for enshrinement.
“It’s the greatest honor I have personally ever received in my almost 50 years in football,’’ he said. “I can’t tell you what it means to be sitting here next to him.
“It’s very kind of him. I’m humbled.’’
Marvin Harrison: Hall of Fame 'starting to sink in more each day' pic.twitter.com/zNGWPI9KJY
— Mike Chappell (@mchappell51) August 5, 2016
— Chris Hagan (@ChrisHaganIndy) August 5, 2016
Gold Jackets. It doesn't happen often that a coach goes in with one of his players. The Lord allowed me to do it. pic.twitter.com/3gKOmB1PjX
— Tony Dungy (@TonyDungy) August 5, 2016