Kelly Enshrinement Big Day For Bills Fans
The Atmosphere In Canton Was Like A Bills Victory Party
by Steve Saslow
August 5, 2002
Jim Kelly's induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday had the atmosphere of a Bills game. In fact, it made you think you were at Rich Stadium during Kelly's heyday for a minute until you realized you were in the 23,000 seat Fawcett Stadium. There were 17,000 plus fans in all as the hall made a good call and moved the ceremony to the stadium. The front of the hall of fame wouldn't have been able to come close to handling the Buffalo invasion that was even bigger than expected.
At least 12 or 13,000 fans were there to see Jim Kelly get inducted as the stands was a sea of Kelly jerseys and banners. Yes, there were many Steeler fans in attendance to see John Stallworth get inducted but their numbers were dwarfed by the Bills fans that came to see the greatest player in team history take his rightful place in Canton.
Perhaps the biggest Bill fan of all was the master of ceremonies and Chris Berman came out before the televised broadcast and fired up the crowd by asking fans which team they were fans of. When he got to Buffalo, you couldn't hear him as the fans screams reminded you of the 12th man trying to help stop an offensive drive by an opponent at Ralph Wilson stadium. As the fans were waiting for the ceremony to start, a chant of "Lets Go Buffalo" started and raced through the stadium, Berman came out from behind the set and twirled his hand, in a motion that said the fans were "circling the wagons."
It was a truly an amazing experience as the fans fought through extreme heat and waited patiently for Kelly's 18 minute speech. They entertained themselves by cheering for Bills alumni as the walked into the stadium to their reserved seats on the floor. When Bruce Smith entered the crowd chanted "Bruuuce". They also chanted that when Senator George Allen Jr. called Deacon Jones the best defensive end ever. He quickly quipped, "Bruce is pretty good also, he went to Virginia Tech. The crowd also interrupted another speech by cheering loudly when Thurman Thomas entered the stadium.
Canton was transformed into a little Buffalo as it was hard not to notice Bills fans and buses from New York at every corner. My friends and me were there with the group from our sister site, Two Bills Drive. The day started off great with the parade downtown, Kelly couldn't help but notice all the Bills fans and acknowledged the fans throughout the day. John Madden in fact, recognized the amount of Bills fans in attendance during his presenter speech for hall of famer Dave Casper.
People around the country always knew Buffalo was a football crazy town, but now they know to what depths football is in the blood of Western New York and all those people that have left the area. With the heat index in the triple digits, thousands of fans showed up for an 18 minute speech that they had to wait 3 plus hours for. Anyone you talked to that was there, wouldn't have missed it for the world. It was definitely the super bowl celebration that the fans and team never had. It was a crowd that the hall will never experience again.
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