Next weekend is the biggest of the year for Joe Horrigan, the HOF, Canton and Stark County. It’s Hall of Fame Induction Weekend, and the whole country, and much of the world, will be watching.
A well-known former pro athlete from the region – he shall remain nameless for his own sake – gained notoreity a couple of years ago when he became the first guest speaker to ever stand up the Pro Football Hall of Fame (HOF) Luncheon Club.
The group, which has met for years each Monday from early September through late May at a Canton area restaurant, brings in some great, nationally-known speakers. It’s worth joining just to hear some of these sports celebrities talk.
It’s an honor to be asked to speak to the club and usually a full house of about 300 members. They know their sports and aren’t afraid to ask the toughest of questions – even right out of the gate. Indeed, they come out swinging.
Media people ought to be as brave and bold as these fellas.
But on this early spring day, the only question being asked by Luncheon Club officials was, “Where in the world is our speaker?”
When they finally were able to contact him by phone, he said he thought he was scheduled to speak the following week. At least that’s what he said the note stated that he received in the mail from the club.
No way. The club doesn’t make those kinds of mistakes. It’s an efficient, tightly-run operation. If anything, the club is too organized, if that’s possible.
But like it or not – agree with it or not – the featured speaker was going to be a no-show. Period. It was just past 11:30 a.m. and the program was set to begin at noon. The members’ meals of salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, a salad and dessert would hold off them off only so long. Pretty soon, they would get restless and begin clamoring for a speaker. Most of them are retired. They look forward to these meetings. It gets them out of the house. A no-show was no excuse for failing to have a speaker.
When you look up the term “unmitigated disaster” in the dictionary of panic, there is a photo of an empty podium at the HOF Luncheon Club.
Yes, it was on the road to getting ugly.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. The club contacted Green resident Joe Horrigan, explained the dire circumstances and asked him – pretty please – if he could bail them out. Could he drop everything he was doing and serve as the substitute speaker? And oh, by the way, could he get there RIGHT NOW?
No problem, Horrigan said. He was on his way.
Horrigan has worked at the Pro Football Hall of Fame for years, and now serves as its vice president of communications/exhibits.
Nobody knows as much about pro football and its history as he does. When that’s the subject, he’s always the smartest person in the room. If you could take an encyclopedia of the game and put it into a human being, his name would be Joe Horrigan.
Page 2 of 3 - After all, his father was the first – and the longtime – public relations director for the Buffalo Bills. During the 1960s, Horrigan served as the team’s ball boy. So he had gained his knowledge of, and love for, the game honestly, from the perspective of up close and personal.
Did we also mention that Horrigan can think on his feet better than anyone? He’s darn near unflappable. Almost nothing makes him sweat. He was being inserted into the game with his team down by six points with a minute left and facing a third down-and-15 situation at its 6 yard-line. But he knew he could pull it off.
And he did.
About 10 minutes later, he calmly walked into the room as if nothing were wrong – as if he had been scheduled to be the speaker all along, and now he had arrived. Without any notes, he held court for about 40 minutes, regaling the audience with funny and interesting stories and then fielding a bevy of questions.
Touchdown. Victory had been secured.
At 1 p.m., the session ended and everybody – most of all the club officials – went home happy and satisfied. It was like the scene from the movie, It’s A Wonderful Life, when the Bailey Savings and Loan survives the run on the bank and ends the day with exactly $1 left. It was close, but they made it.
We say all this because next weekend is the biggest of the year for Horrigan, the HOF, Canton and Stark County. It’s Hall of Fame Induction Weekend, and the whole country, and much of the world, will be watching.
But Horrigan and the Hall aren’t sweating. They will be ready. Every little detail has been covered more times than anyone can count. These people could pull this off in their sleep.
The dress rehearsals are over. Now comes the fun part, putting on the production.
The time for sweating came in 2011, when the big weekend had to go on without the annual HOF Game to close it out. A labor dispute between the NFL owners and players had ended too late for the two teams to be ready to play.
A big chunk of the Hall’s annual budget had been fumbled away, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. But like George Bailey and those people at the HOF Luncheon Club that day, everybody got through it. It wasn’t easy – not at all – but they did it.
Now, all that is behind the HOF. It’s nothing but a bad memory. This year’s big weekend promises to be bigger and better than ever. After all, this is the Hall’s 50th anniversary, a topic that was covered in a large coffee table-sized book Horrigan co-authored. It’s aptly titled, “The Pro Football Hall of Fame Anniversary Book.”
Page 3 of 3 - If it’s as good as the guy who helped write it – and it’s supposed to be – then you know it’s a winner.