Much ado was made this weekend about the NFL Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The pomp, the circumstance, oh the dignity of it all. And certainly there's no denying that the class of 2000 is impressive, especially if you're a Bay Area fan. It would be difficult not to appreciate the talent gathered -- take it from me, native New Yorker, no fan of the 49ers, even I grudgingly admit Joe Montana could throw the football (don't tell anyone I said that) -- but there was also something of the little brother syndrome taking place.
For while football celebrated the talent of 49ers Montana, Ronnie Lott and Dave Wilcox, Raider (in both cities) Howie Long and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney with a gathering of 111 of the hall's 136 living members, the specter of that grand old American pastime hung over the proceedings.
"While baseball may be America's national pastime, football is its passion," Long intoned in his speech. Agree or disagree, it summed up the tone of the ceremony. Can football be as grand, as big, gather a history as vaunted and revered as that of baseball?
Football's fans are legion and loud. Football can be a great game to watch, and certainly the men inducted into the Hall contributed to that. Montana's fame, and impact, were nauseatingly ubiquitous to East Coasters like me. The Catch, the Catch, the Catch. Yes, the Catch. And did we mention the Catch? What a Catch it was! Remember who threw it and how it Changed Football Forever.
But the truth is that football still feels like baseball's little brother. Perhaps that little brother has overshadowed big bro' in some ways, but in others, little brother will always be little brother.
The NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, opened in 1963; the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., opened in 1939; pro football traces its origins back to 1920, a year after the Black Sox scandal and 81 years after the "official" beginning of baseball, Abner Doubleday style. Cantons halls just aren't as hallowed as those of Cooperstown. Not that the NFL should be crying.
Hero status certainly belongs to Montana and many who came before him. Fran Tarkenton, Bob Griese and Joe Namath come immediately to mind. But although there's no need to compare whether Montana has more fans than, say, Barry Bonds, baseball's past heroes seem to run across a wider swath of America. Argue that that is because baseball's glory days are behind it if you wish. I will take the other side: that perhaps it is because footballs glory days, if they are to come, have not yet.
Maybe it's that football careers are, for the most part, so much shorter than baseball careers. That mystique, except in very special cases, doesn't have time to build. The awe is much shorter-lived, the hero worship more fleeting, making it seem less substantial, less impressive. Maybe it's really just that football isnt old enough, cant really lay claim to the grandiosity of baseball.
And let's face it, sometimes that grandiosity is -- how shall we put it nicely? -- just a tad overblown. But football still obviously aspires to it. And maybe it will get there. And maybe Montana's induction into the NFL Hall of Fame is the harbinger. But Im not going to admit it. I'm not giving him any more credit than I already have.