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Blackout and other restrictions apply. It's After Hours with Amy Lawrence on CBS Sports Radio. And Russ is with us this morning live.
He actually requested this time slot at 4.40 Eastern Time. So we're excited to have him, a writer, historian. I just know that any time I have a question about the NFL, he's got a number to answer. Russ, how are you this morning? I'm great, Amy. How are you?
Good. It's always good to talk to you. And for people who don't know, you write for fansited, for NFL Spin Zone, Full Press, NFL.
You're out there everywhere. In fact, I was just reading one of your articles that you wrote your column, so bring that up here in a bit. But what did you love specifically about being back at Canton this year? Well, the thing about the Hall of Fame, and I've been going pretty regularly since 1989, is watching it grow. You know, the first year I went, as I mentioned, the ceremony was still in the steps of the Hall itself.
The Hall of Fame Village was not even in the plans. And if you've been there recently, you've seen the immense growth, and it continues. But it's not only the growth of the facility, and for lack of a better word, almost a campus.
It's the growth of the process. You know, we're seeing now an expanded Seniors Committee. The game used to be at 2.30 in the afternoon after the ceremonies on Saturday afternoon at 11 o'clock. The game is now a primetime event. And again, it was the same day. It was basically, as far as the enshrinement goes, I mean, they have parade, they have all kinds of other events and stuff. But it was a jacket ceremony Friday night, which is very, very stirring if you've not been there now. And that now includes bringing back, you know, pretty much annually, Amy, like 100 Hall of Famers.
That's amazing. And all in their gold jackets and so on. And, you know, as time goes on, you get more and more come back.
But at the same time, very sadly, you see those who pass on. And it was a year where we saw some notable Hall of Famers pass on. But just watching it grow and just the enthusiasm involved with the fans, the fan bases, be it the, you know, what they've also done over the last couple of years, Amy, is there used to be a scheduled format as far as who was going to play in the game. It was like scheduled. They had it scheduled for years in advance. Always an AFC, NFC game. They've changed that now to alter kind of the fan base that is either the most represented or who they decide. You know, so in other words, it was Raiders versus Jaguars. That was all about Cliff Branch and Tony Caselli. OK, last year it was Pittsburgh and Dallas, which was a rescheduled game because of COVID. And so I remember there were basically five Steelers that went in affiliated, either a coach, a scout, a player.
The Cowboys are represented as well, like Drew Pearson, Cliff Harris, et cetera. So watching the process grow, they have a new president now. And I think the thing I'm most excited about is the Seniors Committee thing. They've always just had one Seniors Committee nominee every year.
And now starting next year and at least the next two years, there will be three. Russell Baxter is with us fresh off his trip to Canton. And he always has a great perspective because of his time in football. He shared with me a column that he wrote. And I'm not going to say anything else about it, only that it has to do with one of the Hall of Famers. How did an interaction with Dick Vermeil years ago, Russ, launch this career that you've been in now for decades?
And I'll try to get through this, to be honest with you. You know, I want to graduate from high school and spend about five or six years not knowing what I want to do with my life, Amy. So, you know, I had odd jobs. I worked at a Kmart. I worked at restaurants.
I worked at resort. My mother, God bless her, always encouraged me to be a writer. She said I had natural ability.
That's what teachers told her. I also was pretty obsessed with watching football. And, you know, I watched a lot of football on Sunday. In fact, at one of the resorts I worked on, I had Sundays off just to watch football because I explained to them, which sounded almost like a lame excuse. Well, one day I'm going to be writing about football. And then I decided to kind of get my act together and I started penning my own newsletter. It was November of 1983 at a place called Shawnee on the Delaware in Pennsylvania.
And the owner allowed me to put my newsletter in his the pub inside the restaurant inside the resort. And in 1984, I was working an event with the Pennsylvania Special Special Olympics and one of the spokespersons was Dick Vermeil. And I got both, you know, a little aggressive.
Not in a bad way. I decided to walk up to coach Vermeil and asked him if he would be interested doing interview. Now, in the process, I didn't really know who I was going to give the interview to, but I asked anyway.
And he not only said yes, but he invited me to his home outside of Bryn Mawr, outside of Philadelphia in the town called Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. And I went down. I did the interview. And lo and behold, I wound up giving it to a magazine, along with another interview I did over the phone, because I got stuck in a snowstorm up in Route 80 on my way to Scranton, Wilkes-Barre.
Yes. And stuck up on Route 80 into it. Now, I have to explain to you that I never told my parents what I was doing because I wanted to surprise them. And lo and behold, I got two stories printed. I worked this magazine for a couple of years. I did it really to build my resume. I didn't get paid for it.
That was inconsequential. It was experience. And kept building the resume. And in 1987, a guy I know you know well named Howie Schwab hired me at a publication called College and Pro Focal News Weekly. And I worked with some people, great people, Peter Hayes, Steve Kurtzman, Craig Ellenport, Howie, of course. Howie wasn't there very long. Howie was en route to already working freelance for ESPN.
A couple of years later, ESPN was looking to expand its NFL research department. Howie was one of the people who recommended me. And it kind of went on from there. And I spent 22 years there in one capacity or another, now doing what I'm doing. And I have somehow pulled off this Forrest Gump-like career for going on 40 years. Amazing.
Russell Baxter with us here after hours, CBS Sports Radio. I just retweeted the link to his story on fullpresscoverage.com. A Dick Vermeil story you likely have not heard. It was my first time reading it. It's amazing.
Lots more detail in there. It's an interaction that sparked a pretty awesome career. So Russ, when we get to Canton every year, we just have a couple of minutes left here, so you're very generous with your time as always. Who are a couple of guys, because I know that you look around, you survey the landscape, a couple of guys that are not in the Hall of Fame but desperately deserve to be. Well, you know, with the Seniors Committee, and they're down to 12 finalists, and I think the next, they get down to three with the seniors. I'll focus on the Seniors Committee, I think, along with a couple of guys I thought were going to make it last year, Amy. You know, Clay Matthews didn't make the next round, but I think he's a guy who was certainly worthy.
Sterling Sharp, who I worked with at ESPN for eight years, there's a push to get him in. He did make the Seniors Committee cut. Seven years, 595 catches, 65 touchdowns, five-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro. As people know, his career was cut short by injury. As far as the modern-day guys, Zach Thomas is a guy, I think, who's kind of overdue. Primarily for the Dolphins, spent one year with the Cowboys.
A couple of years ago when Kevin Molloy came in, he spoke about Zach Thomas and the battles he had with him and so on. And two guys I thought were going to make it last year, Amy, who were kind of first-time guys, Demarcus Ware and Devin Hester. And I know there's not a big emphasis on special teams as far as Pro Football Hall, same history and so on. We have two pure-place kickers, Morten Anderson and Jan Stennerud.
I get the feeling that might change down the road when a certain Adam Vinatieri is eligible. And then there's only one pure punter, and it took forever for a guy to get in. He didn't get in until 2014, but what Devin Hester did was just simply amazing. I know there are other guys who have been great on kick returns, but he was right from the get-go.
Something special and so on. And then I think he'll get in. I know he tweeted recently, he was somewhat disappointed about not being a First Ballot Hall of Fame. I will say this, I don't care if you're a 40th Ballot Hall of Fame. If you're in, you're in. Yes, you're in. And that's why I love the Leroy Butler story.
It took him 16 years, but you're in, you're in. All the five modern guys who went in this year, none of them were first out. Yeah, no, pretty neat. Pretty neat. Can't all be Peyton Manning. Russell Baxter on Twitter at BaxFootballGuru. We're going to have you on again soon.
We'll talk preseason then, but check out his story about Dig for a Meal. You're awesome to wake up early with us, Russ. We'll talk to you soon. Thank you so much.
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