Handful of future Hall of Famers attended HOF groundbreaking

Todd Porter

The bike, the boys and the broom made it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s beginning. Not as artifacts, but in unassuming roles and without even a thought of ending up honored inside the building.

It was Aug. 11, 1962, when the first ceremonial shovel of dirt broke ground on parkland that was nothing more than a gully and a waterfall, where the Hall of Fame sits today.

The ceremony was well-attended by locals. A young man who played midget football came with his parents. They lived less than two miles from the future home of pro football’s immortals.

Dan Dierdorf remembers watching the ceremony with his mother and father. He later rode his bike during the spring and summer to watch crews work on the building and to see the iron pillars go up to form the iconic football-like dome.

“I remember looking at the frame for the rotunda and thinking, ‘What the heck is that?’” Dierdorf said. “I used to walk through the building while it was under construction.”

Dierdorf not alone

Just past a fence that surrounded the land, a barrel-chested 15-year-old from Stow was there with some high school buddies. Larry Csonka didn’t know then he would one day have a bronze bust that would forever brand him as one of the greatest football players in history.

“We watched them dig the first shovel of dirt,” Csonka said.

Csonka and Dierdorf weren’t the only future Hall of Famers to take part in that big day.

Canton was awarded the Hall of Fame because of the city’s historic ties to the game. Ironically, the day the first shovel of dirt was turned, Canton had what turned out to be historic ties to the game there.

Pete Rozelle, the NFL commissioner at the time, was there. He would be enshrined in 1985. Marion Motley, a Canton native, was retired from the game, but he was an honored guest. He was inducted in 1968.

Business kept Paul Brown from attending, but the former Massillon coach was instrumental in Canton getting the Hall. He took the idea to Repository sports writers Chuck Such and Germaine Swanson.

When the NFL was ready to name a site for the Hall, Canton had yet to organize. Brown got the decision tabled for a year until Canton got its drive together.

Page had early role at HOF

Four future Hall of Famers were in attendance at the groundbreaking. A fifth, while not there, worked on the building. They later called him a Purple People Eater.

Before that, they told Alan Page to get a broom and sweep up the construction site.

Now they call him Justice Page, a member of the Minnesota State Supreme court.

But in 1992, Page had a summer job working with a construction crew.

“I didn’t spend a lot of time over there, but I spent enough to have a sandwich,” Page said recently during an afternoon break from court. “I was aware of what it was going to be. I knew there was a significance to it. Beyond that, I was a typical 18-year-old kid. Because I was playing football, I was aware of what it stood for.”

Future Hall of Famers generally aren’t at groundbreaking ceremonies and sweeping the dirt floors under construction years before being enshrined.

“It’s highly unusual to have that many there,” Page said. “First of all, you have to have some kind of connection to that community. Most people who are in the Hall of Fame and most people who play football don’t have a connection with Canton.”

Dierdorf marvels at the idea that Csonka was a few feet away from him that day in 1962. Rozelle was early in his tenure as NFL commissioner, and no one would have thought then that he would be an enshrinee.

“I hate to point this out, but for the record, I was the youngest of the future Hall of Famers there that day,” Dierdorf said, laughing. Even at 13, he knew the importance.

Hall holds its memories

Steve Young, Class of 2005, came through Canton on summer vacation when he was 7. He still has the picture of him in front of the building.

When NFL rookies came through the Hall this summer, these were the stories they were told. Yes, Canton is the place they should aspire to be.

“These guys look at this place as a museum dedicated to the greats in their sport,” said Joe Horrigan, the Hall’s vice president of communications and exhibits. “They never thought they’d be here. Now, in retrospect, it’s an inspiration others maybe should set their sights that high.”

There were summer days when Dierdorf was alone, his bike parked off the side of the construction site as he walked through the empty structure. Never in his wildest dreams did he think one day he’d be honored.

“Some dreams are too ridiculous a thing to contemplate,” Dierdorf said. “Times are different today. Back then, the guys who played the game were god-like. They were larger than life. I remember at 13 watching those players walk out of the locker room, and they all looked 10 feet tall. I didn’t have that kind of bravado to think that would be me one day.”

Contact Todd Porter at (330) 580-8340 or