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First comes ‘The Knock,’ then comes the Pro Football Hall of Fame

The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s president, David Baker, talks with SiriusXM radio hosts at Super Bowl LII Radio Row this week. (Cindy Ord/Getty Images)
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It always starts with David Baker’s slow, subtle limp down a hallway barely wide enough to fit the 6-foot-9, 400-pound guardian of football’s eternity.

Forty-eight members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s selection committee spend the afternoon voting on the year’s honorees. Then they dispatch Baker, the Hall’s president and chief executive, to lumber down hotel hallways and offer five firm knocks on the door.

This is how retired football players are notified they rank among the best ever.

“It’s always a situation where the turndown service has knocked, or somebody else, so until they really kind of see it or hear it, they’re never quite sure,” Baker told the Los Angeles Times in August. “You see a lot of people crying when they get in.”

Players wait inside with friends and family. Those knocks on the door means Baker is outside with life-altering news. A phone call means better luck next year.

“Welcome to Canton,” Baker told LaDainian Tomlinson in 2017.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones invited Baker into his hotel room, started crying and buried his head into Baker’s chest.

“On behalf of everyone who loves football, and provided you don’t come out of retirement before Aug. 5,” he told Brett Favre in 2016, “you’re going to go to Canton as one of the best 303 best football players, coaches and contributors of all time.”

Favre stood in the doorway hang-jawed in an undershirt and slacks.

“Terrell Davis was crying, Jerry Jones was crying, Morten Andersen cried, I don’t think Kurt [Warner] cried, but they were screaming and yelling,” Baker told Sports Illustrated in July. “The knock on the door is very emotional.”

Ray Lewis, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens among 2018 class elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame

Nominees previously watched the annual announcement on television unless a committee member gave them a preemptive celebratory phone call.

Since joining the Hall of Fame in 2014, Baker has taken steps to boost the institution’s prestige and put on more public events. He traveled around the country to give tenured Hall of Famers brand new rings, with presentation ceremonies afterward, during halftimes of NFL games.

He dreamed up an $800 million “Hall of Fame Village,” a so-called football Disneyland in Canton, Ohio, that will include Hall of Fame museum, a Black College Hall of Fame, the Tom Benson Stadium (seats 23,000), eight state-of-the-art turf fields for youth football, an upscale football-themed hotel, a retail promenade, a convention center, and a player care center for retired Hall of Famers and others.

“Dave has done a tremendous job,” Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana told the L.A. Times. “It’s a 180-degree turn from the way the place used to be. He’s trying to make it better and grow it all the time. Before, it was what it was, and it stayed that way.”

Part of that vision is putting members, who are enshrined in “the most inspiring place on Earth,” according to Hall of Fame promotional material, in the spotlight again and again.

After the famous knock, Hall of Fame staff gather the newly elected class and their families to exchange greetings, then shuttle the whole party over to the NFL Honors, where the league hands out the season’s awards. The class is introduced on stage in the middle of the event, then heads to a news conference.

They’ll be introduced on the field during a stoppage of play during the Super Bowl, then inducted in August.

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