Written by Greg Evers - June 2022
With the USFL playoffs being played in Canton, OHIO, anyone that knows anything about American Football knows that the Pro Football Hall of Fame is also located in Canton, OHIO. With my initial flights back to Australia being scheduled on the Saturday of the playoff games for the USFL, and there only being 2 weeks of playoffs, pushing back my flights to Australia by 10 days so that I could attend both weeks of playoffs as well as have the opportunitiy to attend the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was something that required some serious consideration.
As I mentioned in a previous post, it wasn't an easy decision knowing that I would be away from my wife and kids for another 10 days. I was missing them immensely throughout this trip and it was a hard decision to make to extend the trip another 10 days. I know my wife and kids were really looking forward to me coming home, but sometimes there are opportunities presented that require sacrifices, especially when there is an end goal in mind.
After speaking about this with my wife and breaking the news to my kids, who were all disappointed but did understand, at least as much as they could understand, I organised for my trip back to Australia to be pushed back 10 days and made arrangements to travel to Canton.
I was fortunate enough that through the contacts that I made on this trip, I was able to find a location that was affordable and in a nice area of Canton. It was approx 15min from the Hall of Fame and about 15min from where the officials would be staying during their time in Canton, and right in the middle of downtown Canton, so an ideal location for being able to experience the various locations around Canton.
The Referee for one of the semi-finals on the first weekend contacted me and invited me to attend a tour of the Hall of Fame with him and his crew on the Saturday morning, as their game was the second of the games on the Saturday afternoon\night. I met them at the Hall of Fame, and we were fortunate to have a contacts at the Hall of Fame who took us around and explained various aspects around the history of the NFL. Some of the history was extremely fascinating and there was information that they provided that you wouldn't have been able to find on a standard tour. Some of the stories that they were able to tell around some of the artefacts were incredible.
They were telling us about the time that Tom Brady was given the opportunity to see his "draft card", which is the card that is presented to the NFL Commissioner during the draft to announce which team had drafted which player. Hearing how fascinated Tom Brady was to see his own draft card, really emphasises how much players like him appreciate everything that goes in to their journey and how they reflect on where they started to when they are now.
It was incredible to walk around the Hall of Fame and see all of the rich history of the NFL, including all of the items that were related to officiating, in particular a lot of the "firsts" in regards to officials, including the first official to be inducted in to the Hall of Fame, Art McNally who will be inducted this year..
After completing the tour, I was offered the chance to grab some lunch and then sit in on the pregame meeting with the officiating crew. Like the rest of this trip, being accepted and offered to come in to these "inner sanctums" of officiating has been more than I could have expected on this trip. When the Referee opens the pregame with a welcome to me and an offer of "feel free to participate", it shows how welcoming they are and how much they appreciate having someone sit in who's willing to learn. It was a great experience to be able to listen in and participate in their pregame meeting and after the meeting I was able to ask the Referee some additional questions around their pregames during the tournament before leaving them to prepare for their game.
I made my way to the stadium, again with the immense privilege of having access to the press box, and was able to meet up with the crew for the first game just prior to their game starting. It's really encouraging to see their eyes light up when they see you and be happy that I was able to make the game and watch them work. I headed up to the press box and watched the game from up there. Between the games I was fortunate enough to again meet with both crews and get to learn from some of the learning opportunities that they had from the game.
After the completion of the second game, I headed back to the hotel where the officials were staying and was able to socialise with them while they unwound from their game. It was another great opportunity to get to know a different group of officials and hear of their own journeys while also being able to explain some of my goals.
With Sunday being Monday in Australia, it was back to working of an afternoon\night and trying to get a routine for the morning. Being closer to the east coast of the US, the timezones for this week made it a more challenging week, particularly when there were a couple of days where there we some later afternoon meetings in Australia, making for some long days\nights in the US. Even though it was becoming a tiring week keeping on top of the timezones, I was extremely thankful that I was able to work while in the US.
During the days I would go for a walk around downtown Canton and see what was around. Being a relatively small town, it was pretty quiet but there was always some interesting NFL history around the corner. Wherever you went, there was something that talked about the history of the NFL, whether it was a statue or art on the side of buildings, you could certainly tell that there was a lot of NFL history in the town.
With Friday in the US being Saturday in Australia, I decided to head over to the Hall of Fame and spend some time walking around it at my own pace. Even though I had been there already, and there was a lot that we saw, there was still plenty that I didn't get to see. I was able to take some time and really take in a lot of the history of the Hall of Fame. It was great to be able to walk around it at a much slower pace and be able to take in all of the history.
On Sunday afternoon it was time to head back to the stadium, to watch the final of the USFL. Again, I was fortunate to be able to watch it from the Press box, having been able to meet the officiating crew before the game. It was an extremely competitive game, going to the final minute to decide the winner. After the game, I headed back with the officials, to their hotel, and was able to socialise with them before some of them had to get ready to travel back home. Another great opportunity of getting to know more officials that work at the highest level.
My flight back to Australia was on Tuesday so I spent Monday, which happened to be Independence Day (4th July), walking around Canton which was extremely quiet due to the national holiday, and then working during the evening. I was able to have some decent views of multiple fireworks due to the way that the hotel was situated.
I was then up relatively early on Tuesday morning for the long trip back to Australia. It was a 1hr commute back to Cleveland, with a couple of hours to wait for my flight to Dallas and then once in Dallas I had a 7hr layover before heading back to Australia. To top of this amazing trip, my request for an upgrade to Business Class was accepted and I was able to enjoy the trip back to Australia in a Business Class seat. Being able to full stretch out during the flight certainly made a huge difference.
Upon arriving at Sydney airport, my wife and kids were all there to welcome me home, which was extremely nice to see. It was a phenomenal trip with plenty of learning opportunities but also some great networking opportunities and plans are already in place for the next stage of what will be an amazing journey.
I couldn't have done this trip with the support of my wife who has done a huge job of looking after all 5 of our kids during the time I was away. I am truly thankful and appreciative of everything that she has done and the support that she's given me to pursue this passion.