By: Mark Fitzgerald
IN THE FIRST 27 years of the pro football Hall of Fame, no player ever chose a sportswriter to introduce him at induction ceremonies.
Then in 1990, former San Francisco 49er great Bob St. Clair asked his personal friend, Vacaville (Calif.) Reporter columnist Dave Beronio, to do the honors when he was inducted.
This year, two inductees will be introduced by sportswriters at the induction ceremonies July 30 in Canton, Ohio.
Legendary Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant has asked Sid Hartman, an equally legendary columnist for the Star Tribune of Minneapolis/St. Paul, to introduce him.
And Cleveland Browns running back great LeRoy Kelly has asked longtime Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Chuck Heaton to introduce him at the ceremony.
In another interesting twist, both writers are members of the 36-person board of selectors who chose the Hall of Fame inductees.
A spokesman at the Hall said this summer will be the first time selectors have ever introduced inductees. Usually, the athletes are introduced by former teammates or coaches.
In an interview with Star Tribune columnist Doug Grow, Vikings coach Grant said he had been friends with Hartmann since 1946, when Grant was a freshman at the University of Minnesota and Hartman was a young sports reporter for the old Minnesota Times.
“I respect Sid a lot,” Grant said. “I know where he comes from and what he went through to get where he is. We’ve been together through a lot of good times and down times. The thing about Sid, the mystique about him, is that he never breaks a confidence. People learn they can confide in Sid.”
For his part, Hartman was stunned by Grant’s decision.
“This is the biggest honor I’ve ever had,” Hartman said. “Guys like Jim Finks and Al Davis and Tom Landry have done this, but never a peon like me.
“It makes me feel good for sportswriters, for the profession, know what I mean? We’re outcasts to a lot of people, you know what I mean. Some people treat us like garbage. There’ll be some jerks who’ll say, ‘Why pick a sportswriter?’ Know what I mean. But he had the guts to do it,” Hartman said.