CANTON, Ohio -- One second you're driving along Interstate 77 from Cleveland to Canton. The next second you're face to face with the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2012.
It's a sight for any football fan to behold.
Football's hallowed Hall sits closer to the interstate than I would have imagined. Exterior lighting illuminates the colorful posters featuring each new enshrinee's mugshot. Jack Butler, Dermontti Dawson, Chris Doleman, Cortez Kennedy, Curtis Martin and Willie Roaf on public display.
The enshrinement ceremony isn't til Saturday, but each new Hall of Famer has been building to this moment since his selection in early February.
A glance at the rear-view mirror while approaching the Hall late Thursday night revealed no cars in sight. I touched the brakes on my rental car to process the visual.
From there it was on the McKinley Grand Hotel, where the Hall of Famers are staying.
Security officials have limited access to guests only. At least one Hall of Famer was sitting on a bench out front when I arrived, a gold jacket revealing his status as one of the very best to ever play the game. Darkness had fallen and I couldn't positively identify him.
A familiar face awaited near the hotel entrance. Kennedy has cut so much weight, he looks more like a big linebacker than the defensive tackle with the most Pro Bowls during the 1990s (eight). I'd guess he's in the low 260s, down from the 300- to 320-pound range during his playing days.
"Kennedy!" shouted a fan standing down on the corner, behind the security line.
My role as the Hall selector for the Seattle market included the honor of presenting Kennedy's credentials to the other selectors during our annual meeting one day before the Super Bowl.
The process had provided an opportunity to speak with Kennedy regularly and know him better. He was always grateful for any efforts on his behalf, but he never campaigned for support. That wouldn't be his style.
I'd gotten to know Kennedy a little while covering the Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune during his final three seasons, ending in 2000. Polite and reserved, Kennedy wasn't much use for reporters. He wouldn't speak off the record, said little on it and seemed determined to keep a low profile. His play would do his talking.
I've found Kennedy to be much more engaging outside the player-reporter context. He's got a sense of humor and the cackle to go with it. Kennedy has been a happy man during the six months since learning this would be his year, but he's continued to lay low. There has been no media tour.
Kennedy and the other new Hall of Famers are scheduled to give nationally televised speeches at the enshrinement ceremony Saturday. Kennedy doesn't like to talk about himself, but I'm thinking he'll enjoy the moment.
It's not every day your face flies on a banner atop the Pro Football Hall of Fame.