CANTON, Ohio -- The Pro Football Hall of Fame has its own version of Six Degrees of Separation.
How many members does it take to find someone who played against one of the original pros?
“Cris Carter, his rookie year was 1987,” James Lofton, Hall of Fame Class of 2003, said Friday. “I told him earlier, ‘Cris, what you need to do is find the Hall of Famer in the room who played in ’87, but is the oldest guy. That guy probably started in ’69.
“You tag him, and then go to the guy who preceded him, you could probably go back to the first player, to the old Canton Bulldogs, in about five people.”
Of course, the game would be far easier if Ace Parker had made the trip. The oldest living member of the Hall is 101; he’s eight years older than the NFL.
But even without Parker, there will be plenty of graybeards to pick from this weekend. Saturday’s enshrinement, which will commemorate the Hall of Fame’s 50th anniversary, will feature the largest collection of living members in history.
The Hall of Fame opened on Sept.7, 1963, with a charter class of 17 legends that included Red Grange, George Halas and Jim Thorpe. Why Canton? It’s the birthplace of the NFL — or the American Professional Football Association, as it was known at the time.
When the seven newest inductees go in Saturday, the Hall’s membership will swell to 280.
More than 120 of them are expected to attend Saturday’s jamboree — the most Hall of Famers from one sport in one place at one time ever.
The legends, some young but most old, gathered for a group picture Friday morning, a snapshot that captured centuries of living football history.
“Name another place where they have that many Hall of Famers at one time, in one group,” said linebacker Bobby Bell (Class of 1983). “I looked around and saw guys that you read about.”
As usual, Miami’s pro team was well represented. In all, six of the Dolphins’ nine Hall of Famers are in town this weekend: Don Shula, Dan Marino, Bob Griese, Paul Warfield, Larry Little and Dwight Stephenson.
Larry Csonka, Jim Langer and Nick Buoniconti are not expected to make the trip.
Bringing them all back to Canton: The golden anniversary celebration, and the museum’s recently completed “Future 50” expansion and renovation project. The two-year, $27 million endeavor wrapped up in June.
The museum is now some 30,000 feet bigger, and features a new special exhibition gallery and a climate-controlled research and preservation center.
“We are truly excited that so many Hall of Famers will be on hand this year to help celebrate both the enshrinement of the newest class as well as our 50th anniversary,” said Stephen Perry, the Hall’s president and executive director.
“This will be the first time many of our Hall of Famers will see the new Hall of Fame, and we’re anxious to see their reaction,” Perry added. “We know they will be pleased.”
A few got a sneak peak Friday. Linebacker Andre Tippett (2008), offensive lineman Gary Zimmerman (2008) and guard Randall McDaniel (2009) got a private tour and spent two hours wandering through the 118,000-square-foot complex.
But for Raymond Berry, the former wide receiver and coach who’s now 80, it’s the people that keep bringing him back to this small Ohio town, not the exhibits.
“I coached 25 years; I played 13,” said Berry, Class of 1973. “I’m not good on numbers, but that’s getting close to 40 years. That’s a lot of people that I’ve had contact with, one way or another, and many of them are in that room.”