As the summer of 2019 hits the backstretch and the fall comes into focus, football fans everywhere brace themselves for another whirlwind NFL season — the 100th in league history.
The celebration begins in earnest this week in Canton, Ohio. Pro Football Hall of Fame President David Baker is busy preparing for the oncoming swarm of football fans with a wide variety of festivities. Most notably, to kick off the 2019 preseason, the Hall of Fame Game on Thursday (8 p.m. ET) will pit the Denver Broncos against the Atlanta Falcons. The game is followed by the Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET.
The inductees are former players Tony Gonzalez, Ed Reed, Champ Bailey, Ty Law, Kevin Mawae and Johnny Robinson, as well as longtime Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt. It’s the first class ever with four defensive backs.
Although the headliners are later in the week, not to be overlooked in the excitement is a spiritual event on Wednesday called Game Plan For Life. Former NFL coach Joe Gibbs has hosted Game Plan For Life for the past six years. This year’s guests are Buffalo Bills Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, now in remission from cancer, and his wife, Jill.
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) July 23, 2019
It’s an exciting weekend for football fans, for the NFL, and especially for Baker and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“We call this the best four days in football,” Baker said on a recent episode of the UNPACKIN’ it podcast, later adding, “We like to think that if Walt Disney had the happiest place on Earth, we’ve got the most inspiring place on Earth.”
Baker likes to point out that, including this year’s eight-member class, only 326 people who’ve ever lived have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He has formed friendships with many of them, and since he took over as president in January 2014, he’s been the one to tell each inductee they’ve been selected.
“I’ve got the greatest job in the world,” Baker told UNPACKIN’ it, “not only because I get to give out the gold jackets, but frankly I get to knock on the door on Selection Saturday and welcome these guys to Canton, Ohio.”
Many of football’s all-time greats are brought to tears when they hear the news, knowing that what they accomplished in their careers won’t soon be forgotten. It’s even been said that the bronze busts of the inductees will last 40,000 years.
For Baker, everything about the process has spiritual parallels. He said that when he knocks on the doors to present the good news, it’s reminiscent of when God knocks on the doors of all believers to present the Good News of the Gospel.
“You quickly get to put it in perspective that God’s got a Hall of Fame that will last even longer than 40,000 years,” Baker said.
God knocked on Baker’s door more than 50 years ago, as a young boy at a youth church camp. Since then, he’s played basketball on a Christian basketball team in Europe, spent 12 years as the Arena Football League commissioner, and been elected to the City Council of Irvine, Calif. Through it all, Baker has come to see ever more deeply who he is and what Jesus did for him.
“It wasn’t because I was such a good guy or it made me a better guy. Frankly, it was understanding that I’m not a good guy and I’m capable of far worse, and that Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead to pay for all my sins,” Baker said on UNPACKIN’ it. “It’s not because of what I do. It’s because of what He did for me.”
The Pro Football Hall of Fame has flourished under Baker’s leadership. His emphasis on the inspiring careers and lives of the NFL’s inductees has struck a chord with fans. Baker said many of the same values that made these players, coaches and executives great, like determination and endurance and even brotherly love, are ones that Jesus also taught.
On Thursday, millions of Americans will see once again how grateful they are that football is finally back. Then on Saturday, they will hear the inspiring words of Kevin Mawae and the passion of Ed Reed, and be grateful once again for the careers of these eight inductees. Baker will be grateful those nights too, for all God has done in his life.
“I am thankful to be a sinner saved by the grace of Jesus Christ,” he said on UNPACKIN’ it, “and I’m also thankful to be at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
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