Twenty-five years ago Alan Page got a summer construction job in his hometown to help build the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Today, Page will be enshrined in that Hall.
"It was just another dirty job on a hot day," Page said, remembering that summer when he was a high school football player looking to make some money.Also to be inducted will be Mike Ditka, Jack Ham and Fred Biletnikoff, but for Page, the day will have a special meaning because he was born and raised in Canton.
"I don't if things have changed a great deal (back home)," said the former Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears defensive tackle. "Obviously, it's great to go home. It's going to be a fun weekend.
"From an emotional standpoint, it will be particularly emotional for my family. For me, it will be a great honor, but an honor that I've received for things that I would have done anyway."
The four inductees represent some of the greatest teams of the last 25 years. And they also represent the best of the Rust Belt.
Three came out of western Pennsylvania - Biletnikoff from Erie, Ham from Johnstown and Ditka from Carnegie. Canton is just across the Ohio line.
"Isn't that something that we all came from within 90 to 100 miles of Canton?" Page said. "That's something unique. That says something about the quality of football that is played in the area."
Ham said, "western Pennsylvania and Ohio have always been known for great football players. It's a nice coincidence that we are going in together."
Page went from Canton Central Catholic High School to Notre Dame and then to the Vikings, where he spent 1967 through 1978. He was the National Football League's most valuable player in 1971, the first defensive player ever to receive that honor. Four other times he was named the conference defensive player of the year. He spent the final 31/2 years of his 15 seasons with the Bears.
While Page played in four Super Bowls with the Vikings, who lost each time, Ham was on the winning side in three Super Bowls. The Penn State graduate was all-conference or all-pro for seven straight years and totaled 251/2 sacks, 21 opponents' fumble recovered and 32 interceptions for his career.
Ditka, the first pure tight end to be inducted, was the offensive equivalent of Bears teammate Dick Butkus. Ditka punished the opposition as a blocker, but still caught 427 passes for 43 touchdowns during his 12 seasons. For good measure, he coached the Bears to a Super Bowl championship in 1986.
Biletnikoff came out of Florida State and began his career as a special teams player. But seven games into his rookie year, he caught 7 passes for 118 yards and missed only eight games over the next 13 seasons. He caught 589 passes for 76 touchdowns and played in three NFL title games, five AFC championships and Super Bowls II and XI. He was named the MVP in Super Bowl XI with four receptions for 79 yards.
As for Page, he said that such a homecoming was the furthest thing from his mind.
"This is nothing I might have anticipated or even considered" while the Hall of Fame was under construction 25 years ago, he said.