Since it began in 2003 the ceremony has been held in Lexington, but was relocated to Louisville for its 10th anniversary. Kentucky is the only state in the nation with its own Pro Football Hall of Fame.
â€œFrank Minnifield was the driver in bringing it here,â€ said University of Louisville President James Ramsey. â€œHeâ€™s the chairman of (the University of Louisville) Board of Trustees. The group thatâ€™s benefiting from this is the University of Louisville Autism Center, so weâ€™ve got to be excited about having this great event here and highlighting a great program at the University of Louisville.â€
The purpose of the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame is to honor those who have brought significant recognition to the state of Kentucky, have by their successful service achieved significant accomplishment on behalf of their school, have by a significant act or contribution distinguished themselves as an unusual former National Football League player, coach, referee, owner or member of management, or have been a significant or unusual supporter of professional football.
Five former and current professional football players were inducted into this yearâ€™s class, including former Kansas City Chiefs guard Maurice â€œMoâ€ Moorman, past Baltimore Colts and Chicago Bears offensive lineman Dan Neal, former San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman William â€œBubbaâ€ Paris, current Tennesee Titans placekicker Rob Bironas and current Atlanta Falcons quarterback Chris Redman.
â€œIt feels great to see all these faces and all these names, and to be a part of it,â€ said former UofL QB Chris Redman, who won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens. â€œItâ€™s a special night. … Anytime you come back to Louisville, itâ€™s awesome. This is my hometown and will always be.â€
Kentucky native Kenny Rice, a sportscaster with NBC and HDNet Sports, served as emcee of the ceremony, which also honored several college athletes who were named to the All-Commonwealth Collegiate Team. Following the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction, a special tribute was paid to football great Johnny Unitas, and Dr. Kay Collier McLaughlin handed out the 2012 Blanton Collier Awards for Integrity On and Off the Field, an honor created in her fatherâ€™s name.
Representing the Manning family, Archie Manning, father of Eli and Peyton, accepted the 2012 Blanton Collier Award and shared stories of his past as a former NFL quarterback for the New Orleans Saints and his relationship with his Super Bowl-winning sons.
Also in attendance at the ceremony were many past pro football players and Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees, such as Howard Schnellenberger and Will Wolford, who mingled with the crowd and reconnected with past teammates, coaches, family and fans.
â€œI think itâ€™s great, itâ€™s such a great event and itâ€™s really cool to see how itâ€™s grown over the years, and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger,â€ said former UK quarterback Tim Couch and 2008 Hall of Fame inductee. â€œAnd we as players whoâ€™ve been inducted in the past, we really just appreciate the recognition from the accomplishments that we were able to achieve out on the field. And just to be recognized in this way, at this type of event, thatâ€™s really special for all of us to come back and participate in.â€
Photos by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune and TIM VALENTINO | Contributing Photographer