HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — Growing up in Canton, Ohio, Josh McDaniels vividly remembers seeing stenciled helmets painted on the double-yellow lines on his way to Canton McKinley High School.
Every day, McDaniels couldn’t help but admire one of the most famous sports shrines in America, the Pro Football Hall of Fame sitting minutes from McKinley’s campus.
“It was never lost on me that this is a special place,” the first-year Las Vegas Raiders coach said Sunday. “There is such an element of history and tradition.”
And when he suited up for the varsity Bulldogs, their home games were played at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, formerly Fawcett Stadium, a 22,500-seat venue that is known much more for an annual game in August than anything else.
So when McDaniels takes the field with the Raiders on Thursday for this year’s Hall of Fame Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, a mix of emotions and nostalgia just may overcome the 46-year-old.
“You’re playing right there, and you can see it over the stands,” McDaniels said. “It was a great place to be a young boy that loved football and what a blessing that I have an opportunity to come back there and do it. I never would have dreamed that this would have happened.”
The game will be extra special with late legendary wide receiver Cliff Branch and defensive lineman Richard Seymour set to be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday, also at Benson Stadium.
And while McDaniels is looking forward to bringing his wife Laura and their four children, seeing his parents, reconnecting with family and old friends, some coaches, and former high school teammates, he’s especially excited to bring the Raiders to Canton.
“We took a poll the other day and there’s a lot of them that have never been there,” McDaniels said. “They’re in this fraternity and it’s this special place and I’ve been through it I can’t tell you how many times. And each time I go through it, I see something different or new or they’ve added to it.
“You just get excited because it’s such an important part of our game and so to be able to represent the league and our team going there and playing with Richard and Cliff going in, it’s just an exciting opportunity for us and I think our team is excited.”
Punter A. J. Cole III said he’s a “sneaky museum guy” and is looking forward to touring the Hall of Fame, and will be on the hunt for a specific former Raider punter’s relic.
“See if I can find Ray Guy’s cleat or something like that,” Cole said. “See if they got some cool artifacts in there, but yeah it will be cool to see that, the history of that, and see all the guys that get inducted.”
Prior to playing on Thanksgiving for the first time last season, when the Raiders pulled off the upset in Dallas, quarterback Derek Carr reflected on his younger days and playing a “Turkey Bowl” with his brother David before his family would gather to watch the NFL slate and eat dinner.
With another nostalgic game in front of him, Carr said he hasn’t thought much about playing in the preseason opener, yet, as his focus has been on what is an important ninth season of his career.
“To be able to play in that game, obviously, would be awesome,” Carr said. “Especially against a good football team, good front, good cover guys, good linebackers – it’d be fun to see it. At the end of the day, we are in training camp, so my mind is like ‘what do I have to do this afternoon? I got a lot in the meetings; I got a lot in the walkthrough.’ That is already going through my head. If I’m honest, I haven’t thought about what that would be like, but I’m assuming the more that I think about (it), absolutely it would be cool.”
McDaniels said with an extra preseason game, he and his staff we’ll try to make decisions they think are best for the team in terms of what they need to get accomplished each week. Whether it’s taking time to simply get reacclimated to calling plays, getting in the huddle, or playing third-down defense against real-time, real-speed opponents, McDaniels is ready to treat the preseason as if there’s plenty to be gained by everyone.
This week, part of that is embracing the history and nostalgia of the sport they’ve grown to love and play.
“It will be really an experience,” McDaniels said. “Surreal is probably a good word for it … my family has spent a lot of nights there over many, many years and so it’s a special place for us, and looking forward to having a special night hopefully on Thursday.”