Originally created 01/20/99

Move over Otto Graham, Big Dawg's in the hall



CANTON, Ohio -- Big Dawg barked his approval as each inductee of the Class of '99 stepped to the podium to receive his Hall of Fame plaque.

First up was Jerry Vecchia, who every day has worn at least one piece of clothing with the New York Giants logo on it since 1983.

"Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week," he said.

Soon came "Da Pope", a k a Lionel Alphonso Sr., who began dressing like the Pope for every New Orleans Saints home game since the real pontiff visited the Superdome in 1987.

"Bless you," he said upon enshrinement.

For the first time since its doors opened for fans in 1963, the Pro Football Hall of Fame now has fans among its members. The hall christened its Visa Hall of Fans exhibit on Tuesday by recognizing 31 of the most die-hard NFL fans in the land -- one from each team, including the expansion Browns.

There was "Barrel Man," a k a Tim McKernan, who wears an orange cowboy hat, boots and an orange barrel supported by suspenders over his bare chest -- and bare bottom -- at every Denver Broncos home game. "Gets a little cold sometimes," he said.

And when it was finally Big Dawg's turn, "Fireman Ed", "Mr. Cheer or Die", "Mama Blue", "Jersey John", "Boltman", "Arrowman", "Green Man", "The Packalope" and the rest of the new Hall of Famers woofed, howled, and cheered for the leader of the Browns' Dawg Pound.

Except, that is, for "Mikey T. Boss Hogette" and his "Hogettes" who grunted and squealed as they adjusted their dresses.

"This is a dream come true for all fans," said Lido Starelli, who has missed just one San Francisco 49ers game in 53 years. "And especially for these 31."

Starelli, a San Francisco season-ticket holder since 1946, has a room dedicated to the 49ers in his home that includes every program, media guide, lapel pin, stationery, Christmas card and pocket schedule from the last 50 years.

"When I saw the 49ers first play I just fell in love with it. My first game was like the birth of my first child," he said. "The 49ers have given me so many great memories."

The only time Starelli missed a 49ers home game was in 1959 when his father died.

"Dec. 5, against the Baltimore Colts," he said.

Col. Joe Curtis saw the Atlanta Falcons play their first exhibition home game in 1965 and hasn't missed one since.

"I've been to 252 regular-season games, 62 preseason and 75 out of town," said Curtis, a retired Air Force colonel. "And now I'm finally going to a Super Bowl."