The Pro Football Hall of Fame has canceled the NFL's preseason-opening game between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers and postponed its annual enshrinement ceremony because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Cowboys and Steelers, who were scheduled to play on Aug. 6 in Canton, Ohio, will instead play in the 2021 Hall of Fame Game, and the enshrinement ceremony -- originally slated for Aug. 8 -- will be held next year.
"The health and safety of our Hall of Famers, fans and volunteers who make Enshrinement Week so special remains our top priority," David Baker, president and CEO of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said in a statement. "The Hall will honor the Centennial Class of 2020 next August, along with what promises to be an equally spectacular Class of 2021, as part of a multi-day celebration of football with an atmosphere that will deliver for fans 'Twice the Fun in '21.'"
The Hall of Fame Game marks the first event on the NFL calendar canceled because of the pandemic. The league was able to conduct free agency, albeit in a different way, as well as a virtual NFL draft.
The game's cancellation is anticipated to affect when the Cowboys and Steelers report to training camp. The Cowboys and Steelers were preparing to be the first two teams to report to camp in about a month but now are likely to report with the rest of the league's teams.
The NFL on Thursday advised its teams to expect an on-time start for training camps. For most teams, that means players will report no later than July 28 to begin preparing for the 2020 season..
Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, NFL Films co-founder Steve Sabol, former New York Giants executive George Young, former coaches Jimmy Johnson and Bill Cowher, and former players Troy Polamalu, Steve Hutchinson, Edgerrin James, Isaac Bruce and Steve Atwater were to be inducted into the Hall of Fame this August.
"The delay is obviously disappointing but completely understandable," Tagliabue told The Associated Press. "It's always a great weekend, especially for football fans and family, coaches, colleagues who've been critical in our successes. But a big part of the weekend is meeting, greeting, photos and signing autographs for the thousands of fans. Not something that I'd want to do in the coronavirus environment."
The Hall's centennial celebration in September would have included the inductions of 10 men selected by a special panel in January. That class includes Harold Carmichael, Jim Covert, Bobby Dillon, Cliff Harris, Winston Hill, Alex Karras, Donnie Shell, Duke Slater, Mac Speedie and Ed Sprinkle.
Shell praised the decision to cancel the Hall of Fame game in a post on Twitter on Thursday.
Great decision by President David Baker with the Pro Football H O F to put the health and welfare of the former players, their families and the fans first. I am Super excited about the Steelers and Cowboys kicking off the 2021 season.— Donnie Shell (@donnie_shell) June 26, 2020
The Hall of Fame, which opened in 1963, has never had two enshrinements in one weekend. It has had cancellations of the game, including in 2011 because of the league's lockout of the players. The game also was canceled in 2016 when the field at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium was declared unplayable.