CLEVELAND (AP) — As a boy growing up in football-fanatical Western Pennsylvania, little Dan Marino wanted to be part of The Steel Curtain.
Marino was consumed by the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose ruthless defense helped define the NFL during the 1970s.
This weekend, the Hall of Fame quarterback will get a chance to hang around with Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann and the other football heroes who shaped his childhood.
“I can’t wait,” Marino said. “It reminds me of when I was a kid. I can’t wait to see those old Steelers like Jack Lambert and Mel Blount.”
Marino, Jim Brown, Joe Namath, Don Shula, Bruce Smith and nearly 100 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame are getting together for a two-day, inaugural “Fan Fest,” an unprecedented event that will include the signature bronzed busts of the gridiron immortals from Canton.
Fans will have a chance to mingle with the greats, who will conduct “chalk talk” sessions on next week’s draft, sign autographs and share stories from their playing days. The layout on the open, mammoth I-X Center’s floor includes a 100-yard football field, where a punt, pass and kick competition among local youth players will take place Saturday.
“It’s like a country fair of Hall of Famers,” Marino said.
Marino likened the gathering to a family reunion for the game’s stars, who will gather again in August to induct the Hall’s 2014 class, which includes punter Ray Guy, defensive end Michael Strahan, linebacker Derrick Brooks, offensive tackle Walter Jones, wide receiver Andre Reed, defensive back Aeneas Williams and defensive end Claude Humphrey.
“For us, it’s really special to be in this group,” said Marino, who passed for 61,361 yards in 17 seasons for the Miami Dolphins. “You dream as a football player of making it to the Hall of Fame, and when you get there, it’s a very humbling experience.”
Marino entered the league in 1983, one of six quarterbacks selected in the first round of the draft. Three of those QBs — Marino, John Elway and Jim Kelly — went on to make the Hall of Fame.
It’s impossible to predict if any of the top prospects in this year’s QB class, which includes Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr, will one day be worthy of enshrinement.
But Marino does believe that Manziel, Texas A&M’s “Johnny Football,” has a chance to make an impact.
“He’s a gamer,” Marino said. “Hopefully his style of play will correlate with the NFL. He looks like he has a strong arm and we know he can make plays. But for me, I think there are question marks with all of them. I think Bortles looks the most ready and his body and mechanics look like they translate. But you just don’t know.”