Who is The BoneLady?

Canton pilgrimage The NFL's face-painted fanatics infiltrate "Pro Football's Best Weekend"
by Brian O'Neill

I admit it, I'm a football fan. I'm not talking Buckeyes either. That's strictly amateur, a nice appetizer to start off your weekend. It's no surprise that Sunday is when NFL games are played, because that's the Sabbath, a holy day, the day the Lord rested--no doubt with a remote in one hand and a Schlitz in the other.

Canton is the sport's Mecca, two hours northeast of Columbus. For one weekend in August, a pilgrimage is made by fans, media and the warriors themselves, transforming the hamlet into a hub of energy and excitement. The locals don't seem jaded or terrified. They dutifully spit-shine their Browns mailboxes for the parade of tourists, and even the Canton dwellers pine for a glimpse of an NFL hero or two.

As new inductee Dan Hampton, a former defensive lineman for the Bears who called his 29 operations and 4,000 stitches "a badge of honor," put it, "It's hard to believe that a town like Canton can put something together like this. It's awesome."

"Would you like to see my ass?": The question came from a woman affectionately known as The Bone Lady. She was hard to miss amidst the throng of humanity loitering around the hallowed Hall of Fame grounds for this year's big weekend, August 3-5; even among the face-painted, costumed fanatics, she stood out with her huge faux-beehive covered in doggie treats, large Milk Bone in her gloved hand and various pro-Cleveland Browns slogans plastered over her burnt sienna skirt. Lifting up the skirt, she showed off a sentiment shared by many a Browns fan, emblazoned on her rear: "Steelers Suck."

The BoneLady, who's real name is Debra Darnall, has lived in Columbus for the past 15 years. You might see her huge SUV trawling the streets here--it's as inconspicuously decorated as she is. She had the distinction of being the first bona fide (or in her case, bone-a-fide) Hall-of-Famer I met on the trip, from the class of 2001.

Yes, The BoneLady is in the Hall of Fame, the fan's wing to be exact. She was picked by Visa, sponsors of this enshrinement, after writing an essay about her diehard love for the Browns. "I didn't watch a single NFL game for three years after the Browns moved," she recalls. "Not even the Super Bowl."

Baseball is once again threatening to hold its fans hostage through another work stoppage, while the NFL inducts its fans into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. You do the math.

Jim Kelly Day: Buffalo is a lot like Columbus--the Bills are the Buckeyes, the heart and soul of the town, with the Sabres and Blue Jackets serving as curious diversions that natives like to see do well, but won't knock themselves out over. Kelly was the heart and soul of the Bills, making him the heart and soul of Buffalo, their equivalent of Archie Griffin.

Of course, Kelly didn't help matters by personally inviting 1,200 of his closet friends to join him in Canton. Kelly's entourage made P. Diddy's posse passè--it took up five area hotels, and he tracked down Pop Warner coaches, his centers from every level he played, coaches, family, friends and the valet guy who parked his car once.

They were all over the place. While in line for the bathroom, behind me was former Bills defensive end Phil Hansen, and in front of me an invitee of Kelly's, summoned because he knew Kelly's brothers who lived in Richmond, Virginia.

"Is there anyone here from Buffalo?" asked former Bills coach Marv Levy as he presented his quarterback. After the enthusiastic applause, he rhetorically added, "Is there anyone left in Buffalo?" To be sure, it would have been a great day to loot western New York.

The exhibition game: The induction ceremony highlights the NFL's past, but the Hall of Fame exhibition game, the first of the season, showcases the future. This year it was the old-guard New York Giants playing against the Houston Texans in the first-ever game for the expansion team.

During the teams' practices, fans screamed for autographs from players, renowned announcer and videogame shill John Madden, and a couple guys who were just hanging out. It turned out they were members of the NYPD and FDNY who came along as guests of the Giants. Watching them sign every hat and ticket stub handed to them was a cool experience, putting into perspective who the real heroes are.

Attending Enshrinement Weekend is a lot crazier than going up to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on a sleepy weekend in March, and we didn't get to see as much of the Hall's exhibits as we would have liked because of the sheer press of activities set up for patrons. But for football's true fans, it doesn't matter when you make the pilgrimage--every day is a holy day in Canton.

August 15, 2002 Copyright © 2002 Columbus Alive, Inc. All rights reserved.

For more information or to inquire about personal appearances, please contact Debra at
614-371-1910, or via our online contact form.

Debra Darnall Bio

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