Enshrinement Week is under way with Thursday night's annual Pro Football Hall of Fame Game. But this year's Hall festivities mean a lot more to Jets fans than the outcome of the first preseason game on the NFL schedule.
It's Kevin Mawae's turn in the spotlight.
Mawae, the 16-year pro center who spent the prime of his career, from 1998-2005, anchoring the offensive line for fellow Hall of Famer Curtis Martin and the Green & White, was selected as one of eight members of the Hall of Fame's Class of 2019 in February, and Saturday night he will be inducted into the Canton shrine.
"As a player, it's the ultimate, it's the pinnacle," Mawae has said. "Surreal is one word I came up with. It's a privilege. I want one of the first things to be said is that I played the game the way it's supposed to be played. I played it with an attitude, I played it to the best of my ability, I played it to the whistle."
All along the process, Mawae was grappling with the surrealness. A week after he was introduced as a Hall of Fame inductee at Super Bowl LIII, he told newyorkjets.com:
"I'm trying to catch up, trying to breathe, trying to come to grips with all this."
And after six months of doing things like sitting for his Canton bust, getting measured for his gold jacket, donating memorabilia to his display in the Hall, and making more than a few speaking engagements, Mawae tweeted last week:
"It's starting to sink in that in 7 days I get a new addition to my wardrobe!"
He'll receive that new article of clothing tonight when he passes through a friendly gauntlet of more than 130 Hall of Famers to get to center stage at tonight's Gold Jacket Dinner.
Saturday night, the surreal turns real. Mawae will be the third class member and the first of the five Modern Era inductees to give his enshrinement speech, right after being presented for the grand honor by his wife, Tracy.
After the ceremony at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, and no doubt a party or two later that night, Mawae will have one more day of official duty on Sunday, as part of the Enshrinees' Roundtable in the afternoon and the "Concert for Legends" featuring Imagine Dragons that night.
From there, Mawae returns to his current home, which is Arizona State, where he is currently on the Sun Devils staff of his former Jets head coach, Herm Edwards, as the school's offensive analyst. But having finished the Hall of Fame chapter of his career, Mawae is not done writing his life's book and he is not done paying it forward.
"Football is not the end by any means. It gives me the opportunity to help other people and I think that’s why I play football," he has said. His next goal will be to move up from analyst to some team's offensive line coach.
"I want to be one of those guys, when people see an offensive line play, they recognize it by a certain style of play — 'Hey, that's a Kevin Mawae-coached offensive line,' " he said. "That's my goal. What level, I don't know. ... My time will come to take advantage of it when it comes."
But before then, he's got a few more formalities to enjoy with him family, friends and fans in the days ahead in Ohio. Have a great Hall of Fame Weekend, Kevin.