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Hall of Fame future getting a little more real for Julius Peppers

Julius Peppers

CANTON, Ohio—We all have that box in the garage, that one no one really knows the contents of and may never open until we move and somebody makes us.

In that box in the garage of Julius Peppers, there's stuff that's now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Of course.

Peppers admitted Friday he was looking for something else when he uncovered one of the treasures now enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: a time-faded Carolina blue vinyl folder marked with a UNC logo, with his basketball number (45) written in marker in the bottom left-hand corner of the cover.

That folder holds Number 45's practice plans for the Tar Heels' trip to the Final Four in 2000 when he was a key part of his college basketball team. It's a unique artifact from another sport since he's one of only two players to play in both a Final Four and a Super Bowl. And nothing against Donovan McNabb (Syracuse basketball walk-on for a runner-up in 1996, former Eagles quarterback), but that makes Number 90 the only one with that distinction in Canton.

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"I wanted to add that piece onto it," Peppers said of the practice script. "It's not a piece of my pro football career, but it's a piece of my sports career, and I thought it was important to include it. Some people may not know that I played basketball at UNC so, it's kind of like an educational piece as well.

"I was actually going through my boxes in one of the garages and was just looking for stuff, and looking through stuff and I happened to come across that. So I was like, this is pretty cool, man. I want people to see this."

The exhibit — it's effectively Peppers' locker in the Hall of Fame — also includes the Panthers jersey he wore when he collected his 150th sack in 2017 against the Eagles. That's the day when he became the only player in football history with 150 sacks and 10 interceptions. He retired after the 2018 season with 159.5 sacks, putting him fourth on the all-time list behind Bruce Smith, Reggie White, and Kevin Greene.

"That's special," Peppers admitted. "That's something that's unique for me."

There are also some items from his days with the Packers and Bears that came between his two stints with the home team, but that bright blue jersey sits atop it all.

That jersey was already part of the Hall's collection — thankfully, it wasn't in that box in the garage — which is fortunate since Peppers said he's not much of a collector.

He was looking for some of his old papers from his Panthers days, including the notes he took in meetings with coaches such as John Fox and Mike Trgovac and later with Ron Rivera, Eric Washington, Sam Mills III, and others, but he hasn't been able to locate those yet.

"I rarely ever go through it," he said of the stuff in the garage. (See, people, Julius Peppers is just like all of us, except we aren't the only human being with over 150 sacks and 10 interceptions).

"My mother has a lot of stuff, probably more than I do," he continued. "So, I think there's some other cool stuff that may be in those boxes. I was actually looking for notebooks, notes that I took in meetings, and stuff like that. That was something that was of interest to me. I couldn't find too much of it but the notes, ... it was always cool to go back and look at the notes against who we were going play against, and the preparation leading up to the games. That was one of the things that was fun for me."

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Peppers had an easy smile for most of the day, so the having fun was obvious. He stood like one of the tourists marveling at the huge banner featuring the Class of 2024, except he was on it, second from the right next to Patrick Willis.

In addition to the unveilings—the first time the Hall has brought a class together for the event—Peppers and the rest were also on hand for the Hall of Fame Ribs Burnoff, a barbecue competition and Canton tradition that had gone dormant for 10 years but was revived as part of the Hall's expansion and outreach efforts in this town that lives and breathes and eats football.

So add barbecue-eating to things Peppers is doing this weekend just like the rest of us (only the chicken, please, since Peppers doesn't eat pork). Except he's doing it in front of the Hall of Fame, which has a two-story picture of him on the front wall, and his stuff inside now.

"This is something I can say I've never done," he said with a laugh.

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But consistent with his personality, he took his judging duties seriously and carefully, asking for utensils, keeping the napkins handy so he didn't smear sauce on his scoresheet, as he marked each category with his left hand, careful not to bump into the right-handed Devin Hester next to him.

After the food was taken care of, he and the rest of the class moved to a stage to put their hands into molds as part of an art project the Hall will unveil later this year. Once cast, it will give fans a chance to interact with replicas of this class and realize how big Hall of Famer hands actually are.

It went smoothly, except for Peppers having to re-do his since the mold wasn't big enough for him to fit both hands in at once without his right pinkie crossing the border. So he had to Twister his hands carefully at an angle to fit them both in the box on his second try. Everyone else in the class, the people with hands that are merely huge, was able to fit the mold on the first shot.

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Then again, that figures, since doing things in ways others can't, or that have never been done is kind of his thing.

That's why being here and being celebrated shouldn't surprise him anymore, but it still kind of does.

He admitted that with every step along his path to his enshrinement in August, the idea that he belongs here — in Hall parlance, he is Hall of Famer number 377 — is becoming a little more concrete in his mind. He has thoughts about his speech, but it's not quite something he's ready to call a draft. It keeps coming into focus a little at a time.

"It's exciting. It's getting closer, so you can feel it," he said. "We can feel it coming up a couple of months, so the excitement is building.

I think it's going to really set in in August once we get the gold jackets and we see the bust, maybe. So, it's still one of those feelings that's kind of almost surreal still, but until we actually put on the gold jacket, that's when I'm considering it official."

Until then, he's just like the rest of us, eating barbecue on Memorial Day weekend and wondering what else is in those boxes in the garage, and where the stuff is he's actually looking for.

Except, of course, he's Julius Peppers, which means his judging skills and his boxes — just like his career — are one of one.

See photos of the Panthers Legend as he tours his Hall of Fame locker at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and tastes some local delicacies at a BBQ competition.

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