And why it should be on all football fans’ bucket lists
Jarrod Thurman @JarrodChiefsFCS Chiefs Focus @Chiefsfocus
On May 10th I had the absolute pleasure of visiting the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio with a good friend of mine. It was an absolutely amazing experience and if you haven’t had a chance to visit here’s why you should.
As soon as you walk in the door, you are quite literally walking into the doors of football history. The NFL was founded roughly 3 miles from the current location of the Hall of Fame at a now-defunct car dealership. One of the first things you see when you walk in the door is a replica of one of the cars the founding of the league was discussed in. Surrounding this car is a bunch of award-winning photos from recent NFL seasons.
To the left of the room with the car is a ramp that takes you to the beginning of the museum part of the Hall of Fame. It begins with the history of the first 100 years of the NFL, beginning in the 1920s with players such as George Halas, Red Grange, Curly Lambeau (the Lambeau in Lambeau Field), Jim Thorpe, and Ernie Nevers. All pioneers of professional football.
In this part is also Fritz Pollard. If you’re not familiar with him, he was not only the first black player in NFL history but is officially the first black coach in a game (as a player-coach, Art Shell is the first full-time black coach). The Canton Bulldogs are featured as the first repeat champions in league history. Despite this being 100 years ago, the Hall of Fame has a large amount of memorabilia from this era including championship jewelry awarded to the Canton Bulldogs’ players.
From there it continues into the 30s and 40s and the expansion of the game. The 1940s produced names like “Slingin” Sammy Baugh, Bob Waterfield, Steve Van Buren, Byron “Whizzer” White, and Marion Motley. From there, it moves on to the 1950s when football exploded and become popular due in part to legends like Otto Graham, Norm Van Brocklin, Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, Roosevelt “Rosey” Brown, Chuck Bednarik, Lou Groza, and Dick “Night Train” Lane. Van Brocklin, despite breaking the record in 1951, still owns the record for passing yards in a game with 554. In addition to these names, another reason the NFL exploded in popularity in the 1950s was “The Greatest Game Ever Played”. This game was the 1958 NFL Championship, that era’s Super Bowl. The Baltimore Colts led by Johnny Unitas defeated the New York Giants 23-17 in overtime. This game has a display at the Hall of Fame as well. The Giants had future Hall of Fame head coaches Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry as assistants, perhaps the single greatest assistant coaching staff ever assembled. The game was viewed by 45 million people, which is more than the Chiefs vs Bills Divisional Round game got and only 2 million less than the AFC Championship between the Chiefs and Bengals got.
When you move on from there, you get to the 1960s, when the AFL was founded as was our beloved Chiefs. Lamar Hunt is featured in this part of the Hall of Fame as the founder of the AFL. It goes over the history of the “Foolish Club” as the founding members of the AFL were called. It goes on to discuss the beginnings of the discussion of a combined championship game, originally called the NFL-AFL Championship game. Hunt helped coin the term “Super Bowl” after seeing the children’s toy, the Super Ball.
The first 100 years section continues through the 100th season which ended with the Chiefs hoisting the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in 50 years. Throughout this section is memorabilia from the various eras from legends of the game. You get a good feel for how far the game has come from the first NFL game on October 3rd, 1920 between the Dayton Triangles and the Columbus Panhandles to Super Bowl LVI between the Rams and the Bengals. One portion of this is the evolution of scoring in football, including touchdowns evolving from a 4-point score to the 6-point (before PAT obviously) score we know today. Did you know briefly football fields were once an actual grid? That is one major change as well.
Throughout the day, the Hall of Fame holds presentations. One presentation I experienced was the evolution of the football helmet from the early leather helmets to the hard-shelled helmets we know today. They had replicas of many of these helmets, some they let you hold and look at up close, and some were real helmets they can’t let visitors touch. One recent helmet they showed was the same type of helmet Patrick Mahomes wears.
“It gets down to there’s just one person. That person turns out the light, locks the door. I believe that the busts talk to each other.” That is the late great John Madden’s quote from his Hall of Fame Speech about the busts. When I walked into the bust room I remembered that quote and got the chills. Just walking into the room with the busts of some of the greats to play the game was an indescribable experience. I, of course, had to stop for every Chief in the Hall of Fame including childhood favorites such as Joe Montana and Derrick Thomas.
There’s also a display from the modern era, including displays for the MVP award winners since our very own Patrick Mahomes won the award in 2018. Each display has a jersey, helmet, and pants from a game from that season. There’s also a display from the Chiefs/Bills divisional-round game that is widely considered one of the best games of all-time. Specifically in this display are Travis Kelce’s gloves from the game, a ball from the game, and Jim Nantz’s laminated card that he used while broadcasting the game for CBS.
Towards the end of the museum, there is a room set up as a locker room with jerseys of all-time greats surrounding you. At the front of the room is a chalkboard. The lights go out and you hear the faint sound of a coach giving a pregame speech. In front of you, there’s an open door. All of a sudden a hologram of Mr. Guarantee himself Joe Namath walks in and starts talking about life. I won’t spoil what he says because I want you to experience it. Legends including Jim Kelly, Steve Largent, Alan Page, Jim Brown, Warren Moon, and Curtis Martin speak as well. Towards the end of Joe Namath discussing life and showing clips of legends discussing life, you are treated to holograms of two of the greatest coaches of all time: Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry. Also two of the greatest motivators of all time as well, and that’s exactly what they do. I wanted to run through a brick wall for them after hearing their speech.
After that, they have the Lamar Hunt Super Bowl gallery which includes displays from the first few Super Bowls, including our very own Super Bowl IV champion Chiefs. These displays include a jersey from a player and memorabilia from that Super Bowl. They also have a display of each and every Super Bowl ring, excluding the Rams’ Super Bowl LVI since the design hasn’t been released yet. Also here is a football autographed by the performers of the Super Bowl LVI halftime show including Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar, and Eminem. There’s also a Lombardi Trophy. The trophy is a lot bigger than it appears to be on TV.
To celebrate the next Hall of Class, there is also a display that is a locker for each member of the class including memorabilia from their respective careers.
The very last part of the Hall of Fame, at least when I went this is what it was, will hurt the soul of any Chiefs fan. It’s a rotating theater that shows the 2020 season and how COVID-19 impacted the season, as well as the playoffs. The video ends with Super Bowl LV. It broke my heart all over again watching highlights of Patrick Mahomes running for his life in that game and seeing the Bucs hoist up the Lombardi trophy after blowing us out.
The Hall of Fame store is really cool too. It has shirts and jerseys from every NFL team, as well as autographs from several Hall of Famers. All I bought was a glass and a shot glass with the Hall of Fame Logo on it. I definitely recommend going here with a budget if you like memorabilia because if you have money to blow, you could go broke here.
My trip to the Hall of Fame was an unbelievable experience, one every football fan should enjoy at some point. I really hope to go back someday. The memorabilia they have out, they rotate. One of the things I received from the Hall of Fame said that there are literally millions of items of memorabilia the Hall of Fame has received over the years, and what you see is only a fraction of what the Hall of Fame has. Canton is a bit of a trip but I recommend it. Maybe make it an entire weekend, visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and watch a Chiefs road game against the Browns or the Bengals as well. Trust me when I say, it is worth it.