This year, a bucket list item of mine was finally crossed off when I visited the Pro Football Hall Of Fame in Canton, Ohio. I would certainly recommend it if you have a wide knowledge of the history of professional football, and would like to see upfront some of the icons that have placed the sport where it is today. Venture beyond the fold to sample some of my journey as I can best explain it in words and images.
I approached the Pro Football Hall Of Fame as seen here from the east. We were recommended to park almost two miles away and take a shuttle to the facility, but some simple perusing of Google Maps suggested that I could park without restriction only about a half a mile to the east, just across the railroad tracks, and take a 15 minute walk to the area. If you’re comfortable with such a walk, I would highly recommend doing the same should you visit.
I arrived at the building at 8:45 AM; they allowed me to enter then despite an advertised opening at 9 AM. Once again, if you are comfortable with such a time I would recommend it, as it was a great way to avoid the crowds on Enshrinement Day. I was advised by the helpful workers at the Hall Of Fame that it would indeed get busier in the afternoon. They also said that this year was not as busy as others. I suggested that two years from now, when Peyton Manning will likely be inducted, would be much busier, given the presence of many Colts fans just across the state line that would make the trip from Indiana. They concurred with that suggestion, but also suggested back that they’re preparing for next year to be busy too, due to Steelers fans also just across the state line potentially flocking in for Troy Polamalu. I had to politely bite my tongue from saying that Steve Atwater should be in before Polamalu gets consideration.
In any case, it was thrilling to see this banner affixed to one of the lighting posts, the sight of two Broncos actually getting simultaneously inducted. As we know all too well, it’s something that was unprecedented, and hopefully will be repeated in the future.
I had hoped with this new precedent that Broncos fans would dominate the scene, and I was not disappointed. Throughout the day, I would say that the slight majority of fans in attendance were supporting Denver. I definitely felt at home with all the fellow Broncos fans around, as if we were brothers and sisters in arms.
Among other fanbases, there were roughly equal 20% presences of Chiefs and Ravens fans. The Chiefs fans, as has been my regular experience with their fanbase, were very chill and enjoyable, and they reinforce my belief that if the Chiefs were not division rivals, they and the team they root for would be high on my pecking order of other NFL teams. After all, they can’t be that bad if they hold as much enmity toward the Raiders as we do. The Ravens fans were also pleasant, and I would say they were the most engaged and soulful of the fanbases present.
The other 10% were scattered among many other teams. There weren’t that many Jets fans there for Kevin Mawae, but the few that were there, as is the characteristic of New York sports fans, were very loud and vocal. I also was able to count on one hand how many Falcons fans I saw. It shouldn’t have happened if Vic Fangio and Andy Reid were not comfortable with it, but in my opinion the Hall Of Fame Game should have been Broncos vs. Chiefs. The Ravens would have also been a good opponent for the Broncos given the fan representation.
Jersey spotting, as always, is a fun experience. The Broncos fans, despite having a majority of Bailey jerseys worn, by far had the most diverse jersey attire. (As always, I do my part by wearing my Ryan Clady jersey.) Plenty of Elway, Davis, and Miller jerseys were abound, as well as lesser represented players like Karl Mecklenberg. Chiefs fans were similarly overwhelmingly decked in Tony Gonzalez jerseys, but they gave some room for variance: a smattering of Pat Mahomes jerseys, and a few for Jamaal Charles and Travis Kelce. Thankfully, I did not see a single Tyreek Hill jersey. Ravens fans, on the other hand, were almost entirely in Ed Reed garb. I saw three or four Ray Lewis jerseys, and one Joe Flacco jersey, and that was it.
The first thing to see was a collection of trading cards the Hall Of Fame had collected from all inductees and more. Weirdly, this was the only part of the building in which photography was prohibited, despite the fact that the images of these cards could be easily Googled.
After finishing that, the Hall starts you off with the early history of football. I found this quote to be the most compelling: “Three major problems plagued pro football in its early years: rising salaries, players jumping from team to team, and recruiting college eligible players.” Funny, all three of these issues continue to “plague” pro football today. I also noticed that one exhibit called George Preston Marshall “a flamboyant and often controversial owner”. I would have preferred “racist” instead of “controversial”, but to their credit, a few exhibits later it was cited that the Redskins under Marshall’s watch were the last NFL team to integrate, telling the story of Ernie Davis along the way.
Once I worked myself to the post-merger era of the NFL, I began to seek out any and all exhibits that featured the Broncos. However, my jaw dropped when I saw one of the first Broncos jerseys that’s in the building. It was so stunning that I felt it prudent to install a spoiler plugin to this installation of WordPress just in case.
Yes, not only is he mentioned in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but his jersey is in there. Even more remarkable is that his jersey is displayed in front of Steve McNair’s, who had a much more accomplished career in the NFL. The two of them were part of an exhibit entitled “Fantastic Finishes“, of which The Drive was also featured.
A Ravens fan saw this exhibit the same time I did. He was in as much shock as I was in, but took equal glory in knowing that it was one of the lowest moments in Steelers playoff history. Just when I thought we had rapport, he had to lament that what happened a year later wasn’t in this exhibit. Reestablishing rapport, I said “yeah yeah yeah, but at least we have this: if it wasn’t for the Broncos and Ravens, the Patriots would have gone to eight straight Super Bowls.”
Moving on to better established Broncos, John Elway’s jersey was in Canton, as well as his Comeback Crunch Cereal. The Super Bowl equipment of Terrell Davis and Gary Zimmerman were also there, along with Barrel Man’s eponymous clothing.
There were two displays that I took particular pride in. One was the identification of the 1990s as “Dallas and Denver”. Very well done to change that narrative. The other was seeing all three of these rings right next to each other. (I found it serendipitous that the angle of which I took this picture naturally directed the glare toward one of the Patriots’ rings.)
Also of note: when I mentioned Super Bowl 50 in particular, one of the workers went into great detail over the features of the ring from this game. When a Chiefs fan asked for the same for the Super Bowl IV ring, she could only offer a much shorter story.
The bronze busts
Nothing really needs to be said here: these images are here for you to awe.
I suppose I will add this one historical note: I found it jarring that the plaques did not denote USFL tenures for Steve Young, Jim Kelly, and Reggie White, despite the presence of a fairly prominent USFL exhibit that included Kelly’s Houston Gamblers’ jersey.
The current state of the game
The tour concluded with more contemporary observances of the NFL. This was a section in which Chiefs fans in particular were flocking to, as there was a fairly prominent display of Mahomes’s jersey to signify his accomplishments during the 2018 season. But fear not, there was plenty more Broncos representation here, although I would have appreciated a mention of the season Phillip Lindsay had.
First, to the left you will find Peyton Manning’s record breaking touchdown pass is recognized, both with his jersey and the ball that he threw to set the record.
Second, below you will find the sheet that Beth Mowins used to call her historic game between the Broncos and Chargers in Week 1 of the 2017 NFL season.
But the most enjoyable part of this section was this:
This is personal equipment that Von Miller himself donated to the Pro Football Hall Of Fame when he and his Broncos teammates and coaches toured the facility a few days earlier. I had the pleasure of talking to the Hall employee who herself had the pleasure of being directly given this equipment by Miller. She extensively raved on how wonderful of a conversation she had with Miller, and how similarly wonderful of a person he was. We as Broncos fans should be grateful that John Elway had the opportunity to correctly bring him to Denver.
New inductees exhibits
Each member of the class of 2019 had a locker created to recognize his accomplishments in professional football. Here are the lockers for Bailey and Bowlen.
Note that in Bailey’s locker, there is quite the jarring error. You can see a Super Bowl 50 football in there, but as we know, regrettably he did not play in Super Bowl 50. The display says that it was a “[g]olden football given to Champ for his Super Bowl XLVIII appearance”. Whoops. Unfortunately, there were no employees in this area when I was there, so I was unable to notify anyone of this error. Hopefully some other Broncos fan did so–or alternatively, we could retcon a world in which Bailey was able to stick on the Broncos’ roster through 2015 to get him the Super Bowl ring he so very much deserved.
Here are a couple close up shots of each locker.
After concluding my tour of the Pro Football Hall Of Fame, I enjoyed a nice curry meal in a pan-Asian cuisine in downtown Canton. Then, I took in a tour of the William McKinley presidential library, of which also included a visit to his massive grave. Remember that at that time, he was only the second president in American history to be assassinated. It was a nice interlude from the football heavy history I took in the entire morning.
After checking into my hotel in Wooster, Ohio about 40 minutes away from Canton, I returned to the Hall site to attend the Fan Experience tent. The best thing about this was getting to meet QDoc, as documented here. The second best thing was being in an air conditioned venue. Other than that, I found the Fan Experience to be lacking. The food was OK, but nothing special, and it was difficult to have a conversation due to the house band that competed with the Nashville house band at the 2019 NFL Draft in awfulness. The bar may have been a redeeming factor, but since I had to drive later, and had a poor night’s sleep, that would not be an option for me.
The enshrinement ceremony
Although I took personal pictures of the ceremony, their quality was poor due to being well back in the stadium from the podium. I believe you will be able to find better imagery online via professional videos taken of the ceremony. I will conclude by giving you my opinion of the speeches that I attended.
- Gil Brandt’s speech was very informative, and perhaps most within the mission of the Pro Football Hall Of Fame. However, despite being sharp for an 86 year old, his age made it difficult for the crowd to connect, and there was much chatter going on throughout his speech. He did get massive props from the Broncos fans for explicitly citing Mike Shanahan during his speech.
- Johnny Robinson, also in his 80s, wisely took the step of recording his speech in advance. The recording was aired well while he stood in awe of his newly revealed bust.
- Kevin Mawae had the most engaging speech of the night. Throughout its duration, he continued to find a way to keep the crowd very much in attention. Mawae, in my opinion, is someone who could have a bright future in football media if he wants it.
- The presentation for Bowlen did not go quite as I thought it would. While Steve “Greek” Antonopulos was the official presenter, in the video he spoke at least as equal to Bowlen’s children, of which all seven took a part of. Not inappropriate, by any means, but unexpected. Greek and the Bowlen children collectively unveiled Pat Bowlen’s bust.
- Ty Law’s induction provided several notable moments. First, his speech by far had the most swagger of any of the 2019 inductees. Second, he was well represented not by Patriots fans, but by citizens of his hometown of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, who wore custom made “Quip Nation” shirts for the occasion. I had the pleasure of sitting next to a high school friend of Law’s, and he extensively told me of how good of a guy he was, and how remarkable his rise to fame was. And third, being a Patriot the reaction to some of his shoutouts were fascinating. As I’ve documented above, most people in attendance were Broncos, Chiefs, or Ravens fans. All three of those fanbases have plenty of grievances with the Patriots. Thus, whenever Law (or any other inductee) thanked any of Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, or Robert Kraft, it resulted in the most awkward of forced golf claps I have seen in quite some time.
- Ed Reed claimed that he didn’t even write his speech until he arrived to the ceremony. I believe it given the speech that he did give. It was very raw, of the earth, and from the heart. It was a very moving speech, but also one that was very meandering, never quite knowing where he would take you next.
- Bailey’s speech, in my opinion, was classic Champ Bailey. He is a man of few words, a strong believer of actions over words, but when he does speak, those words are meaningful, forceful, and highly confident and competitive. You can listen to it here.
- With all due respect to Tony Gonzalez, and he is in a very honorable and small group of NFL players I greatly respect despite playing for a division rival, I elected to leave immediately after Bailey’s speech. I had a poor night’s sleep beforehand, and had a 40 minute drive to my hotel afterward, with an impending trip to another Hall Of Fame, of the Rock And Roll variety, queued up for tomorrow morning. I do plan to listen to his speech in the near future, as Chiefs fans that I ended up coming across in Cleveland the next day said it was an excellent one.
As I was concluding a very successful trip, I noticed the iconic structure of the Pro Football Hall Of Fame lit up at night. I conclude my tale of Canton with this image, and wish any of you that choose to visit similarly in the future the best of journeys.