The Pro Football Hall of Fame - part 1
The Professional Football Hall of Fame recently announced its latest inductees. Andre Tippett, Gary Zimmerman, Art Monk, Darrell Green, Fred Dean and Emmitt Thomas will be enshrined on August 2. When the announcement came, I realized that while I have visited the Hall many times for research, it had been a long time since I had gone as a tourist. So on a bleak February afternoon my good-natured wife Amy and I drove over to Canton to take a look. For fun, and a possible IRS tax deduction (!!), I decided to walk the Hall as a Buccaneer fan and note everything I could find that was Buccaneer-related and write a bit of a review as well.
Some may be surprised that of all the places in the world, the football Hall is in Northeast Ohio. While the location is out of the way, it is only logical. Canton has an important role in the history of professional football. The National Football League, known then as the American Professional Football Association, was founded in Canton on September 17, 1920.
To honor the birthplace of the league the Hall was founded in Canton in 1963. Kudos should be given to the NFL for doing so as it would have been easy to place the Hall in New York, Chicago or some other metropolitan area that attracts tourists by the millions. Canton is more than a little off the beaten path, but it is a destination city for football fans now because of the Hall.
The Hall of Fame has a distinctive design as the main entrance corridor is a circular structure topped with a roof designed to look like the top half of a football. The odd shape belies the fact there is a treasure trove of football history stored inside. Don’t plan to spend just a couple of hours in the Hall, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to walk the whole campus.
If you arrive early enough in the day you can request a highlight film to be played in the NFL Films Theatre. Luckily we arrived early enough and I requested the 1978 Buccaneer highlight film. After staring at me blankly (obviously wondering why I wanted to watch a 30 year-old film about a 5-11 football team) the attendant called the film room and set it up for us right away.
On the way to the theatre, I noticed a plaque commemorating the past winners of the Pete Rozelle Radio/Television Award. The Rozelle Award is the Hall’s way of recognizing the best football broadcasters of all time. The 2000 inductee was Ray Scott, the first Buccaneer radio play-by-play man (1976-1977).
Scott’s work with the Green Bay Packers of the 1960’s made him famous, but he was also the voice during the Bucs 26-game losing streak. The fact that he could make a 42-0 loss to Pittsburgh sound important is one of the many reasons his name is in Canton.
It was then on to view the film. The NFL Films Theatre is little more than a dark room with a dozen rows of conference room chairs, but the folks that run it are more than accommodating. This was the first time I had seen the film and enjoyed the story of the ’78 team. With a little bit more luck, the ’78 team just may have made the playoffs as they were 4-4 and on a bit of a roll when the injury bug hit.
After the film, we started our tour at the beginning spot, walking up the spiral ramp to the first exhibit, a room called the First Century of Pro Football. On display are artifacts ranging from the first professional football contract (signed by William “Pudge” Heffelfinger for $500) to the half-shoe Tom Dempsey wore when he kicked a 63-yard field goal in 1970.
Buccaneer-related items in the First Century of Pro Football exhibit: The original prototype “Bucco Bruce” helmet (logo designed by Lamar Sparkman), a photo of Hugh Green meeting what appears to be Lionel “Little Train” James of the Chargers in a goal-line pile-up during the 24-23 shoot-out loss in the 1981 season and a photo of Bears running back Walter Payton running away from the Bucs defense in a display featuring the uniform “Sweetness” wore when he set the all-time NFL career rushing record in 1984 (since broken).
The next room is entitled Pro Football Today and features the helmets of all 32 NFL teams with a brief history of each. Also in the room are the uniforms LaDanian Tomlinson of the San Diego Chargers wore when he set the season touchdown record in 2006 and the uniform Adrian Peterson wore when he rushed for a record 296 yards in a game last season. Buccaneer-related items in the Pro Football Today exhibit: The current Pewter helmet with current logo on display.
The next room is the most awe inspiring of the entire campus, the Hall of Fame Gallery. This is the room that contains the busts of all the Hall of Fame inductees in history. The busts are arranged by class year, starting with the Class of 1963 (including Sammy Baugh, Red Grange, George Halas, Curley Lambeau and Jim Thorpe) and ending with the Class of 2007 (Gene Hickerson, Michael Irvin, Bruce Matthews, Charlie Sanders, Thurman Thomas and Roger Wehrli), the tone of the room is quite casual but at the same time quite reverent.
When I did spot Lee Roy Selmon’s bust with the others in the Class of 1995, it truly hit me what a great player he was. In addition to the busts there are several kiosks in the middle of the gallery that play video highlights of each of the inductees. Selmon’s highlights showed #63 tearing through double and even triple teams to take down opposing quarterbacks. David Whitehurst and Joe Pisarcik are just two quarterbacks that are immortalized forever as victims of Lee Roy. Steve Young’s bust is also in the room (Class of 2005) but his video highlights are only of his time with the 49ers, but at least the text by his bust does mention his time in Tampa Bay.
The next room is the Pro Football Adventure Room which chronicles upstart league’s that competed against the NFL. Features on the All-American Football Conference (AAFC, which eventually gave the NFL the Browns, Colts and 49ers), the American Football League (AFL, which forced a merger with the NFL) and the United States Football League (which included Tampa Bay’s Bandits) are included.
I have to admit, I am interested in learning a lot more about the AFL. It is an amazing David vs. Goliath story, and I can’t help but be impressed by the men that forced the NFL to merge. It also amazes me that in a little known fact, the 1968 New York Jets won the Super Bowl, but were NOT NFL champions and the 1969 Minnesota Vikings were NFL champions but DID NOT win the Super Bowl! Talk about a freaky time. After the Adventure Room comes the Enshrinee Memento Room. This room was a disappointment to me.
Lee Roy’s jersey is in the room, but inexplicably it has an L in front of Selmon. As far as I know Lee Roy’s first initial was never on the back of his jersey, and if so it would not have been red while his last name was white. That makes the jersey look quite tacky. What is also disappointing is that there is nothing of Steve Young’s time as a Buccaneer in there. I realize Steve was a Buc for just two years, but he was still a Buc and should have something in the Buccaneer section.
For instance Jim Taylor and Doug Atkins played for a couple of years with the New Orleans Saints, even though they made their names with the Packers and Bears respectively. They still have Saints mementos in the room for those two men. Come on Hall, borrow a picture of Steve in Buccaneer orange from Bucpower and put it up.
The Super Bowl Experience and Hall of Fans are next. The Hall of Fans shows a list of names of each team’s most die-hard fans. Sadly, not a single member of Bucpower is listed. We’ve got to talk to these guys! The Super Bowl Experience has an actual Super Bowl Trophy surrounded by over-sized copies of each Super Bowl ticket ever issued.
(Editorial note – this was part of a Visa-sponsored arrangement with each team nominating fans over several years. But the person had to be US-resident hence I was not eligible for inclusion. Otherwise, the Bucs assured me I would have been part of the NFL Hall of Fame by now!)
Buccaneer Related Items: A weather –beaten t-shirt from 1977 showing a pirate ship sinking into the sea with the heading Go For 0! Tampa Bay 1977 is in the Hall of Fans. Highlights of Super Bowl XXXVII and a photo of Dexter Jackson accepting the MVP award are in the Super Bowl Experience.
Denis Crawford, February 2008