Canton, Ohio, is a vastly different city than Cooperstown or Springfield. It has the feel of an overgrown suburb, yet still has a measure of working-class feel. The city is so close to Cleveland and shares so much with the bigger city that it occasionally feels lost in the shuffle.
At the centre of it all, though, is the majestic Pro Football Hall of Fame. This is one thing that is so clear at the centre of the entire city; it is a worthy home for football. Not only is that the case, but football's shrine that is located in its resting place a truly magnificent microcosm of the game.
When driving into the Hall of Fame, you can instantly tell that it is all about football. There is a statue with duelling players on the front, and the grass outside is painted with yard markings. On the building, there are three flat sculptures of football players adorning the front, and there is a peak rising in the shape of a football from the first display area.
Immediately upon entering the building, you are ushered into a small display around the first circular hall detailing the history of football in Canton, why the Hall of Fame is located there, and how it has become what it is today. Then, you walk up a spiral staircase to the original exhibit of the Hall of Fame: the first century of professional football. You learn about the first professional football player (Pudge Heffelfinger) and the record-holder for most all-purpose yards in a single game (Glyn Milburn). In between, you hear about why the NFL became popular, what mistake Jim Marshall made, what a jersey looked like in 1900, and what was so special about Ernie Nevers. You also have the opportunity of seeing many priceless pieces of memorabilia from every era the NFL has ever seen.
Next, visitors walk into the room containing facts from every NFL team, along with their helmet. You get to learn invaluable facts such as who scored the most total points in a single game in Cardinals history (Nevers), who the first Dolphin in the Hall of Fame was (Paul Warfield), and who has the most total points in Jaguars history (Mike Hollis), among much more.
After the team vignettes comes the most hauntingly magnificent part of the Hall: the gallery of the inductees' busts. The room is lit only by candle-like lights underneath the busts, along with the odd dim spotlight. The busts line the wall, in order of induction, and are almost always perfect likenesses of the players, coaches, or administrators they represent. In the centre of the room, there are six large touch screens where one can view a video or print biography on any inductee, along with personal mementos of select legends.
Following the dramatically brilliant Hall of Fame Gallery, one enters the "Moments, Memories, and Mementos Gallery", a hall featuring famous footballs, helmets, cleats, jerseys, and other artefacts such as Jim Thorpe's 1912 Olympic jacket. There are also short video clips telling the story behind each piece of memorabilia, whether it's Doak Walker's unusual cleat, the ball Roger Wehrli intercepted thrice against the Dallas Cowboys, or the players' bench from Vince Lombardi's last game at Lambeau Field. The room is lit similarly to the Inductees' Hall, which also adds a touch of hallow to the room. When exiting the room, you walk through a display of other competing football leagues, such as the four incarnations of the AFL and the WFL. In the centre of the room is a glass board charting the results of every season from every team to have ever played in the NFL.
Upon exiting, patrons go into the Pro Football Today Gallery, showing jersey, footballs, and cleats from various records set within the past decade or so. What was striking about this area is the remarkable recentness of the artefacts; as an example, they had a Kurt Warner jersey worn this December when he exceeded 40,000 professional passing yards. I made it a point to find as many pieces of Vikings memorabilia as possible, and the good folks at the Hall of Fame did not disappoint, affording me the opportunity of posing next to objects ranging from Cris Carter's gloves to Gus Frerotte's jersey. There were also plenty of videos ranging from the ten most unbreakable NFL records to a recap of the last NFL season.
In the middle of this display is an exhibit on football players in the military. Some of the memorable items on display are Pat Tillman's army uniform and football jersey accompanied by a moving video, along with a sideline jacket belonging to Vietnam casualty Don Steinbrunner. The exhibit is poignant, and shows the true heroes of football in their glory.
Following an exhibit on Super Bowl history, visitors enter the GameDay Stadium Theater, which shows a dynamic movie on the road a team has to travel from training camp to the Super Bowl in a rotating theatre. The movie not only shows the hard road travelled by football players in order to reach the pinnacle, yet also displays the true passion inherent in football on a never-before-seen scale. Once exiting the film, you walk through the interactive portion of the Hall, where one can try to throw footballs through an opening, face off in Madden, or predict the plays of a drive in a game of QB1. You also learn about the Arena Football League and the lives of NFL officials.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame is an absolutely magnificent tribute to the game that is America's own. Not only are there countless incredible artefacts, but there are also very didactic films and dynamic displays. As well, the Hall of Fame Gallery is quite easily my favourite show of a Hall's inductees of all of my visits. The lighting adds to the effect, which renders the room almost like a divine gathering of Herculean heroes.
What's more, I have no quibbles with the museum itself. The only problem I have is the lack of palatable meal options nearby. Sorry, Tailgate Bar, but fries covered in Cheez Wiz aren't going to cut it.
I would recommend the Pro Football Hall of Fame for anybody who wishes to be amazed with a comprehensive and dynamic history of America's favourite sport.