It was the spring of 1980 and Mariemont High School was holding their junior/senior prom at the College Football Hall of Fame. At that time it was located near the Kings Island amusement park just north of Cincinnati. My date was a soccer player who spent most of the night kicking field goals in the “try your skills” section. I was crushed and had a terrible time, despite the fact that I looked awesome in my powder blue Tux with matching powder blue trimmed ruffled shirt. Fast-forward some 26 years and a change of location to South Bend, Indiana.
I have been to Cooperstown and to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I have remained curious what the museum looked like today and how it would compare to others and to itself in years past. The setting is certainly one thing that this more than worth noting. When you consider the history and the impact of the Notre Dame football program has had on this history and evolution of the game…The birth of the forward pass, the Four Horseman, The Gipper, the 1966 Notre Dame-Michigan State Game of the Century, Rudy…O.K… I could on and on as yes, I am a Notre Dame Fan. But it is not just Notre Dame, but the fact that what has become the National Pastime for many, had its origins as a sport and place of prominence in our national fiber as a college game. Early professional football clubs created national followings by signing the Saturday Heroes like Red Grange and Bronko Nagurski.
I decided on this weekend for the trip since it was an off week for the Irish. Figured it would be far less crowded and I would most likely have my run of the place, and I did. The Hall of Fame is located about ten minutes south of the Notre Dame Campus in downtown South Bend. It is very easy to find and parking was not a problem. The facility is modern and with the exception of the turf field and the college football flags, it blends in looking like many of the newer office buildings in this part of town. Walking in the main door you are greeted by an array of team helmets suspended from the ceiling in order of the current team rankings (need to move the Irish up to 8 now the current BCS rankings are out). What also catches the eye are the two murals of the games greats that adorn the upper wall space.
Like Canton, a spiral dominates the entrance. In this case however, the spiral leads you down to the exhibits as opposed to going up. It is here that most of the similarities end between Canton and South Bend. For the uniform and equipment collectors, South Bend does not offer anything close to what is available at Canton either in terms of quantity or access to the artifacts. The focus is clearly on the college game and amateur athletics. Prominent individuals are featured in the first section known as the Hall of Honor. It was interesting to see that Yankee Owner George Steinbrenner was present and listed for his playing days at Culver Military Academy as well as his time as an assistant coach at both Northwestern and Purdue. There is also a nice display devoted to Army Football with a large statue of Coach Red Blake and artifacts belonging to Heisman Trophy Winner Glen “Mr. Outside” Davis.
Like most museums, there is a theater that runs a regular showing throughout the day. This one runs about 10 minutes with about ten minutes between showings. I was hoping it was going to cover the history and evolution of the game, but the focus was on game day footage, largely from the post 1960s. Not a bad show, just not what I expected. As I said, the environment is designed to capture the nature of the college game and one of the displays that cover college rivalries was particularly well done as I think this is one of the things that truly separate the college and pro games.
Unlike like Canton and Cooperstown, where enshrines have their own separate area or wing, those inducted into the College Football Fame are recognized by simple, but elegant carved stone plaques that are spaced out throughout the Hall at floor level by period of induction. Throughout the Hall of Fame you will find various touch-screen Kiosks that enable you to search by player, year and team. Once you find the player or coach, you can bring up their Bio, stats, and carrier highlights. Very simply but very effective. Staying with the focus of college athletics, there is a rather interesting section devoted to such things as tailgating, fight songs, and mascots…Saturday afternoon staples.
Like Canton, there are interactive displays that permit you to try you hand at strategy and play calling, kicking field goals (I did not try this…It is just too soon and the scars still run deep), throwing passes, and hitting blocking dummies. There is also a section devoted to permitting the visitor to assess their skills with respect to the reaction of quarterback, the flexibility of a running back, the strength of a lineman, and the vertical leap of a receiver. On all of these I preformed well enough to be a solid Pop Warner League player.
For those of great skills, there is obviously as section highlighting the past years prominent college performers with various trophies such as the Heisman and Outland. This is the first time I have actually seen many of these trophies and awards and was taken back at how strikingly different they all are in appearance. In looking back through the listing of past winners, it is also interesting to note that not all of these player have gone on to achieve success or prominence in the Sunday game. This is for the most part the final display as it brings you back to the bottom of spiral ramp leading back to the entrance level of the Hall of Fame.
This main level also features the gift shop. The gift shop was to me, a bit of a disappointment. There was very little in the way team representation either in terms of memorabilia of reference material. The majority of the items offered are clothing items with the College Football Hall of Fame logo. On the upside, copies of Gridiron Greats were available for sale along with some of the reproduction leather helmets that are available today.
Although not on par with either Cooperstown or Canton, I have to say that this trip to the College Football Hall of Fame was more enjoyable than my last one. It was an enjoyable place to spend the better part of a fall Saturday, much like what the game itself has to offer. It manages to captures the spirit and the color of the game, even without the powder blue Tux and for that, I was thankful.
MEARS Auth, LLC
The College Football Hall of Fame Web Site is Located at www.collegefootball.org.