Pro Football Hall looks better than the day it opened
The Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, but the shrine to football looks even better than the day it opened.
The hall recently underwent a two-year, $27 million remodeling, with 33,000 square feet added to take the hall up to 118,000 square feet. Some of the renovations are invisible to most – a new climate control system that allows old documents and artifacts to be maintained at the right temperature and humidity – but most of the changes are visible to you as soon as you walk through the door.
Before, even. The rotunda with the bronze players above the front door is no longer the entrance for the facility (I might have learned this by trying the doors and wondering why they didn’t open). The new entrance features a rotating exhibit. When I visited, it featured football news photos from the days that predated the NFL – including one where the football field was lined into squares, giving the origin of the phrase “gridiron” – and a 1920 Hupmobile. Owners and coaches of football teams throughout the Midwest gathered in a Hupmobile dealership in Canton in 1920 to found the American Professional Football Association, which was later renamed the National Football League.
Some things remain unchanged. The busts of the players, coaches and executives inducted into the hall still stand. The statue of Jim Thorpe remains in the rotunda of the former entrance to the building. But the rotunda is now a two-level history of the game of professional football, from when it was played by clubs throughout Ohio to the early years when teams struggled to survive to the days when pro football really started to take hold in the public consciousness.
When the APFA started, pro football was less popular than the college game. College players played for the sake of the sport, in defense of their alma maters. Pro players were mercenaries. But the game started to grow in popularity after World War II. After journalist and public relations man Pete Rozelle was selected as commissioner in 1960 (his Royal typewriter, which he used until he retired as commissioner in 1989, is one of the artifacts on display), the game started to grow to the place it holds now as the most popular pro sport in the United States.
But the hall, like the game, isn’t resting on its laurels. The Hall of Fame remains an interactive facility, with a chance to play football video games, watch movies, and even design your own Super Bowl ring. Because what else is a Browns fan supposed to do?