It’s officially football season! OK, it’s actually preseason football time, but it’s football, nevertheless. I live for this time of the year. Preseason practice news is big with me. I live for this stuff. So, when I found out the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers were kicking off the 2015 season in the Hall of Fame game, I was like a kid on Christmas Day after seeing all the gifts Santa brought. I get a fifth Vikings game this preseason.
My kids used to tell me they’d see me in February when the first preseason game rolled around. I’ve learned to balance football and family life, so they get to see me pre- and post-game time. LOL.
Anyhoo, since the Vikings are in the Hall of Fame game, it makes me reflect on the two visits I’ve taken to the Mecca of professional football – Canton, Ohio. Canton is the birthplace of professional football in the United States. The Canton Bulldogs featured one of the greatest all-time athletes – Jim Thorpe.
The Hall of Fame contains photos, uniforms, and footballs…all kinds of memorabilia of football history. Artifacts from record-breaking games or plays are in the Hall. Each team is represented with a display highlighting key or great players form its history.
It’s impressive to follow the history of professional football. Football has changed and improved since the days of the Wing T formation. Slingin’ Sammy Baugh brought us the aerial game. The Chicago Bears brought us the “Monsters of the Midway” with their aggressive, dominating play.
The Green Bay Packers were one of the modern NFL’s first dynasties. There have been several dynasties through the years – New England Patriots, New York Giants, San Francisco 49’ers, Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys.
But, perhaps, the fiercest of them all were the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s. The Black and Gold put together four Super Bowl championships in five seasons, relying a lot on the “Iron Curtain” – the nickname of one of the greatest defenses in professional history. Four of the defenders made it to the Hall of Fame – “Mean” Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Mel Blount and Jack Ham.
All told, the Steelers of the 1970s saw nine players voted into the Hall of Fame. Terry Bradshaw was the leader at quarterback, but Lynn Swann and Franco Harris were key offensive stars. Harris is famous for making the “Immaculate reception,” which won a playoff game for the Steelers over the Oakland Raiders.
Chuck Noll joined them as their coach. You can even toss in the owners – Art and Dan Rooney – who were later immortalized for their ownership and leadership in the NFL.
The most magnificent part of visiting the Hall of Fame is the Hall of Busts. Every person named to the Hall – players, coaches, administrators, etc. – has a bust made and it’s placed here following the dedication ceremony the first weekend of football season.
Some of the greatest to play or coach in the game is in the Hall – Curly Lambeau, George Halas, Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Joe Montana, etc.
Minnesota has 18 people in the Hall of Fame – Fran Tarkenton and Bud Grant as the greatest player and coach in team history. Others in the Hall include two of the famed four defensive linemen of the “Purple People Eaters” – Carl Eller and Alan Page. Mick Tingelhoff, a former Nebraska Cornhusker, was inducted as part of the 2015 class.
The Hall of Fame doesn’t just cover the National Football League. It has exhibits from other leagues that have taken the field, dating back to the NFL forerunner – the All-American Football Conference.
The American Football Conference in the NFL was once the American Football League. The AFL has been the only successful challenger to the NFL. The New York Jets became the first AFL team win the Super Bowl, upsetting the Baltimore Colts. The Kansas City Chiefs added another AFL victory before the leagues merged to form the modern NFL. Former Husker and Chief Will Shields joined the other inductees as the newest members of the Hall of Fame this weekend.
The World Football League “challenged” the NFL in the mid-19070s for about two seasons. It placed teams in Jacksonville, Memphis, Shreveport, Birmingham and Honolulu. I remember watching the games. They were carried on independent stations. The Memphis Southmen once fielded a team with Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield bucked the Miami Dolphins to become likely the best-known players to play in the WFL. The league folded midway through the 1975 season. The trio went back to the NFL with different teams.
The last league to truly challenge the NFL was the United States Football League. The 1980s’ brand played during the spring and summer. It, too, tried to sign players from the NFL. Some of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history actually started in the USFL. Jim Kelly – who guided the Buffalo Bills to four straight Super Bowl appearances during the ‘90s – started with the Houston Gamblers. Steve Young – who won a Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49’ers – started his career with the Los Angeles Express.
Herschel Walker, who won the Heisman Trophy as the best player in college football at Georgia, played for the New Jersey Generals.
Jim Mora, who coached the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts, coached the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars in the USFL.
The league had a couple of good season, until a group of owners, including Donald Trump, wanted to take on the NFL in the fall. The USFL failed shortly afterward.
The Hall recognizes teams with key players’ jerseys from their history. I, of course, flocked to the Vikings’ display.
However, being a football fan, I enjoyed checking out other teams’ displays, as well.
The Hall of Fame recognized ABC’s role in helping grow football’s popularity with “Monday Night Football.” Though, no longer on ABC, it remained in the corporate family and now is aired via cable giant ESPN. The Hall had an exhibit highlighting the first 20 years of “MNF.”
Outside the Hall of Fame is Fawcett Stadium. It’s used locally for high school games, but once a year, it’s the site of the Hall of Fame football game.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame offers an ever changing view of America’s favorite sport. I look forward to another visit to Canton.
For more information on the Hall of Fame, please visit www.profootballhof.com