A giant football, spiked in the end zone through a concrete doughnut. That’s the iconic shape of the building that houses the Pro Football Hall Of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
I had wanted to go there since I was a kid, but friends gave it mixed reviews at best. Several even said it was straight-up dumb. Always one to see for myself, I made the trip last fall. I thought it was great!
I arrived in town early on a Saturday night after a long drive. I knew the place would be closed, but wanted to see it anyway before heading to the hotel.
There were still a few cars in the parking lot as I drove in and took a look at the community field right beside the buildings; a full size, unfenced, officially painted, astroturf grid. A few dads were running plays with their kids, reminding me of my days streaking down the alley beside my childhood home, trying get open and catch a pass from Dad.
Straight ahead was the iconic, weirdly shaped hall, which was connected to a larger, more modern-looking building. Behind both stood the stadium, where the over-hyped Hall of Fame Game kicks off the NFL preseason each year. Overall the place was much bigger than I thought. I headed for the hotel to get some sleep, planning to be at the door for 9am “kickoff” the next day. I’m one of those people that reads and looks at everything on museum trips so I knew it was going to take me a while to go through everything, and it did. There’s really a lot in there!
Here’s an overview:
First Floor Special Exhibit: When I was there, the exhibit was about football cards. I was a collector as a kid, but didn’t think I’d spend much time in this section. Wrong! Besides football history, the cards involve a lot of art and printing technology, which I found really interesting. For true card collectors, it’s a chance to see ultra-rare and one-of-a-kind collections dating back many decades. The display was extensive and detailed, and took me about an hour to go through.
The Rotunda: This was my favorite part of the whole place. The donut-shaped building you always see in pictures is actually pretty small. It looks small in the pictures but somehow I thought it would be bigger in real life. It’s not, but it’s still pretty cool. The first floor of the circular room is a history lesson on pro football. Not just the NFL but pro football in general, which is mostly the NFL plus a few other fledgling groups.
The displays take you through the history of the game and the development of the league from the beginning. I loved this part because I’m interested in how things are built. There are many interactive videos, lots to read, and some great artifacts .
The second story of the doughnut houses some of my favorite artifacts from the history of the game. Things like the first camera used to film Monday Night Football, early uniforms, and teams histories. I was also very interested in the exhibit on race and the NFL, an ongoing work.
The Hall of Heads: This is the most famous and reverent exhibit in the hall. Bronze busts of every inductee line the walls in the curved room, allowing visitors to float around easily, looking for their favorites. Although some visitors chose to skip this area, it’s an impressive spot and is the whole reason why the museum exists in the first place. Definitely don’t skip it! The making of the bronze heads is pretty interesting too, although I admit I had to read the display a few times before the process sunk in.
“A Game For Life” Hologram Show: This was absolutely phenomenal! If I hadn’t already named the rotunda as my favorite part, I would’ve given that award to this show. It’s at least as good as anything Disney World has to offer- for real.
You enter a room full lockers representing various Hall of Fame players from a different eras. The equipment manager’s office is behind you on the wall. You take your seat on one of the benches in the middle of the room, and face the chalkboard where a stunningly life-like hologram of Joe Namath comes to life, introducing you to several equally excellent Hall of Famer holograms. Each gives a short, motivational talk on excellence and how to achieve it in any aspect of life. The speeches were good, but the holograms and dramatic presentation were truly amazing- worth the price of admission on their own.
Modern Memorabilia Rooms: It’s tough to beat that hologram show, but the next segment of the Hall should still be of interest to football fans. Focused more on the modern era, it houses current players jerseys, various pieces of equipment from famous plays and games, and other cultural topics related to football. The rooms are large with lots to see, but not as time intensive as some of the previous rooms.
Super Bowl Theater: The big events aren’t over yet. This film is a mini-documentary tracing a team, in this case the Kansas City Chiefs, from training camp to the Super Bowl. Training camp starts while you wait in the cue, then the game begins on a very large screen once you enter the theater. Halfway through, the floor of the theater moves, carrying everybody to another screen in another room, before eventually returning to its starting place. It’s a cool effect, but I’m not sure what it really adds to the movie watching experience. Still, it’s an entertaining film to see and great theater conditions.
Lamar Hunt Super Bowl Gallery: In this section you take a look at Super Bowl glory including a glimpse of an actual Lombardi trophy. Memorabilia from various notable Super Bowls are shown ,including my favorite: Nick Foles’ jersey and the ball he used on The Philly Special play against the Patriots in Super Bowl LII.
The Remaining Exhibits include non-player topics such as referees, announcers and media people, Super Bowl halftime performers and other musical contributors. Numerous other artifacts line every wall.
Gift Shop: Of course, no tourist attraction would be complete without a gift shop. With apparel and collectibles representing every team in the league, the Hall of Fame Pro Shop is a great way to end the tour. Bring your credit card or lots of cash though, it’s definitely not a bargain outlet. But it is lots of fun to look through everything, seeing shirts, hats, etc. from far away teams. I picked up a few Eagle shirts and a hat. The store must be popular with locals; several carloads arrived at the hall the same time I did, but they headed directly into the gift shop.
My visit to the Pro Football Hall of Fame took all day- 8 hours. Most visitors could probably get through in about 3-4 hours, but like I said, I’m the guy that reads every sign and looks at every exhibit. I believe there is food available, but I visited during Covid and I don’t think they were operating. Regular admission fee is $28 per person.
True football fans will totally love the Pro Football Hall of Fame and should definitely go. Even the casual fan should find it interesting enough to make for an enjoyable day. I highly recommend the experience.
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