Yesterday, 6 players were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I was particularly excited by the inclusion of the great Seattle Seahawk Cortez Kennedy, one of my favorite players in team history. Willie Roaf and Dermontti Dawson were both clear choices. I am less excited about Curtis Martin. Basically, he was a very good but not great running back for a long time whose primary other qualifications are that he didn’t get hurt and he played in New York. But whatever. Chris Doleman is a pretty strong candidate, but a) I would have voted for Charles Haley instead and b) some argue he wasn’t the best defensive lineman on his own team. I certainly can’t speak for Jack Butler, who played long before I was born. It is interesting that the Veterans’ Committee is determined to continue going for people who played in the 50s and 60s rather than the 70s. I wonder when this will shift. Sports Illustrated had a really good column a couple of months arguing that Ken Anderson should be the next Veterans’ Committee choice, providing compelling evidence that he was better than Dan Fouts. And if the Bengals win that first Super Bowl against the 49ers, Anderson is probably already in.
There’s a certain amount of outrage around the sports internets about the selections, which basically revolve around the players who get the ball all the time not getting in. If you left it up to fans, it would be all wide receivers, quarterbacks, running backs, sack leaders, and famous coaches. The selection committee does a very good job of ensuring a fairly equal distribution of positions. Offensive and defensive linemen are highly valued. Cortez Kennedy was forgotten about in the first few years of his eligibility because he played his whole career on terrible teams in a land far, far away from the east coast or California. But once people began making a case for him, he rose pretty fast. He came up just short the previous two years. So he might not be a glamor pick, but he’s an indisputable Hall of Famer. Clearly Cris Carter and Charles Haley should be selected, so there is some room for griping, but not at the expense of Kennedy, Roaf, and Dawson.
But analyzing yesterday’s selections is only an excuse for the real point of this post:
The Professional Football Hall of Fame building in Canton, Ohio is an embarrassment to the NFL.
Last year, on Selection Saturday, I visited the Hall of Fame. I thought it would be a big deal. Maybe nice glossy posters of the new inductees. Big names last year too–Deion, Faulk, etc. Nothing. You go in and it’s immediately clear the building has not been updated since about 1970. The person working the tiny front desk asks you what team you are a fan of (I was the only Seahawks fan that day). Then you go through a turnstile and walk into the museum.
It is in shocking shape. There are cool objects in there for sure. You walk in a big circle. And that’s about it. It has been so long since the NFL has updated this, that the text still talks about John Elway as an active player!!! Elway retired in 1998. I was outraged. The NFL clearly does not care about this building at all. Jerry Jones can build a billion dollar stadium, but the sport’s shrine to its past and present is in as good a shape as a county historical society museum. And when the NFL does get involved in parts of the displays, it is an obviously ham-fisted corporate attempt to spin whatever agenda the league office has at a given time. The most egregious was the whole room dedicated to the NFL playing games in Europe. What fan possibly cares about this? If anything, it’s annoying because your team loses a home game. No one is going to the Hall of Fame to see this.
The only good thing in the Hall of Fame is the actual Hall itself, by which I mean the room where players have their busts. In this case, the NFL actually does a better job than baseball, although the baseball HOF is about 1 million times the better museum than the NFL’s hall. There is a sense of reverence in there, along with great video presentations where you can press on the player you want to see (I watched all the former Oregon Ducks, of which there are an unusually high number of 6–8th among all schools).
Outside of that, it’s awful.
Some say that the NFL needs to move the museum out of Canton and somewhere more tourist friendly. I absolutely oppose this. Canton may not have much relevance to the NFL today, but it has as much as Cooperstown or Springfield has to their respective sports. Taking the Hall away would literally destroy the remainder of that once proud city. The Hall is all keeping Canton from becoming Flint or Youngstown. Even now, most visitors probably stay in nearby Cleveland.
Instead, the NFL needs to remake the museum to turn Canton into its version of Cooperstown. Admittedly, northeastern Ohio may not have the charms of upstate New York (though it does have the very large William McKinley tomb and the First Ladies National Historic Site, which, OK, isn’t much). But making the Hall a first-rate tourist destination would put a big boost into the Canton economy.
And it’s so obvious what the NFL should do.
1. Build a very large addition to the Hall that would allow it to properly represent the league’s rich history.
2. Create a whole wing on the Super Bowl that would have room for expansion. As it is, there are nice display cases for the first 4 Super Bowls. After that, virtually nothing. That’s just crazy. There are so many great teams and players to talk about through the Super Bowl. Everyone would spend an hour in that room alone.
3. Update the main part of the museum more than once every 15 years. At least keep the signage accurate to who is still playing. That is totally embarrassing.
4. How do many kids get into the NFL? Playing Madden. There needs to be a whole wing dedicated to the various video games of the NFL over the years. This could easily pay for itself–you could get people to pay to sign up for time slots to come to the Hall and play their favorite games. You think that if my brother and I went there, I wouldn’t pay $10 for an hour to kick his ass at Madden 97 or Super Tecmo Bowl? I absolutely would pay that. And I might watch other people play for awhile. It would be awesome. As I recall, the Hall does mention video games, but you can’t play them.
There are so many huge football fans in this country–the NFL could hold a contest for ideas to remake the Hall. Hype it up even more. Instead, the NFL is a league that makes the announcement of next year’s schedule the lead sports story for a day but can’t even honor its past properly.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame is a complete joke and the NFL should be ashamed of it.