CANTON, Ohio - Editor's note: As life marches on with no live sports action and no real timetable for its return, the CLARION NEWS takes a look back at Sports Editor Ryan Pugh's 2017 visit to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
My girlfriend Meghan went on the trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame with me like she did the previous year when we went to the Baseball Hall of Fame. She went even though she is not a football fan. She should probably get some sort of hazard pay for going somewhere she doesn't like while spending that much time with me in the process.
Anyway, we decided to make a weekend out of the excursion and made our way westward.
Before I get to that, I must say I always felt the Pro Football Hall of Fame would be the first sports hall of fame I would have ventured to. For one reason, it is only a couple hours by car to travel from Clarion County to Canton, Ohio. The second reason I thought Canton would be my first stop was because football was always my first love. As far as I can remember, football has always had the strongest hold on my heart. Pro football was my first love before the temptress college football seduced me.
If you have never been to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and are planning to go in the near future, I have one observation; I hope you like Interstate travel. It's all four-lane highways (sometimes more lanes) from Clarion County to Canton.
When comparing the trip to Cooperstown to the trip to Canton, it's no contest. There is no easy way to get to the Baseball Hall of Fame. No matter which way you travel to get to Cooperstown, you will take a picturesque journey through the country over rolling hills. A trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame is almost like a trip back in time.
A trip to Canton is just a reminder of our hustle-bustle, go, go, go society. Maybe I'm a romantic, but sometimes I want the Robert Frost-like journey through a yellow wood.
From what I saw of Canton, the town is mostly interstate highway and chain restaurants.
Meghan and I made our trip to the Hall of Fame on Saturday and before we went, we ate at the Cracker Barrel restaurant located within walking distance of our hotel. Cracker Barrel restaurants are a national chain restaurant with most of the restaurants located in the fly-over part of America. I don't get the appeal of the Cracker Barrel. At each location, there is a gift shop you have to walk through to get to the seating area. The gift shop is filled to the brim with useless junk and penny candy. I have no desire to buy anything in the Cracker Barrel gift shop. And the restaurant's food is OK but it's nothing to write home about.
After breakfast, Meghan and I took advantage of the shuttle service our hotel offered and made our way to the Hall of Fame that way. Our shuttle driver was a character. He was a tad delusional because he was telling us that the Cleveland Browns have "turned it around." And the reason, in his opinion, that the franchise has turned it around is because they have "done it the right way."
So the right way is stinking for so long that you just accumulate draft picks and by sheer statistical probability, you might stumble into rebuilding your franchise? Good to know.
When our driver found out that I was a Steelers' fan, he tried to talk a little smack. Like when he said, "The Steelers are good now and the Browns aren't but it used to be the Browns were good and the Steelers stunk." I replied jokingly, "Yeah, but then the Korean War happened and everything went downhill for the Browns." Let's just say the driver didn't appreciate my retort.
The shuttle driver dropped us off right at the Hall of Fame entrance (and without cold-cocking me to boot) and Meghan and I went inside. When you enter the building, you have to go to your left to purchase your admission. Admission is $25 for adults ages 13 to 64, $21 for senior citizens 65-and-older, $18 for children between the ages of six and 12 years old and children under six get in for free. The guy who handled my admission also informed me that there was a $10 fee to park. I got to politely tell him that we took the shuttle service from our hotel. I had no idea there was any charge for parking and I thought it was kind of a sneaky trick since it was thrown in by the guy in a kind of "Oh, by the way" fashion.
And looking on the Hall of Fame website, there is no charge for parking if you are just there to shop in the Pro Football Hall of Fame gift shop. Classy move. I see the National Football League's marketing team is deeply imbedded in the operations of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Now that I think about it, it's surprising they don't charge people to park that are just there to shop.
Last year in Cooperstown, Meghan and I parked for free in one of the public lots outside of town and took a $2 trolley ride to the Hall of Fame entrance. Advantage: Cooperstown.
After paying for the tickets, we were directed to the first exhibit which was a collection of the Hall of Fame members' rookie football trading cards. I used to collect football cards when baseball cards were out of season. And I own a couple of the rookie cards that were on display. I get why the exhibit was in the Hall of Fame, I just didn't get why it was the first thing to see.
After the trading cards exhibit, it was up the ramp to the first level of the Hall of Fame which was a whole floor dedicated to football in the 20th century. There were exhibits about the birth of professional football through its early years to the 1990s. There were exhibits and videos to educate people about the history of professional football. It was sort of interesting but to me the exhibits seemed sparse.
On the next floor there was an exhibit to modern professional football highlighting what has happened the past 17 years. I have little or no interest in the modern game and its artifacts so this exhibit was a quick fly-by. Maybe in 20 years or so, I might wax nostalgic about the era but right now, looking at Matt Ryan's 2016 uniform doesn't do it for me.
Past the modern football exhibit is the Hall of Fame busts of the players. I will give the Pro Football Hall of Fame the nod over the Baseball Hall of Fame when it comes to players likenesses. The football busts are very realistic and well detailed while baseball's plaques are a little underwhelming.
The last exhibit we visited was dedicated to the history of the Super Bowl. And really, the modern era of the NFL began when the Lamar Hunt and the rest of the "Foolish Club" began operation of the American Football League in 1960 as a direct competitor to the NFL. After six years of acrimony, the NFL and AFL came to a merger agreement with a championship game to be played between the champions of the two leagues after the 1966 season in what would eventually be called the Super Bowl.
Sure, Johnny Unitas leading Baltimore to an overtime win over the New York Giants in the 1958 NFL championship game put pro football on the proverbial map but it was the Super Bowl that changed the sport into a national obsession.
As I looked through the exhibits I noticed there was a Marcus Allen white Los Angeles Raiders jersey on display at the Super Bowl XVIII exhibit. One problem, the Raiders wore their black uniform tops in that game. Why was Allen's white jersey on display? It makes no sense.
There was also a theater in the Hall of Fame playing small feature films about the NFL and its history. We didn't attend the film they were showing the day we were there. It was one of the "Road to the Super Bowl" documentaries which I have probably already seen.
Also missing from the football Hall of Fame experience was a trivia contest for fans. Where is a nerd like me supposed to show his lame ability to remember minute details about something trivial? I know it's a minor detail, but still.
The Hall of Fame gift shop was even a little underwhelming as it just seemed like a bunch of NFL team stores put under one roof.
There are plans to develop the area around the Hall of Fame into what has been dubbed a "Pro Football Disneyland" with shops and stores and other exhibits. The area around the Pro Football Hall of Fame needs something because once you walk out the front door, that's it. All that's there is a parking lot and Interstate 77 (there is also a small football field along the side of the building but what is an old, fat guy like me going to do on a football field, have a massive coronary?)
Meghan perfectly pointed out the difference between Cooperstown and Canton is that the town of Cooperstown is dedicated to baseball with its shops and attractions independent of the Baseball Hall of Fame whereas the Pro Football Hall of Fame is kind of plunked down by itself with nothing going on around it. Baseball's relationship to Cooperstown is organic while football's relationship to Canton seems forced.
I think the biggest difference is how we as sports fans celebrate the history of the game of baseball as opposed to pro football. Professional football is all about now while baseball is about then. Baseball is Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, etcwhile football is more "how is your fantasy team doing?"
The highlight of our trip was when Meghan and I got to eat our breakfast Sunday at the Waffle House in Canton. I had never eaten at a Waffle House and I must say I am a true believer. Sure the place has a greasy spoon feel to it but the breakfast I had was spectacular.
We had an enjoyable time at the Pro Football Hall of Fame but it wasn't as enjoyable experience of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.