Monday, September 10, 2012

The Pro Football Hall Of Fame Has Some Solid Moments Of Weirdness

The first thing you see when you drive into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, O High O, is this inexplicable sculpture on a pillar... and if you can tell me what in heaven this has to do with football, you win, well, something. But it sets the tone for the whole trip, which is basically 2-3 hours of wandering through a well-designed, fascinating and overly earnest study of its subject that manages to make football seem both bigger and smaller than what you thought of it before.

The HoF costs $21 to enter, and that pays for your walk through a few floors of history, from the start of the game to the present-day. Painstaking busts in an ornate room depict those that have been honored before, and you can spend your time, as we did, trying to figure out the ranking of Worst Human Being Here. (OJ Simpson pretty much locks this down, and on some level, you wonder why they just haven't put a cloak over him. After that, it's Art Modell, Al Davis and Michael Irvin, at least to my thoroughly jaundiced eyes.) But since football isn't a game that leads itself to rigorous stats like baseball, there's no pique at possibly undeserving inductees, and besides, the old guys have dramatically better nicknames. Night Train! Blood! Crazy Legs! Those rock.

The biggest problem for the HoF is that football swag just isn't all that entertaining to look at. Look, here's a football from a game where Roger Wehrli picked off three Roger Staubach passes! It looks an awful lot like a football from a game where Barry Sanders ran for 200 yards. And so on, and so on. And while the NFL has a long history, the plain and simple fact of the matter is that no one really cares that much about anything that happened before, at best, Johnny Unitas, and at worst, the Super Bowl. So unlike baseball, who can split things up by decade and give you a sense of the game's evolution, football pretty much just lumps it all together and lets you look at old watermelon balls that were impossible to throw, next to a case with Mike Vick, Brett Favre and Reggie Cobb. And so on, and so on.

What I was hoping to see, and didn't, was some more intense exhibits. Show me close ups and colorized stuff that give me a sense of why Bronko Nagurski was so terrifying, maybe by cardboard cut-ups of his size versus the average defender of his era, and how that compares to now, and so on. I'd also be all kinds of into a simulator that gives me a sense of what it's like to be the QB calling out signs, or the RB hitting the hole, or the WR trying to shake off a jam at the line of scrimmage. More of that, please.

I was also a little cheesed by the Hall giving more time and space to the WFL than the USFL, and nothing to the XFL, WLAF or Arena Ball. Cleveland's proximity means that the AAFL gets play, as does the AFC, but the sense of why all of these leagues existed is missing. But the victors write the history, assuming they don't harbor enough ill will to deny the history in its entirety. (I miss the USFL.)

As with all museums, this one ends in the gift shop, where you can find a wildly diverse collection of overpriced nonsense, and make your own fun in the discount jersey section (Kevin Kolb Eagles' gamer, cheep!). You leave by passing a glowering Art Shell bust (ART SHELL SAYS GO THE HELL HOME), the dark belly of the HoF during a mild reconstruction, and that's that.

Finally, there's one utter and definite disappointment to the place, and it is this... Chris Berman is there. No, seriously; he's on the plaque as winning an annual journalist award, and if this makes you want to reconsider the whole idea of why there should be a Hall, I can't blame you. At all.

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