Pro Football Hall of Fame
The Super Bowl is a great weekend if you like parties, traffic and people who attend the event primarily to be seen. But if you truly love a pure football event, you have to go to Enshrinement Weekend at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH. It’s the ultimate pilgrimage to mecca for football fans.
Going to Canton, a small town in Northeast Ohio, any time of the year is worth the trip just to see the Hall of Fame. The Hall is a sprawling shrine dedicated to the history of the game. You might have seen the gold busts of each player on TV, but until you walk through the massive hall with the likeness of every great player memorialized, it’s hard to get a sense of how special these statues are. But that’s just the beginning. The football memorabilia stretches on and on, including gold busts of honored players, game-worn jerseys and cleats worn by everyone from Red Grange to Peyton Manning.
During the first weekend of August, Canton turns into a living and breathing festival of the sport’s history and becomes a meeting place for fans from all over the country. It’s one thing to see a video of Dick Butkus or Roger Staubach. It’s another to see him walking down the sidewalk on a warm summer night during enshrinement weekend. Football’s greatest descend on Canton to see the new class of inductees every year.
Most people fly into Cleveland en route to Canton, which is about a 45-minute drive from Cleveland, to enjoy the night-life. But you can have plenty of fun in Canton. Get there by Friday to enjoy the famous Ribs Burnoff at the Stark Fairground where barbecue joints from across the country show off their ribs and pulled pork sandwiches. And there’s a huge variety of microbrews to help wash it all down. There’s also great live music from cover bands. You might even see a Journey tribute band – just don’t admit it the next day to any hardcore football fans.
A Hall of Fame parade in downtown Canton starts at 8 a.m. Saturday, but if you were up too late sampling the local brews Friday night, don’t worry, the real action is at the Hall on Saturday afternoon. Outside the Hall, is the Mall of Fame – dozens of memorabilia and signing tents where Hall of Famers mingle with the masses. And it’s the perfect place to get a unique football gift – a football signed by the 1973 Dolphins or a vintage Buffalo Bills mini-helmet.
The best part of the weekend is interacting with fellow football fans. Everybody is wearing their favorite team’s jersey. If you’re a Redskins fan and you see a guy with a Troy Aikman jersey, you’re expected to give him a snarl as you walk by. But it’s not personal. Canton is a much more laid back place than most NFL cities. Everyone there is pretty friendly and loves to talk football. And everyone does … walk into any bar or hit one of the many beer stands and you’re guaranteed to hear people breaking down the sport.
Saturday during the day is probably your best chance to talk to Hall of Famers. Most of them are sitting in booths getting paid for signatures. But they’re also walking around the grounds of the Hall and don’t get upset if you say hello.
On Saturday night, 22,000 fans fill Fawcett Stadium to capacity to hear speeches from the newly-inducted members of the Hall. Hall of Fame induction speeches are the most cry-worthy moments in all of sports. Whether it’s Walter Payton’s son talking about his late father or Jim Kelly talking about how his physically handicapped son is his inspiration, these moments are guaranteed to cause goose bumps.
The speeches at the stadium usually stretch late into the night, so it’s wise to call it a day after the induction ceremony. But the Hall is buzzing again on Sunday at the museum where you can further explore all the exhibits before you hit up the first preseason game of the year that night.
We can’t all get access to Super Bowl tickets. So do the next best thing and spend a Hall of Fame weekend in Canton.
Andrew Perloff works as a producer for the Dan Patrick Radio Show. He has twice taken a mancation to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.