Always-changing HOF means something is always new

Steve Doerschuk

Jim Thorpe, who ran wild for the Canton Bulldogs in the early NFL, hasn’t moved an inch since 1963.

A towering Thorpe statue has greeted visitors since the Pro Football Hall of Fame opened. Everything else has pretty much jumped around.

Forget about 1963. People who haven’t been to the Hall in the last 10 years wouldn’t recognize its insides.

“I started here in 1997,” Hall of Fame collections curator Jason Aikens said. “I’d say 80 percent of the exhibit space has changed since then.”

The GameDay Stadium Theater opened in 1995 and is updated annually. The winding enshrinement galleries were revamped into one ethereal room of bronze busts in 2003. Two major display areas were torn apart and redone this year. One new gallery brings Hall of Famers to life by combining artifacts, likenesses and the latest interactive audio-video technology. The other applies that technology to a showcase of today’s NFL.

“Our visitors tell us the enshrinement gallery takes on the atmosphere of a sacred place,” Hall of Fame executive director Steve Perry said. “That’s the shrine. The galleries that opened this year by design are much more vibrant, much louder, full of football’s sound and fury.”

There’s an Alaskan cruise aspect to a Hall of Fame tour, wherein visitors never see more than the tip of the iceberg.

“As is the case with most museums,” Perry said, “only about 10 percent of the collection can be put on display.”

No need to scuba dive. The Hall keeps it fresh is by rotating items into display areas. And new stuff is always coming in. Enough is squirreled away to create entire themes. A Pittsburgh Steelers 75th-anniversary display was constructed last year largely from donated items stored in the Hall of Fame’s climate-controlled, sealed-tight basement.

“We used that in combination with items loaned to us by Mr. Rooney,” Perry said of Steelers owner Dan Rooney, a Hall of Fame enshrinee.

Imagine being able to offer the following items on eBay:

- The helmet Tom Brady strapped on in Super Bowl XLII.

- A complete uniform, including helmet and shoes, worn by Bob Sanders in 2007, when he was NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

- The complete uniform, including shoulder pads, in which Brett Favre broke Dan Marino’s all-time record for passing yards Dec. 16.

- The jersey and pants Adrian Peterson wore on Nov. 4, when he broke Jamal Lewis’ single-game rushing record of 295 yards.

These are among items that jump out in one new wing.

The Hall proactively gathers items that reflect “fresh history.”

Joe Horrigan, a longtime Hall of Fame employee and current vice president of communications and exhibits, is well-connected and has had great luck persuading NFL teams to donate valuables.

Million-dollar renovations are periodic, but the tweaking lasts forever.

Perry is fired up about improved and updated presentations scheduled for GameDay Theater, in collaboration with NFL Films.

The revised wing showing off Hall of Famers’ artifacts bombards the senses. One corridor is flanked by nine life-like figures of Hall of Famers, opposite locker stalls. Rookies from every NFL team, required to tour the Hall as part of their NFL orientation, have taken notice.

“I’ve tried to engage players as they’ve walked through,” Hall of Fame researcher Saleem Choudhry said. “Just to use one example, one of the lockers represents Otto Graham. When I mention that he led the Browns to a league championship game 10 straight years, that really floors them.”

A key point: The new display, complete with Graham talking at the touch of a button, breathes life into old Otto.

The short walk to the wing showcasing today’s NFL reveals a gigantic likeness of career rushing leader Emmitt Smith, next to larger-than-life images of Walter Payton and Jim Brown, who owned the mark in previous generations.

A wall full of shoes, footballs and helmets is linked to a computer.

An explanation of what each artifact represents, with video of the event, is at one’s fingertips.

The ball John Elway threw to pass the 50,000-yard hurdle is one example.

“A lot of people who may have been here some years ago might say, ‘I don’t really need to see it again,’” Perry said. “When they come, they’re finding it’s a very dramatically different place.”

Contact Steve Doerschuk at (330) 580-8347 or