In British football, we have a tendency to not honour our footballing legends, who are mostly remembered only by the clubs they played for.
I’m not talking about the likes of Kenny Dalglish and Kevin Keegan at Liverpool. Nor the likes of George Best and Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. They are rightly remembered by pretty much everyone of a certain age, but they represented clubs in the media spotlight.
How many of us remember great players who played for the ‘lesser’ clubs though?
Ask an Ipswich Town fan and they may say, Terry Butcher or Paul Mariner. A Stoke City fan might rightly suggest Stanley Matthews or Gordon Banks as legends of the game. Dennis Tueart may be the name on a Sunderland supporters lips. All had distinguished careers for club and country but some are remembered above others. Again, this is because of the media focus being skewed towards the bigger teams.
National Football Museum
There was a move to put this right in 2001 when a National Football Museum was established in Preston. Notts County is the oldest club and centrally located, so I’d prefer Nottingham but we now have one at least. Preston North End was one of the original members of the Football League, so it seemed an appropriate enough place. Due to lack of funding, it closed in 2010 but was reopened and relocated to Manchester in 2012.
Canton, Ohio – Where Legends Live On
In America, sporting legends are taken a little more seriously and are honoured for their part in sport. They are honoured not just by the franchises they played for but on a national basis.
Baseball honours its legends in Cooperstown, New York. NASCAR has its Hall Of Fame near the Carolina Panthers Stadium in Charlotte. Springfield, Massachusetts plays host to the legends of basketball and ice hockey too has a Hall Of Fame in Minnesota.
Our focus though is American football and this is where Canton, Ohio comes to the fore.
The Pro-Football Hall of Fame opened its doors to members of the public way back in 1963. Its aim – to honour legends of the NFL, be they players, coaches or even franchise owners.
Prior to the next round of inductees in 2021, there are currently 326 legends of the game permanently enshrined in collective NFL memory.
Despite the fact that Canton doesn’t have a professional football team, that hasn’t always been the case. The Canton Bulldogs were the first team to win the NFL’s professional league two years running back in 1922 and 1923. The people of Canton raised $400,000 towards having the original two-room building built. This would be equivalent to $2.64 million these days. On top of these two reasons was the most compelling of all – the NFL was first founded in Canton, Ohio back in 1920! At the time of its founding, it was known as the American Professional Football Association.
You could say Canton should have been the very first inductee of its own Hall of Fame.
Since the building was first opened in 1963, there have been many expansions added to it. Now the original two-room building contains a shop, a cinema with a 42-foot screen and a research library. From the original approximately 20,000 square feet, the HOF has expanded to 118,000 square feet.
Did I mention the HOF has its own stadium too?
Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium
After an extensive refurbishment in 2016, the stadium has been brought up to the standards expected of anything connected to the HOF. It can accommodate 23,000 spectators and includes luxury suites and executive seating areas. Each year it hosts the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, not to be confused with the Pro Bowl.
The stadium refurbishment was part one of a three-phase plan to bring a whole village complex to the HOF area. Plans include shopping, a hotel, synthetic playing fields, a park, restaurants and a football-themed waterpark. Impressive stuff!
2021 Induction of New Legends
There are usually between four and eight inductees each year. 2021 will see eight but on top of that figure an extra fifteen spaces are being created to celebrate the NFL’s centennial.
2021 inductees are headlined by star quarterback for the Colts and the Broncos, Peyton Manning. This was an easy call for the committee as Manning is a five-time winner of the NFL’s annual MVP award. He also won a Super Bowl with two different teams, one of only two quarterbacks and four players in total to achieve that.
A legends Prestige
Upon joining the Hall of Fame, the inductees are presented with a gold jacket and their images are permanently modelled into bronze casts of their head and shoulders. (See the image of 49ers Jerry Rice below.)
Above this though, is the prestige that comes with the HOF. There are many players that have played in the NFL every season since 1963, but only 326 of them have made it to the bronze bust and gold jacket level.
In many areas, American sport gets it right and the Hall of Fame is just another example of that. I can only hope that one-day, British sport will catch up with what they should have been doing for decades already. Until then, enjoy the spectacle that is the NFL and all the legends that are enshrined in its history.
Visiting Canton is a must for the serious fan of American football if you are ever in the Ohio area to maybe watch a Bengals, Browns or Steelers game.