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Hallowed Relics of the Gridiron on Display at New College Football Hall of Fame

by Gregory Watkins (08/19/14).

In just a couple of weeks, large portions of the country will joyously shout out many of the following phrases, while many, many more will have no idea what they are talking about:

Red Grange

The top artifact in the new College Football Hall of Fame museum is the Illinois jersey worn by Red Grange.

“Roll Tide!”

“Hook ’em ’Horns!”

“Fork ’em, Devils!”

“Gig ’em, Aggies!”

“Go Big Blue!”

“Go Dawgs!”

“Geaux Tigers!”

“Fight On!”

“Sparty On!”

“Fear the Duck!”

“Fear the Frog!”

“Fear the Turtle!”

“War Eagle!”

“Woo Pig Sooie!”

It’s not a code or puzzle or inside joke; it’s simply college football rallying cries. And as the kickoff of new season is right around the corner, fans who live and die with their favorite college teams—big and small, alike—are primed for four and half months of the frenzied highs and disheartening lows that accompany each week’s games.

College football has never been bigger in the United States, and it is under this kind of popularity in which the new College Football Hall of Fame is set to open its doors in its new home of Atlanta, Ga., on Aug. 23 in a facility that is nearly twice the size of its old home in South Bend, Ind.

Kent Stephens, the curator of the College Football Hall of Fame, is the man charged with collecting, keeping and displaying these football artifacts. He says that when the grand opening ceremonies are over, the Hall’s exhibition space will present many of the sport’s most hallowed relics: uniforms, equipment and ephemera connected to some of the most revered names in the sport, as well as some things that, while not exactly football related, have a connection to the sports history, nonetheless.

Place among the pieces of football memorabilia you would expect to see—things like Red Grange’s Illinois jersey or helmet and jury-rigged facemask worn by Jay Berwanger, the first Heisman Trophy winner—you’ll also find things such as the beat-up trombone that belonged to Stanford’s Gary Tyrrell. No, Tyrell was not a musically talented football player for the Cardinal; he was the band member run over in the end zone at the end of “The Play” against Cal in 1982.

The new College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta will hold its grand opening on Aug. 23.

The new College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta will hold its grand opening on Aug. 23.

And like every item in every museum, each of these pieces has an interesting history.

“The number one piece in the collection is the Red Grange jersey,” Stephens said. “Grange was the Babe Ruth of the college football, a media darling who got all the attention of radio, the movies and news reels of the time. Jay Berwanger’s helmet, I actually went to suburban Chicago to get it from him.

“He had broken his nose twice and there were no commercially made facemasks at the time, so someone created a homemade facemask, but after it was attached, the helmet wouldn’t fit over his head. So they slit the leather in the back of the helmet and laced it onto his head. He was then known as the ‘Man in the Iron Mask,’” added Stephens. “That’s one of my favorite pieces.”

The new 94,000-square-foot Hall of Fame is almost twice as big as the old facilities in South Bend, where the Hall of Fame had resided from 1995 until 2012, when it was decided that the market of South Bend couldn’t support it. Except for seven weekends a year—when Notre Dame was playing a home game—not enough people were going to make the trek to visit the Hall of Fame.

When the decision was made to create a new Hall of Fame, a lot of thought went into making it attractive to the casual fan as well as the die-hard fanatic. When entering the museum through a stadium-like tunnel, you’ll hear the click-clack of cleats on concrete and sound of the crowd getting louder, as if heading toward the field. There is a 45-yard-long football field, complete with a goal post, where fans can attempt field goals, test their passing accuracy or run an obstacle course. A theater will play high-definition films, famous coaches will breakdown different styles of offenses, fans can make their own calls of famous plays, experience 360-degree views of hallowed stadiums and learn about college football rivalries.

Cal’s Gary Moen knocks over Stanford Band trombone player Gary Tyrrell at the end of the “The Play” to win the 1982 Big Game. Tyrrell’s trombone and case are enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Cal’s Kevin Moen knocks over Stanford Band trombone player Gary Tyrrell at the end of the “The Play” to win the 1982 Big Game. Tyrrell’s trombone and case are enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame. (Photo: Robert S. Stinnett)

And then there is the actual Hall of Fame. Instead of the bronze plaques for each inductee, there are interactive touch-screen panels, and when you buy your ticket, you can state what school interests you the most—most likely your alma mater—and a computer will put up photos, highlights and interviews from Hall of Famers from your school, should there be any.

“We’re planning to give the exhibitions a little different focus here,” Stephens said. “In South Bend, it was all history, and if you weren’t interested in college football, there wasn’t much else for you. Here, we try to appeal to all aspects of college football, including the bands, mascots, the cheerleaders.

“And technology has changed, too, so when you go into the museum, there are interactive games you can play on your smartphone. There are video screens all over the place. When you go into our Hall of Famer room, say you’re a Georgia Tech fan, you can watch videos of Larry Morris in action.” Morris, who was known the Brahma Bull, helped the Yellow Jackets had a 40-5-2 record over his four seasons, earning two SEC titles, playing in four bowl games and sharing the 1952 national championship with a 12-0 record.

“Your experience should be different every time you visit the College Football Hall of Fame,” Stephens said. “You ought to see things on your second visit that you didn’t see the first time.”

Stephens says he is constantly collecting items related to the 1,155 men—948 players and 207 coaches—enshrined in the Hall. As the latest class of inductees is scheduled to be enshrined on October 7, Stephens says that the effort to collect memorabilia related to each player begins years in advance.

Visitors to the Hall of Fame will enter the Quad, where a massive wall of football helmet—representing every college football program in the country—is the center of attention.

Visitors to the Hall of Fame will enter the Quad, where a massive wall of football helmet—representing every college football program in the country—is the center of attention.

“A college player’s career can end as many as 50 years before he ever gets elected into the Hall of Fame,” said Stephens. “In those 50 years, some of those artifacts can become lost, so we start collecting from future Hall of Famers today.”

Stephens says the Hall’s proactive approach to acquiring these artifacts has led others to offer up items that have been lost to the world for decades.

“We have people who come out of the woodwork to offer us pieces that came from their attics that belonged to their fathers or uncles or grandfathers, amateur collectors whose family doesn’t really know what do with this stuff.”

So if you visit the College Football Hall of Fame and are impressed with the amount of items one display, just know that what you see is roughly five percent of the artifacts on hand.


Gregory Watkins is the editor of WorthPoint.com You can email him at greg.watkins@worthpoint.com

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