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CANTON, OHIO — When Sunday’s Super Bowl LV is over, the 2020-21 NFL season — such as it was — comes to an end. But if your football fix is still itching after the game, you might scratch it with a visit to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, in Canton, Ohio.

Located roughly 200 miles and a three hour drive away from Charleston, the Hall opened in 1963 to honor the players, coaches, owners and others who made significant contributions to the sport. Since then, it’s had numerous expansions and has gained international interest as a tourist destination.

Hundreds of thousands visit the sports shrine each year — with the notable exception of 2020, when attendance was down due to the coronavirus.

If you’re wondering why Canton, the answer is threefold. First, the NFL (then called the American Professional Football Association), was founded there in September 1920. Then too, the now defunct Canton Bulldogs were the League’s first team to win two championship titles (in 1922 and 23). Lastly, a city-wide fundraiser brought in nearly $400,000 (more than $2.6 million in today’s currency) to build the Hall.

As of 2020, 326 candidates have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame Gallery, an almost reverential space where bronze busts of all the “Gold Jacket” members are on display. With the simple touch of a screen, visitors can retrieve information on each inductee such as a bio, photos and videos.

Enshrinement Week for the 2020 Centennial Year was postponed. The 15 selections will, however, be inducted this year on Aug. 7, a day before the 2021 selections will be inducted. Enshrinement Week (Aug. 5-8) includes the annual Hall of Fame Game in adjacent Tom Benson Stadium, pitting the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Dallas Cowboys on Aug. 5.

To be eligible for induction, a player or coach must be retired for 5 years. A committee of 48, mainly made up of media from NFL cities, usually select four to eight inductees each year.

All Enshrinement Week events are open to the public, and tickets can be purchased by phoning 844-751-0532.

What to see

Interestingly, the original building is a round structure, the top of which appears to be pierced by a large football-shaped object that covers a two-story rotunda. Visitors can enter the rotunda via a new entrance that empties into the NFL’s First Century Gallery. There, they can experience the story of pro football from its very beginnings in 1926 through today via unique artifacts and high-tech interactives.

The space documents inspirational stories of players, coaches and events, including the “Road to Equality.” Black players did play in the early years of the NFL, but were later “phased out.” The league was all white from 1930 to 1946, when it was reintegrated after the Los Angeles Rams signed tailbacks Kenny Washington and Woody Strode and the Browns (in the AAFC) signed Marion Motley and Bill Willis. The date was one year before the Dodgers broke the baseball color barrier by including Jackie Robinson on the team.

In the Hunt/Casterlane Gallery, visitors will find the most-valued and highest-rated football card collection in the world. With over 300,000 cards, the collection includes rookie cards for every Hall inductee, including the most-highly graded one for Joe Namath.

If you like taking selfies, stop by the Lamar Hunt Super Bowl Gallery and enjoy a photo op standing next to a replica of the Lombardi Trophy, a 7-pound, sterling silver award designed by Tiffany.

Visitors can also learn informational tidbits like the fact that Lamar Hunt came up with the title Super Bowl when he saw his children playing with a toy called Super Ball while in the gallery. They can even scan an exhibit of every Super Bowl championship ring from the 54 championship teams.

For a bit of a rest, take a seat in the Super Bowl Theater where you can get an up-close and personal, ground-level look at the 2019 season and highlights from Super Bowl LIV.

Other areas of interest include the Pro Football Today Gallery, artifacts from the inductee class of 2020 in the Locker Room exhibit, a look at women in football and artifacts from the Black College Football Hall of Fame, the United States Football League and the history of the NFL’s Sunday Night Football.

Stories you might like

For an exciting adventure, drop in at the Game of Life Theater where holograms of football legends like George Halas, Joe Namath and Vince Lombardi appear on stage and tell examples of how football inspired them and taught them lessons they could use in everyday life.

For more information, phone 330-456-8207 or www.profootballhalloffame.com.

The West Virginia connection

Hall of Famers born in West Virginia include Frank Gatski of Farmington, Sam Huff of Morgantown, Gino Marchetti of Smithers, George Preston Marshall of Grafton, Randy Moss of Rand and Earle “Greasy” Neale of Parkersburg. Hall of Famers who attended universities and colleges in West Virginia include Sam Huff and Joe Stydahar (WVU), Cliff Battles and Earle “Greasy” Neal (West Virginia Wesleyan) and Frank Gatski and Randy Moss (Marshall).

Future development

In the near future, the adjacent Hall of Fame Village will become home to the Hall of Fame Waterpark, The Eleven (a Hilton Tapestry Hotel), Constellation Center for Excellence, Center for Performance, Retail Promenade and Play-Action Plaza. Through the assets built in Phase II, the Village will become a full-destination home to concerts and sporting events where fans from all across the nation can visit, stay and enjoy.

The proposed cost of construction is $300 million.

There’s more

A 15-minute ride away in the charming town of Massillon, the Paul Brown Museum is a museum within a museum. The galleries are dedicated to the memory of the man who invented the modern game of football, the namesake of the Cleveland Browns and one of the greatest football coaches ever to have lived.

The museum, located at 121 Lincoln Way East, holds artifacts from Brown’s own collection, uniforms, photos, an interactive app and space devoted to the Massillon Tigers, the team that launched his coaching career. Phone 330-833-4061.

A restaurant with football connection

In downtown Canton, Bender’s Tavern, 137 Court Street, has been serving food and libations since 1902 and, over the years, has retained much of its vintage atmosphere (tiger oak paneling, marble wainscoting, stained glass windows and tin ceilings). In its early years, women and men entered via separate doors. A plaque on an exterior wall testifies to this fact, and the building is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

The connection to the NFL concerns the fact that the first meeting to organize what became the NFL took place nearby in an auto showroom. Those in attendance were said to reassemble in Bender’s for post-meeting confabs, and football great Jim Thorpe is said to have frequented the tavern.

Today the menu emphasizes seafood, shipped fresh from Foley’s Fish of Boston. Phone 330-453-8424.

A place to stay

The Doubletree by Hilton, 320 Market Street, Downtown Canton. Amenities include indoor swimming pool, free Wi-Fi, a fitness and business center and an on-site restaurant and bar. Phone 330-471-8000.

Dave Zuchowski has been writing about travel for 26 years, and his articles have made the pages of many newspapers and magazines across the country, including AAA, Pathfinders, West Virginia Magazine, Southsider, and Westsylvania. He writes for the Herald-Standard Newspaper, based in Fayette County, Pennsylvania.

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