So Long, Canton; the NFL Ruined You

26 Feb

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I first stepped foot into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the summer of 1977, having ventured there with a college friend and her family. It was the first professional hall of fame I’d ever visited, and I was overwhelmed by the displays, not to mention the football-shaped hall itself.

After learning that the NFL’s inaugural game is always held in Canton, I wrote to the hall in early 1978 to see about getting tickets. I was very fortunate to secure two seats in the end zone and was so excited to attend the enshrinement ceremony and game that summer.

For years, I traveled to Canton for the enshrinement and the game, no matter where I was living at the time. I traveled from California, from Virginia, from Maryland – it didn’t matter how far away I was, I was not going to miss my annual pilgrimage to Canton.

In those early years, it was easy to get player autographs and photos, and not just from the old timers, who were always so pleased to be recognized. As time went on and the NFL grew, the hometown, high school game feel to the weekend started to dwindle. Soon players were wearing head phones so they didn’t have to interact with the fans. Soon the locker rooms went from the high school to inside the stadium, removing any chance of interaction. Soon the enshrinement ceremony became too big for the steps of the hall, and the enshrinement was moved inside the stadium.

After a few years of having end zone seats, I was able to “move up” to about the 20-yard line, almost at the top of the stadium. I brought many people to their first pro football game by taking them to Canton. I was wily enough to figure out how to snag a photo or autograph or two and the young people I brought to the game particularly enjoyed that part.

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I was there when the storm was so bad, the game was called, and Howard Cosell’s toupee blew off in the wind. I was there for the induction of some of my heroes – Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Rayfield Wright. Before and after the enshrinement moved to the stadium, I met and got autographs and photos from some great and colorful players. Men like Dick “Night Train” Lane. Dante “Gluefingers” Lavelli. Merlin Olsen. Ben Davidson. John Elway. Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson. Tony Gonzales. Joe “Jake” Jacoby. The list goes on. My fanship truly spanned generations.

As each year went by and the game and induction ceremony got bigger and more remote, I mourned. Gone was the small-town feel. Up went huge parking lots and shuttle busses instead of stadium neighbors selling spots on their lawn for a few dollars. The cost of the experience kept rising, but the experience itself was waning.

The NFL ruined Canton. The NFL has gotten too big for its britches. The NFL is guilty of masturbatory madness and Canton is just the tissue.

So, after 40 (yes, forty) years of attending the NFL season’s kickoff, I say goodbye. I leave with some sadness but with memories that will never die.

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