On Tuesday, the College Football Hall of Fame held its media preview, inviting the press to get the full Chick-fil-A Fan Experience before the attraction opens on Saturday. Upon arrival, grunting silhouettes in full pads jogged and skipped down the tunnel-like entrance, leading attendees into the lobby. These animated shadows set the tone for how well the museum utilizes technology.
The lobby, which smelled as new as a fresh pair of cleats, houses the 768 helmets of every school that fields a team across the nation, regardless of their level of play. A false fire alarm sounded just before the press conference got under way on the 45-yard indoor field—long enough for a mid-range field goal but not tall enough to contain a well-struck punt—but no one moved toward the door; we all wanted a glimpse of the $68.5 million structure that stretches across 94,256 total square feet.
“This used to be a surface lot,” recalled John Stephenson, the Hall of Fame's CEO. “There were about 100 spaces, and now there are 350 parking spaces in the deck. So at the end of the day, the state will actually make more off of this 2.7 acres than before.” But the state has a lot more to gain than just parking change. Expected to draw an estimated 500,000 visitors per year, the attraction could pump approximately $12.7 million into Georgia’s economy annually.
Kent Stephens, the curator of the Hall, led our tour—as best he could. “This is definitely like herding cats,” he said after discovering only two of his charges were still keeping his pace. The allure of college football history had reduced grown men to wandering children.
The juxtaposition of interactive activities and athletic artifacts make the Hall captivating for visitors on any end of the spectrum. The casual fan can watch Lou Holtz explain the schematics of Oklahoma’s wishbone offense of the 50s, while the football historian takes in one of Holtz’s handwritten play sheets. Exhibits celebrate the full fan experience—from tailgating to rivalries to bands, cheerleaders, and uniforms. But the playful atmosphere and color scheme melt away once you enter a shrine to the sport’s most hallowed players. Distanced from the buzz of the games and activities by a staircase, the room became a baptismal font as everyone hushed their voices, showing reverence to the 1,139 names listed around the room.
The College Football Hall of Fame is a Cooperstown built for the smartphone generation. Although the technology is impressive, Stephens hopes people aren’t distracted from the history and artifacts. “There’s so much to do. The interactive stuff, as the historian, sort of bothers me. People are so into all this other stuff and I keep thinking, "Hey there’s Red Grange’s jersey!"