ATLANTA — Stepping inside of the College Football Hall of Fame downtown is both exciting and cause circuit overload. It’s like stepping onto the set of Michael J. Fox’s blockbuster comedy Back to the Future, where you are both whisked back to the leather helmet and black-and-white days of yore, and then yanked forward with a dizzying array of mind-blowing, state-of-the-art, interactive exhibits that enables you to get baptized in the college football experience like never before.
The Hall’s current 1,139 inductees, with more than 520 artifacts, helmets from all 768 current college football program throughout the nation, more than 10,000 video clips and numerous other exhibits and interactive displays that cover the building’s three floors.
The anticipation for the Hall’s opening has created a crescendo of excitement that coincides with the commencement of the 2015 NCAA football season.
“For 30 years, I’ve lived and worked in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, to cover college football,” said famed college football journalist Tony Barnhart, who served as master of ceremonies for the media presentation. “So, trust me when I tell you this is a very special day for college football and a very special day for Atlanta.”
Special because of the infusion of football fever into a major metropolis that’s already at the epicenter of the sport and gorges itself ravenously on anything connected to it.
The $68 million, 94,000-square-feet monument to intercollegiate gridiron greatness is located adjacent to the Georgia World Congress Center on Marietta Street next to Centennial Olympic Park and near the Georgia Dome, Phillips Arena and the Museum of Civil and Human Rights.
And the center is special because of the Hall is expected to attract a half-million visitors to the center and downtown to the tune of tens of millions in revenue after moving from its longtime home in South Bend, Ind. and the University of Notre Dame to the Capitol of the New South.
“Now, those of us who have spent our careers in the media, we know that one of the fun things that we still get to do is tell a good story. And folks, trust me, this is a great, great story. When the College Football Hall of Fame began looking for a new home several years ago, the people from Atlanta, from the state of Georgia did what they always do. They stepped up. They said, ‘We can do this. We believe the College Football Hall of Fame belongs in Atlanta, Georgia. There were times when we wondered if this day would get here, but here we are.”
John Stephenson Jr., president and CEO of Atlanta Hall Management, is brimming with excitement that the Hall can serve as the appropriate kickoff to the following week of activities leading up to opening day.
“We circled this coming weekend as the weekend we had to be open because it’s the weekend before the college football season starts,” Stephenson said. “We have two great Chick-Fil-A Kickoff games here in Atlanta (at the Georgia Dome) Thursday and Saturday, as everyone knows. Georgia State plays (Abilene Christian) on Wednesday also. Georgia Tech’s in town (against Wofford on Aug. 30). And the Atlanta Falcons are playing a preseason game. So, this weekend, we certainly have to be open, no question about it. And here we are opening on Aug. 23.”
A hall of fame cannot appropriate be christened without the presence of the pillars of the sport who tower over the College Football Hall of Fame and bequeath its blessing.
The greats of the game ceremoniously nodded their approval of the spectacular designs, the high-tech exhibits and the way the history of the game was captured comprehensively.
“This is wonderful,” said College Hall of Famer Art Shell and the first African American coach in the NFL when he took over the Oakland Raiders in the 1980s. “When people come and look, they will be able to see the history of football. There are so many names from the past that bring back memories. And I get a chance to see myself through these interactive (posts).,” said Hall, who exudes class and a quiet, dignified power. He said memories rushed back at him like the tide crashing on the beach. “I remember being on campus at and getting ready for the games, the practice. And all of (those memories) that lead up until today. It’s been a great experience.”
“Great” only begins to describe the experience. The Hall’s exhibits and interactive games nearly tied the distinguished inductees brains into knots. Danny Wuerffel, who won a championship at the University of Florida in the legendary 1996 game against hated rival Florida State, said the College Hall of Fame will delight, engross and spellbind all demographics who come — including himself and his children.
“The technology dazzles me. It’s a weird combination, ya know? The great grandparents can come through here and see the people they remember and see the depth and authenticity of that,” said the former Heisman Trophy winning quarterback for the Gators. “And then my 5-year-old can come and play on the video screens. And then my 10-year-old can play catch and throw the football. I think people from every age are going to love this.”
The love Wuerffel was speaking of will come charging through the front doors, like a hungry linebacker looking to chomp on quarterback flesh, during Saturday’s opening will be what is being dubbed as the “Ultimate Tailgate.” It will include such activities as a kids’ football clinic, a live broadcast from 680 The Fan, music from a DJ and the Clark Atlanta drum line and games. Kids and adults can try their football skills on an indoor, 45-yard field and get their visitor badges coded to prompt exhibits to display information about their favorite teams.
Visitors will also be amazed, if not shocked, at the number of players who went onto become icons of the game after walking through the HBCU exhibit.
Community leaders, including Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, College Football Hall of Famers, cheerleaders and favorite college mascots will also be joining the opening-day celebration.