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Official Review by Ed Pelle, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Following the great popularity of football at the collegiate level, Pro Football began to gain a foothold in the central Pennsylvania region soon thereafter. As various clubs were formed using former college stars, some began to be paid for their services. Pro Football would soon grow to expand into the Midwest. On Sept. 17, 1920 Ralph Hay, owner of the Canton Bulldogs invited representatives of ten teams to meet at his Hupmobile showroom where the American Professional Football Association was formed. The league soon changed its official name to the National Football League.
Two teams represented at the meeting, the Decatur Staleys and the Racine Cardinals, continue to play in the NFL today, known as the Chicago Bears and the Arizona Cardinals respectively. The site of this historic meeting no longer exists, but there is a historical marker on the side of a courthouse. To commemorate this meeting, as well as the great early success of the Canton Bulldogs on Aug. 11, 1962 construction began on a Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton Ohio.
The inaugural Hall of Fame Game which ceremonially marks the start of the NFL preseason was also played on this date at Fawcett Stadium which is located right behind the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Fawcett Stadium was opened in 1938 to replace League Field, the former home of the Canton Bulldogs. It serves as a host for primarily high school football and some college football games. The stadium was built into a naturally occurring horseshoe bowl and underwent renovations in 1997 at which point it was officially named Pro Football Hall of Fame Field at Fawcett Stadium.
Since 1962, with only two exceptions, a game has been played at Fawcett Stadium to mark the beginning of the season. There was no game in 1966, and in 2011 the game was cancelled due to the NFL lockout.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Within the confines of the stadium the concessions are actually quite basic as this annual event overwhelms the infrastructure even though the capacity is only 22,400. If you need anything more than a pretzel, soda, or hot dog you won't be able to find it inside. Outside though is another story. Like the other NFL alternate site events, such as the International Game or the Pro Bowl, the league supplements the experience with food and entertainment outside of the stadium. Here a much greater variety of food can be found at the NFL sponsored tailgate as well as plenty of memorabilia options. Many of the vendors at the game have only been hired for the day so expect a tad bit of confusion.
Try as they might, this is still just an elaborate preseason game. But the history, proximity to the Hall of Fame and special touches like the new inductees coming out on the field bring up the score a bit. Throughout the evening, highlights of the induction ceremony were broadcast over the stadium's two large television screens to set the tone.
The location of the stadium is slightly to the Northwest of downtown Canton in a suburban setting. To the Southside of the stadium is McKinley High School. There are not many outside options for food in the immediate vicinity unless the idea of pre-gaming at Dunkin' Donuts on Fulton Street intrigues you.
The Hall of Fame remains open up until game time and for $21 it is well worth the visit. It is a smaller hall of fame then those found in other sports such as baseball, basketball or even the Australian Rules Football Hall of Fame located in Melbourne Australia. There are plans to expand it in the future.
At this game there were small pockets of fans of the respective teams scattered throughout the crowd, but the majority of the fans are locals. The game did not sell out in 2012, but this may be due to the cancellation of the previous year's contest due to labor strife. The game comes at the end of a very long weekend for those who bought packages to the full complement of events.
Located right next to Interstate 77, getting to and from the game is relatively easy by car. For those wanting to park very close there was available parking for a fee. There were further lots that were free of cost and the city of Canton provided free shuttle bus service to and from these areas. There was also plenty of free parking along the many residential streets near the game, the option I went with.
I was able to purchase a ticket off the Hall of Fame website about two weeks prior for $62. That might sound like a lot, but in the context of the vast prices people pay to sit anywhere near the field at other NFL venues, such intimacy is a bargain. You can and will hear conversations on the sidelines, including things the officials and coaches are saying. Many of the players will stay after the game to sign autographs and pose with fans in this relaxed atmosphere.
They say it's the little things that count and here I have to say a big thank you for capping the benches with a vinyl cover. I have sat on enough aluminum benches to know how uncomfortable they can get after several hours.
Preseason football may not be for everyone but for the most diehard fans who need to scout the second and third string players. If you fit into the latter category, then this is the game for you. This game means football is once again back!
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