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A Brief History of The Pro Football Hall of Fame

The NFL originally awarded the Pro Football Hall of Fame site to Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Like the birthdates of blues legends, dates vary from the late 1940s to early 50s depending on the source; I personally lean toward the late 40s. Nobody, however, disagrees about the fact that Latrobe’s civic leaders sat on the idea.

In the early 50s, Latrobe sportswriter Vince Quatrini wrote that the Hall of Fame idea barely progressed past the talking stage before dying out. Perhaps they’d read Grantland Rice’s column proclaiming a football hall of fame being too complicated.


Canton, Ohio, however, literally bought into the idea after an article ran in the local paper entitled, “Pro Football Needs a Hall of Fame and Logical Site is Here.” The story, published in 1959, stirred the owner of the Timken Company to pledge $250,000. Over $100,000 more was raised within a two-year period. Canton’s organizational efforts thrust them ahead of Latrobe and several other communities expressing interest. In 1961, league owners granted Canton the new official Hall of Fame location.

The building reportedly cost $600,000, with Canton’s citizenry raising about $400,000. Each NFL team reportedly donated $1,000. Dick McCann, a former Washington Redskins executive, became the Hall’s first director, earning a $20,000 salary. McCann crisscrossed the country hunting memorabilia, aided by newspapers. One woman subsequently donated Jim Thorpe’s sweater, which she had been using as a blanket for her dog to sleep on.


The first enshrinement inducted 17 men, including Sammy Baugh, Curly Lambeau, George Halas, Don Hutson, Bronko Nagurski, Red Grange, and Thorpe. Former NFL Commissioner Bert Bell was also part of the first Pro Football Hall of Fame Class ever. Approximately 6,000 persons attended, including former All-Pro and current Supreme Court Justice Byron “Wizzer” White. Inductee Mel Hein joked, “If you think we weren’t great, you should have heard us last night when we got together at the hotel and discussed old times.”


The Pro Football Hall of Fame opened its doors in September 1963, displaying 19,000 square feet of history.  By 1971, the AFL and NFL had merged, doubling the size of the league, and the Hall had doubled also – to 34,000 square feet. The year 1993 was not only the first year of the NFL’s free agency era, it marked the Hall’s expansion to 85,000 square feet. The Pro Football Hall of Fame measured 115,000 square feet after a renovation finished in time for 2013’s 50th Anniversary. By comparison, the White House weighs in at 55,000 square feet.


A few quick fun facts about players in the hall of fame:

Billy Shaw was the first player inducted who played exclusively in the American Football League.

Cal Hubbard, who won 3-straight NFL championships with Lambeau’s Packers, is the only man in both the Pro Football and Baseball Halls of Fame. He became an American League umpire after his NFL career was over.

* Hall of Fame kicker Jan Stenerud attended college on a skiing scholarship.

* No Heisman Trophy winner made the Hall of Fame until 1985, when both Roger Staubach and O.J. Simpson were inducted.

* The first NFL Draft in 1936 yielded four Hall of Famers: Joe Stydahar, Tuffy Leemans, Wayne Millner , and  Danny Fortmann.

* The 1964 Draft produced the most Hall of Famers (10) followed closely by 1957, which bore nine. The Cowboys scored three HOFs in 1964 (Staubach, Mel Renfro and Bob Hayes). 1957’s Draft featured 4 HOFs in the first 8 picks – Paul Hornung, Jim Brown, Len Dawson, and the incomparable Jim Parker.

* The Denver Broncos drafted 3 Hall of Famers in 1964 (Bob Brown, Bob Hayes, and Paul Krause) but were unable to sign any of them to their AFL franchise. The Broncos later drafted Dick Butkus in 1965 but he also chose to sign with the NFL rather than the AFL.


Elvin Bethea (Class of 2003) looking sharp in his Hall of Fame jacket.
Elvin Bethea (Class of 2003) looking sharp in his Hall of Fame jacket. Photo from the book, The Game before the Money.

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