One of the most exciting times of the year has finally arrived. All across this grand land of ours, teams in the National Football League are getting ready for another season as training camps start to open. In fact, we are just days away from the annual Hall of Fame Game that will take place in Canton as the Indianapolis Colts take on the Green Bay Packers.
I was blessed back in 2012 to have an opportunity to go to the Hall of Fame Game, and for those that have never been, it’s quite a unique experience. The game is played in this historic structure that used to be known as Fawcett Stadium, which is shoehorned between Interstate 77 to the east and a residential neighborhood to the west.
The game I was able to go to pitted my beloved Arizona Cardinals against the New Orleans Saints. The Cardinals were coming off an inspired 2011 season where they finished 8-8. They missed the playoffs, but in the end, had four victories in overtime, which still stands as a league record. There was excitement in this team.
Well, there was excitement in the team until the Hall of Fame Game. On the first offensive drive, the Cardinals overpriced quarterback, Kevin Kolb, went back to deliver a pass, got hit and busted some ribs. He hobbled off the field and everyone in the state of Arizona knew from that point forward, it was going to be a long, long season.
Even though the result on the scoreboard was a bust, the game was actually quite the spectacle. Unlike the behemoth structures where most professional football teams are accustomed to playing, Fawcett Stadium is clearly not modern and lacks the basic accoutrements modern stadiums have.
Fawcett Stadium was built in 1924 as a WPA project and wasn’t finished until 1938. It was originally planned to be the home of Canton’s NFL franchise, the Canton Bulldogs, but the team folded well before the stadium was finished. Rather, the stadium came under the ownership of the local school district and has been the home to a number of high school and college teams and has hosted numerous high school football championship games.
The Stadium holds just a smidge over 22,000 spectators and is in the middle of a transformation. In November 2014, New Orleans Saints owner provided $10 million to renovate the stadium as the National Football League continues to make their commitment to Canton, which is home to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
All of this should serve as a reminder really how lucky we are in Ohio to have such a rich history of professional football, especially since the National Football League pretty much got its start here in the Buckeye State.
It was on a nondescript day in August of 1920 when a few guys across the Midwest met at a car dealership in Canton and started the American Professional Football Association, which would be later known as the National Football League. It was a few weeks later in October when the first game of the new league was played where the Dayton Triangles hosted and beat the Columbus Panhandles, 14-0. A new chapter in professional sports was being written.
The original fourteen teams of the American Professional Football Association were strung out all across the Midwest. There were the big city teams like the Detroit Heralds and the Chicago Tigers. There were also the small town teams as well such as the Muncie (Indiana) Flyers and the Rock Island (Illinois) Independents.
Of the 14 teams that agreed to pay that $100 league membership fee back in 1920, only two of them still remain today. The Decatur Staleys, who were coached by the legendary George Halas, would eventually move to Chicago and rename themselves the Bears.
The other team is the oldest professional football team in the country, the Cardinals. The team started in Chicago in 1898 and would move to St. Louis in 1960 and eventually find a home in the desert in 1988.
I don’t know about you, but I am ready to get this season started!
William “Bill” Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at [email protected]