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AAA World Article

Gridiron Gold Mine

The confluence of pigskin history in Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania captivates fans from virtually everywhere.

By Gary Peterson

AAA World Article

Pro Football Hall of Fame
Photo Courtesy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Was that a fumble? Was that a catch? Did he get the first down?

These questions usually end with someone yelling—either angrily or exultingly—at the television upon their resolution. Often, the questions have to be resolved by a game official studying slow-motion, varying-angle images of the play in dispute.

And it ain’t easy.

Fans can find out the complexities of such calls for themselves when they go “under the hood” at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. The review-booth exhibit is one of many interactive features that bring football closer to its legions of fans by, in this case, presenting real plays from NFL games to participants before they are asked to make the call. Then, they can compare their call to the one made by the on-field official.

Pro Football Hall of Fame
Pro Football dynasties are saluted in this exhibit at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Photo Courtesy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame

The Fame of the Game
The difficulty that officials have in making the right calls during football games is but one element of what makes these contests so fascinating to fans. And the Pro Football Hall of Fame takes great pains to ensure that fans are able to linger among and dig deeper into the minutiae of professional football. Digging into Canton’s history also makes sense because the giant that is the National Football League (NFL) got its start in a car dealership in downtown Canton. Two meetings among several football team owners during the summer of 1920 addressed the need for uniformity in rules and created the American Professional Football Association.

What they begat is detailed inside the Hall of Fame as the tour immediately funnels visitors into the NFL’s First Century displays. If guests are lucky, they’ll encounter a knowledgeable docent who’ll regale them with tidbits about how ball-shape changes and point-scoring adjustments reflected the shifts in how the game was played. Rule changes, uniform changes, cultural changes and more are recounted in colorful artifact-laden cases as the tour follows the upward trajectory of football. Integral figures of the game as well as pivotal teams and contests also are recounted along the way.

Interior of Pro Football Hall of Fame
Hall of Fame Gallery with busts of the enshrined.
Photo Courtesy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame

As with the review-booth exhibit, interactive elements invite visitors to delve into the game more personally. For example, you can wear a quarterback’s helmet in which you can hear play calls from the sideline. In another exhibit, you can place your throwing hand into the cast of a famous quarterback’s hand gripping a football or place your leg into a cast of the lower body of an actual lineman.

The prowess and proportion of great players come into focus quickly, especially in the Hall of Fame Gallery. That’s where busts of the enshrined players are located. More greatness follows in the Lamar Hunt Super Bowl Gallery, where the ultimate game of every season is celebrated. But it’s not just the past that’s celebrated; next door is the Pro Football Today Gallery and its collection of recent record-breaking achievements.

Going Downtown
Cataloging the NFL’s timeline gets artsy in downtown Canton as part of The Eleven, a project that will eventually place 11 pieces of art signifying important NFL moments along a walking tour. Five pieces were done by early August, representing the formation of the league, the implementation of the draft, integration of the league, the merger of the American Football League and the National Football League, and Super Bowl III in 1968.

Pro Football Hall of Fame statues
The Eleven - an art project in Canton - commemorates football's historic moments.
Photo Courtesy of Gary Peterson

Canton’s downtown isn’t the only place in the region to play a starring position in the pro football story. Pittsburgh, about 100 miles to the east, occupies rarified air not only because of its home team the Steelers, winners of six Super Bowls, but also because it’s the location of the first professional football game. The November 12, 1892, contest between the Allegheny Athletic Association and the Pittsburgh Athletic Club earned the distinction because of the presence of Pudge Heffelfinger. Considered to be the first professional football player, Heffelfinger was paid $500 by the Allegheny Athletic Association, which turned out to be a good investment since Heffelfinger returned a fumble for a touchdown in his team’s 4–0 victory.

The plaque marking the event stands in the shadow of Heinz Field, close to the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, which form the Ohio River.

And just beyond the Monongahela River is a Pittsburgh icon: the Duquesne Incline. Opened in 1877, the incline plane railway originally hoisted commercial products up Mount Washington’s 30-degree slope. Then, it hauled passengers (residents who worked in the city below and grew weary of uphill walking) to the top. When passenger traffic waned, the incline was saved by preservationists. Today, those who ride to the summit are treated to postcard views of downtown Pittsburgh.

Skiline of Pittsburgh and Duquesne Incline
The Duquesne Incline overlooks the Three Rivers confluence in Pittsburgh.
Photo Courtesy of Gary Peterson

Of course, the vantage point includes a view of Heinz Field, home to Heffelfinger’s moment in history, lest anyone forget football’s proper place in a postcard of Pittsburgh (or Canton,
for that matter).

Planning Your Trip
For more information about the Pro Football Hall of Fame, visit; about The Eleven, check out; or about Pittsburgh, log on to


This article originally appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of AAA World.

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