Are you ready for some pigskin pilgrimages?
Football may not have all the historic lore and tradition of baseball, but that doesn't mean there aren't lots of great places to visit if you're looking to celebrate some football history. Let's tackle a few of them right now:
First quarter: Football halls of fame
Starting from the top, every football fan should pay a visit to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton Ohio (2121 George Halas Drive N.W., 330-456-8207). Opened on Sept 7, 1963, the hall and museum has since been visited by more than seven million fans. The Pro Football Hall of Fame boasts almost 83,000 square feet of football history, tracing the sport's roots from 1892 through the present day. Thousands of artifacts are displayed, from the helmet and jersey Emmitt Smith would wore when he became the NFL's career rushing leader to many of legendary footballer Jim Thorpe's personal effects.Much like its baseball counterpart, the hall inducts new players each year and a special Hall of Fame game is played each year in Canton.
Just to the north is another, albeit smaller museum and pro football hall of fame, the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, located 58 Jackson Street West in Hamilton, Ontario. It opened in 1972 and honors the stars of Canadian football and features a fun "hands on" zone and tributes to greats with Canadian roots such as Joe Kapp and Warren Moon.
The College Football Hall of Fame, (located in Indiana near Notre Dame at 111 South St. Joseph St., South Bend) features thousands of treasured college football artifacts along with a 360-degree Stadium Theater.
Youngsters take note: you'll want to visit the Pop Warner Museum at 98 East Main Street in Springville (upstate New York). Named for Glenn "Pop" Warner, it commemorates the incredible career of this legendary football hero. During his four decades as a coach, Warner brought many innovations to college football, including the spiral punt, the screen play, single- and double-wing formations, the naked reverse, the three-point stance, numbering players' jerseys, and the use of shoulder and thigh pads. But for many, Warner is best remembered for starting the Pop Warner Youth Football League in 1929.
Second quarter: traces of football's past
On Nov 8, 1970, at the former site of Tulane Stadium, New Orleans Saints' place-kicker Tom Dempsey, prepared to kick a 63-yard field goal in the closing seconds of a game against the Detroit Lions. If he made it, it would be the longest field goal in NFL history. The Lions were up 17 to 16 and so Dempsey was the Saints' last chance. Adding to the drama was the fact that Dempsey's kicking foot was deformed to the point that he only had half a foot. Incredibly, Dempsey put it through the goalposts, making history and winning the game for the Saints. To date, the record stands as the longest, though Denver's Jason Elam tied the record in 1998. Torn down in 1980, there is not a single piece of Tulane Stadium remaining. However, three plaques that used adorn the stadium's walls remain, now placed at what once was the northeast corner of the stadium. (Aron Student Residences at Stadium Place, intersection of McAlister Drive and Willow Street at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.)
To experience a classic stadium that does still stand, look no further than the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, located at 3911 South Figueroa Street in Los Angeles. University of Southern California plays there now, but this place has hosted two Super Bowls (including the first) and hundreds of college and pro games. Since the early 1920's, it has hosted six professional football teams: The Rams, Dons, Chargers and Raiders of the NFL, the Express of the USFL and the Extreme of the short-lived XFL.
Finally, at the Intersection of Grant and Pennsylvania Avenues in Pittsburgh is the former site of Recreation Park. As the marker reads, pro football began at this site in 1892 in when former Yale star William "Pudge" Heffelfinger was paid $500 to play in a single game for the Allegheny Athletic Association on Nov 12.
Third quarter: stadium tours
Stadium tours are a terrific way to get a behind-the-scenes look at the NFL. More and more stadiums offer them, and here are some of the better tours:
The Lambeau Field Stadium Tour lets Packer fans relive the memories of legends including Vince Lombardi, Fuzzy Thurston, Ray Nitschke, Bart Starr and Brett Farve. The 60-minute tour gives you access to behind-the-scenes areas and you'll even walk through the team tunnel on the same concrete that every Packers player has walked on since Lombardi's teams took the field. Adults $8. Discounts for seniors, students and kids. (855 LombardiAvenue, Green Bay, Wisconsin, 920-569-7513.) While there, don't miss the Packers Hall of Fame for more Packers history.
For those who like their Bears history, another classic tour to take is Soldiers Field in Chicago. It includes the South Courtyard, Doughboy Statue, Grand Concourse, Mezzanine Level, the Cadillac Club and Colonnades, Sky Suites, Visitor's Locker Room, and West Den and costs tour costs $15 per adult, discounted rates for seniors and children. (312-235-7244).
Heading south, the tours at Texas Stadium (972-785-4850) will thrill Cowboy fans. It takes you behind the scenes and into the locker rooms of the famous Lone Star State landmarks. Adults $10, less for seniors and kids.
Fourth quarter: a few classic college stadiums
Another great way to experience football history is by visiting the hallowed, ivy-covered walls of some legendary collegiate battlefields. Ohio Stadium in Columbus is one of the most recognizable landmarks in all of athletics. Now more than 80 years old, it holds more than 100,000 fans and fits perfectly along the banks of the Olentangy River. Harvard Stadium, the nation's oldest, is another classic stop. A giant "horseshoe" which blends Greek and Roman styles, its sight lines are some of the best in the game. And of course, Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana, "The House that Rockne Built", is perhaps the most hallowed in the nation. Originally built in 1930, it's undergone much refurbishment but still retains all of its historic charm.
Overtime: big time high school football
High school football is the lifeblood of some communities, as important to a small town as an NFL franchise is to a big city. A few of the most historic (and intense) places to enjoy the spirit of small-town high school football include the following:
Whether you go long or short, there are plenty of places to celebrate pro, college, even high school football-don't pass them up!