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Rutgers on display at College Football Hall of Fame

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Did Rutgers actually invent tailgating?

Rutgers helmet was lit up meaning a fan is in the building!
David Anderson

While following the NFL Draft on my phone (sadly missing Sebastian Joseph selected on TV), I got the opportunity to visit the College Football Hall of Fame on Saturday afternoon. The College HOF is located in downtown Atlanta, Georgia situated across from Centennial Olympic Park adjacent to Philips Arena and Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It’s not overly large, but packed with interactive exhibits that allow fans to get their own unique experience. I was surprised at how many ways Rutgers was on display at the venue and hopefully fans of other teams feel the same way about theirs.

Upon entry, the first thing visitors notice is a huge wall of helmets representing all the current college football teams. FBS, FCS, and more:

The three story helmet display is captivating upon entry.
David Anderson

Visitors then walk behind the helmet wall (or take the elevator) up two flights of stairs to begin on the third floor. Unless there is some function going on, the only real draw on the third floor is the true core of the place itself, the names of every player and coach ever inducted. I liked the purity of it without the virtual world on display everywhere else in the facility. It’s nothing like Cooperstown though with all the Baseball plaques or Pro Football busts in Canton. Scarlet Knights fans are familiar with the Homer Hazel award which is given to the team’s MVPs each season, but they may not know that Hazel is actually a member of the first class ever enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951:

The inaugural 1951 class featured Hazel, the Gipper, and the Galloping Ghost.
David Anderson

Before beginning the descent to the second floor, fans get the best view of the helmet wall and collection of other art they may have not noticed on the left hand side. The series of paintings take visitors through the history of college football beginning with, you guessed it, the very first college football game ever played. Rutgers defeated Princeton 6-4 in 1869 on the site of the future College Avenue Gymnasium. Look familiar to Scarlet Knights fans?

An artists’s representation of the first game in 1869.
David Anderson

Once on the second floor the main display features various trophies including the Rose Bowl (one day ...), Heisman (Sitkowski 2020!?!?), and National Championship (let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves). Seeing all the trophies in one place was cooler than I thought it would be. Of course seeing the Orange Bowl trophy with real oranges flashed me back to two of the saddest days of my sports life, one in 2006 and another in 2012. (Physical pain just thinking about it.)

I don’t think my dad ever promised me anything, but I made him promise to go to the Rose Bowl if Rutgers ever makes it.
David Anderson

Continuing in a clockwise direction, the next area includes memorabilia honoring the most recent inductees. Peyton Manning was the one most fans stopped to look it as I saw a few people with Tennessee Volunteers outfits avoiding confrontation with other Go Gata patrons. I found one player particularly interesting and heard a famous baseball radio announcer in my ear. (Sadly not Jawuan Harris yet.) The same guy who led to the lines, “I don’t believe what I just saw” and “The Impossible has happened.” And of course the Mets SHOULD have beaten the Dodgers in the LCS like Rutgers beat Michigan State that same year (1988).

Gibson was a star in baseball and football for Sparty.
David Anderson

Continuing into the most interactive part of the entire place is a somewhat enclosed spot where people can put on the 3D virtual reality headgear and experience what it’s like to be on the field during a big game on a Saturday. The waiting area for this activity had a projection video of the history of college football including highlights from the biggest games and most famous plays that everyone seemed to enjoy. I did not do the VR since literally half the people on the second floor were waiting in line for it and having been on the field for an NCAA football game before, I felt as though other people may get more out of the opportunity. That was the point I realized I should have asked if former players would get some sort of discount. The price for the basic entry with no tour or more tailored package was $21.99 plus tax, so it wasn’t too ridiculous unless you have a family of 11 kids.

Also in that area is a place to do video game drills like in the now discontinued NCAA Football series and another activity that seemed super awesome until I realized I could just do this at home with a little home PC skill. That activity is one where some of the most famous plays in college football history can be selected and you can record your own announcer call of the action. The most popular one I saw people perform was Auburn’s 109 yard field goal return to stun Alabama, though I chose Boise State’s hook and ladder (or lateral if you prefer) against Oklahoma, with “The Play” between Cal and Stanford in a close second.

Continuing to wrap around the second floor, the southwest corner of the building is dedicated to the great rivalries in the sport. Of course it’s difficult to truly say what are the best, but most of the traditional ones appeared like Stanford-Cal, Army-Navy, Oklahoma-Texas, etc. Even if there is not a free standing summary of your favorite team FBS’s* rivalry, nearby touch screen computers allow someone to select their favorite squad and see information about at least one of theirs. I was a little disappointed that Rutgers “rival” is considered Princeton when for many fans including myself, the two teams haven’t squared off in my lifetime.

On the west end one wall has an evolution of equipment worn by players which for some may not actually feel very “historical”. The opposite wall features a timeline of key college football events with corresponding stories about what was happening in world news at the same time. I breezed past this initially, but glad I went back.

In the northwest corner, the greatest coaches are honored with displays, audio, and some chalk talk breaking down various formation plays. Barry Switzer’s Wishbone and Lou Holtz describes the triple option among others. Perhaps this is where the Holtz’s playsheet from his final game (a 62-0 blowout of RU) could be found, but let’s say I was not focused on reliving that after the earlier Orange trauma.

RU got more love with inclusion of gameday vehicles.
David Anderson

The entire north side of the floor is dedicated to the evolution of tailgating including actual cars provided by sponsors, images of various venues, and an exhibit showing common supplies from the 1950s. Could it be possible that the term “tailgating” was born the same day as the sport itself? Atlanta’s most famous company Coca-Cola thought so in 1924 ...

A 1924 Coca-Cola (ATL baby) poster indicates Rutgers may be the birthplace of tailgating!
David Anderson

Opposite that is more homage to the fans that make the sport so great. A interactive face paint exhibit seemed excessive considering the people I saw using it probably have experience with the real thing. This photo probably made the cut because it looks like fans in Clark Harris (#81) and Brian Leonard (#23) jerseys brought out their inner Picasso here.

Love those Brian Leonard jerseys.
David Anderson

Having returned to street level, visitors are given the opportunity on an artificial surface to throw balls into a net (minis for smaller fans), kick through a set of field goal uprights, and go through various agility drills. On the way into the large open space, the Hall plays homage to the various different entrances many teams make on gameday either to their stadium or onto the field itself. Of course the most noticeable is Notre Dame’s “Play like a Champion” today, but I was literally shocked to see another familiar image mixed in:

A statue along the Scarlet Walk fans should know about.
David Anderson

Of course the doors from the activity area leads straight into the gift shop. The for sale items were pretty basic (everyone uses amazon anyway), and they didn’t have any Rutgers socks like were available for other teams. Overall, I didn’t regret my decision to go, but those technologically challenged or without nostalgia for the game probably won’t enjoy it as much as other fans.