The Pro Football Hall of Fame opened in Canton, Ohio, in 1963, with an initial class of 17. They included owners like the Giants’ Tim Mara, coaches like the Packers’ Curly Lambeau, and star players like Sammy Baugh. Since then, the number of Hall of Fame members has grown to more than 300. Being inducted has come to be seen as one of the game’s ultimate honours and debates over who should or shouldn’t be included are common among fans and pundits alike.
The 50th Anniversary Book was released, as you might have guessed, to mark the Hall’s half century. It’s a chunky coffee table book that’s well illustrated with classic game photos and pictures of items from the Hall of Fame collection, including notable letters, game jerseys and significant game plans.
The book is broken down by decade, each of which is covered by an essay from one of several notable writers. Joe Horrigan, one of book’s editors and the Hall of Fame’s in-house historian, who retired in 2019, covers the 1920s. His co-editor John Thorn, another well-respected sports historian, known for his contributions to titles such as The Hidden Game of Football and The Armchair Quarterback, handles the 1930s.
Rather than simply relate the history of the sport, which has been done in plenty of titles, each essay focuses on a key theme of the decade in question. Rick Gosselin’s essay on the 1970s, for example, is about the rise of defensive football and traces a line from the Chiefs’ loss in Super Bowl I to the dominant Steelers defense that won four Super Bowls. Meanwhile, Boston writer Ron Borges focuses on the Patriots in his essay on the 2000s and discusses teambuilding in the salary cap era.
The essays are not particularly deep. This is, after all, a book designed to be flicked through in short sessions, as with any coffee table book. Still, all are readable and written with an expertise that means even a die-hard fan will learn something, even if much of the content is familiar. (That said, the book’s chapter on the 1950s does repeat the myth that Johnny Unitas’s first pass was intercepted for a touchdown. Unitas himself believed that, so it’s not a surprising mistake, but it’s been known to be false since 2006.)
Alongside the essays and the excellent photography there are short interviews with a few key figures and masses of quotes from Hall of Famers. “Once you’re in this game for a while, you understand the biggest key is playing from your shoulders up,” says Rod Woodson, on the mental side of the game. Meanwhile, Earle ‘Greasy’ Neale explains: “If you don’t want to win all the time, you’ve got no business holding a job in sports.”
It’s an enjoyable read for anyone who wants to reminisce about the history of pro football and the next-best thing to being able to visit the Hall itself.
Photo: Michael Spring