For the first part of the College Football Hall of Fame gallery, which features exterior and entry-foyer signage, click here.
From Knute Rockne and Notre Dame’s “Four Horsemen” of the 1920s, to Paul “Bear” Bryant’s dominant Alabama squads of the 1960s and 1970s, to more recent stars like Tim Tebow and “Johnny Football” Manziel, college football is perpetually populated by dynamic players who have captured the imaginations of generations of fans. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. (NCAA), nearly 49 million fans attended games at its 644 member schools that field teams, with hundreds of millions tuning in on TV or various electronic devices.
Predictably, the nearly 150-year history of a sport that stirs such passion generates a rich legacy. The National Football Foundation (NFF) established a College Football Hall of Fame in 1951 to enshrine its legendary players, coaches and other influential individuals. The NFF had previously operated facilities in suburban Cincinnati and South Bend, IN. However, due to lagging Hall attendance, the NFF decided a move was needed. The consensus settled on Atlanta, where its Marietta St. location, in close proximity to Centennial Olympic Park, the World of Coke and the Georgia Aquarium, make it a
cog in a well-oiled tourism engine, not a standalone attraction. If you’ve lived in or spent considerable time in the Southeast – I called Georgia home for eight years – you know football, particularly at the high-school and collegiate levels, isn’t merely a sport or diversion: it’s a deep-seeded passion.
“Faith, family, football” is a common refrain – though the prioritization is likely reversed for many. And, with the Chik-fil-A Kickoff Classic which launches each season, and the Peach Bowl, Atlanta’s postseason bowl game, being elevated to the championship-playoff rotation, it will feature two, high-profile games annually that will draw fans from across the nation.
While location is certainly a vital consideration for facility accessibility and convenience, a dull space won’t engage visitors – success demands impactful signage and environmental graphics. Atlanta Hall Management, the nonprofit organization that shepherded the four-year process from the announced move to the opening, knew this.
Kudos to its leaders for picking a first-rate complement of vendors: Washington, DC-based Gallagher and Assoc., whose portfolio includes the National World War II Museum and the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, designed the exhibits and environmental graphics for the approximately 94,000-sq.-ft. facility; Pacific Studio (Seattle), which has earned several SEGD Design Awards, fabricated the exhibitry and interpretive graphics; DeNyse Companies (Douglasville, GA), a winner of several ST International Sign Contest accolades through the years, fabricated the exterior signage and several interior wayfinding and room-ID panels; Cortina Productions (McLean, VA) coordinated the development of the dynamic-digital signage (DS), and Obscura (NYC) created the DS content and specified the hardware.
“We’re very proud of college football’s history, but a museum full of dusty artifacts that never change isn’t going to capture the next generation of fans,” Steve Hatchell, the NFF’s president, said. “I’m proud of the many contributions the Hall’s exhibits and signage providers have made in honoring our history while capturing the game’s exciting present and future.”
I attended the Hall’s grand opening on August 23, which was an enthralling experience. Fans from numerous colleges were present – it had a heavy Southeastern Conference flavor, but many schools were represented, including a sizable contingent from historically African-American colleges. TVS, the facility’s Atlanta-based architect, collaborated with Gallagher to create a russet-colored, oblong turret – closely resembling the shape of a football – that works like a sign.
Many sign types play a vital role in presenting college football’s past, present and future. They awed practically all in attendance. The most poignant moment I witnessed occurred in the display of Hall of Fame enshrinees on the facility’s third floor. A family of four was there, dressed in Syracuse Univ. garb, when one of the sons exclaimed, “Look, Dad! Ernie Davis! Ernie Davis!” The Syracuse running back won the Heisman Trophy in 1961 – the first African-American to do so – but died less than two years later from leukemia. That a child would be so excited to learn about a player from his favorite school that died 40 years before he was born, speaks to the passion college football engenders. Without quality signage, such a moment doesn’t happen.
With several star football players accused of egregious crimes and well-documented cases of ex-players suffering profound brain damage, the sport faces a crossroads. Coaches and others in positions of influence (including fans) must demand better conduct from players, and better equipment, instruction and supervision is necessary to reduce the chances of such injuries to future players. However, there is much to celebrate about college football and its enrichment of popular culture (not to mention that most ex-players become solid societal contributors).
The following pages present and interpret the Hall of Fame experience. However, if you’re a fan of football, museums or American history, trek to Atlanta and see it for yourself.
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