CANTON, Ohio – Workers assembled the metal framework for outdoor tents in the parking lot of the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Friday, getting ready for its big enshrinement weekend – one that won’t include a game for the first time in 45 years.
It’s much more than just a lost preseason game for the northern Ohio community with deep football roots.
The labor dispute between NFL owners and players forced the league to call off the annual Hall of Fame game between Chicago and St. Louis scheduled for Aug. 7.
Everything else will go as planned, including the enshrinement on Aug. 6.
It’s a financial blow to the Hall of Fame, which could lose about $1.5 million out of its $20 million annual operating budget. And it’s a big loss for the community, which gets more than just a financial boost from the event.
Pride also comes into play.
“We’re such a football community,” said Joanne Murray, director of the Hall of Fame festival for the local Chamber of Commerce. “From the staff to the man on the street, I doubt you’d find a single person who would say they’re not disappointed.”
A day after the game was canceled, the city was feeling the sting.
“We have more than 4,000 volunteers in the community that help with the events,” said Joe Horrigan, a vice president with the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “So there are people who have been working very hard with us on game preparation – that’s their event. They’re very disappointed.
“But I think it’s more the feeling of losing a little bit of tradition. This is middle America here, and we like tradition. I think that’s part of it.”
The Hall of Fame game started in 1962, a year before the building opened. There was no game in 1966, but it has been played every year since.
Last year, nearly 20,000 tickets were sold for the enshrinement. The 22,000-seat stadium was packed for a game between Dallas and Cincinnati. An estimated 6 million people watched the enshrinement on television, and the game was one of the highest-rated shows of the week with 11.4 million viewers.
Unlike the locals, visitors to the Hall of Fame on Friday didn’t seem to mind losing a preseason game.
Ed Kusher from Rochester, N.Y., went through the Hall of Fame wearing a Tom Brady jersey. His wife, Julie, wore a John Elway Broncos jersey. Their 6-year-old son, Tyler, also had a Brady jersey.
Kusher expects the players and owners to get a final agreement soon. The negotiations haven’t soured him on the NFL.
“Not yet,” he said. “If it held up the season, then yes, I’d be real upset.”