Brian Hoffman column – August 10, 2017

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Football Disneyland

The Pro Football Hall of Fame can be seen behind the visitors’ side of Benson Stadium in Canton. Note the
white object that looks like a football, that’s the roof of the original Hall of Fame building.
The home side has been redone with an upper deck and luxury boxes. PHOTOS BY DORIS HOFFMAN

All that aside, there’s no way Salem can compete with Canton, Ohio. The Stagg Bowl will move to Canton in 2020 after one more year in Salem and two years somewhere in Texas.

I don’t know what kind of stadium they have in Texas, but I can’t imagine it being better than Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton. After the old Fawcett Stadium was remodeled it now holds over 22,000 fans, or roughly three times as many as Salem Stadium.

The largest crowd to see a Stagg Bowl in Salem was when Bridgewater played in 2001, a 30-27 loss to Mount Union before 7,992 fans. The record for attendance for a Stagg Bowl is 9,000 for a 1982 game in Phenix City, Alabama when West Georgia beat Augustana. I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds an awful lot like an estimate.

Woodforest Bank Stadium in Shenandoah, Texas, outside Houston, will host the 2018 and ’19 game and it seats 9,600 fans. However, it’s 158 miles from the closest Division III school, defending NCAA champion Mary Hardin-Baylor. Canton, however, is right in the middle of Division III football territory, a third and long from Mount Union and much closer to all the Wisconsin schools that often make the long trip to Salem.

Last weekend my wife and I visited my friend Craig and his family in Copley, Ohio, just outside of Akron. He has yearly reserved tickets to the NFL Hall of Fame game in Canton and I bought two tickets back in June so my wife and I could join Craig and his son at last Thursday’s game between the Cowboys and Cardinals.

I was anxious to see this stadium that took our Stagg Bowl away. I had been there many time before, when it was Fawcett Stadium, a high school facility for local McKinley High in Canton. The stadium is located right next to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and it’s been the site of the Hall of Fame game for years, annually the first exhibition game of the summer season.

This year with Dallas and Arizona playing in the game you knew there would be a big crowd. Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones was being inducted, and wherever the Cowboys play there’s always a big crowd and excitement. I don’t like the Cowboys, but I’ll give them that.

My wife and I had seats in the brand new upper deck, around the 10 yard line. As expected, Dallas fans were sitting all around me, and that makes an Eagles fan like myself nervous. I wore a “Salem Football” shirt and “Glenvar Football” hat to try and stay inconspicuous. Plus, if I somehow got on TV in the nationally televised game it would be a hoot if someone from Salem saw their team represented at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

For the first 10 minutes of the game, no one occupied the seat next to me. Then I see this big guy in a Troy Aikman shirt stepping over folks down the row, making his way toward us. I heard him ask “anyone know where seat 17 is?”

I did, because I was in seat 18. He sat down and, just as friendly as can be, stuck out his hand and announced, “howdy, I’m Geno. You a Cowboys fan?”

I replied that I was not, and he then inquired if I were a Browns fan. Against my better judgement I told him I was an Eagles fan, to which he replied in a loud voice, “hey everybody, we got an Eagles fan here.”

My identity was revealed, but at least I stood up for the honor of my team. Friendly Geno then went on to tell me how he was born and raised in Akron but he got a Roger Staubach uniform for Christmas when he was eight and he’s been a Dallas fan ever since. His favorite player was Ed “Too Tall” Jones because he was so tall himself. He went on and on as his cohorts sporting Dez Bryant and Michael Irvin shirts berated the officials for a pass interference call in a totally meaningless game, with most of the regulars on the bench.

I could stand it for the rest of the quarter, then I spotted some empty seats in the end zone. I informed Geno that we had to pass by to go to the restroom, and never returned to our ticketed seats, taking refuge in the end zone.

It was a great weekend for Dallas fans, and I hate to say it but Canton is going to be a great place for the Stagg Bowl. The stadium is beautiful, they have several turf practice field right by the stadium, and it’s right next to the PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME! The Salem Museum is nice, but a display of Lakeside Amusement Park artifacts pales in comparison to Johnny U’s high tops, Broadway Joe’s white cleats and rooms and rooms full of football memorabilia, photos, movies and, of course, the busts of past inductees. I’ve been through the hall three or four times and it’s a thrill every time.

By the time the Stagg Bowl moves to Canton in 2020 the plan is to make the place a Disneyland of football. Construction is underway for a luxury hotel and a 25,000 square foot conference center, an interactive and immersive virtual reality experience, an indoor facility with a full 100 yard field that can seat 9,000 and can also be used for basketball, a mall with restaurants and shopping and even an amusement park!! Maybe they’ll even bring back the Shooting Star, for gosh sakes.

Salem was a great place for the Stagg Bowl, but how can we compete with that? Sure it’s going to be cold in Ohio in December, but it was plenty cold here for most of the games. As for the hospitality, we probably get the nod there, but that’s not enough to offset a trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame for fans of the competing teams.

Let’s just be thankful we had the Stagg Bowl for 25 years. And who knows, maybe somewhere down the road the NCAA will decide they miss our southern hospitality and come back for a few years.



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