Tag Archives: Detroit Lions

Canton: Pro Football Hall Of Fame

2 Feb

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We are in Canton Ohio in search of a late lunch. We want to eat someplace authentically ‘Canton’, Char from the Canton Classic Car Museum told us about Bender’s Tavern on Court Street; the sign on the red-brick building says “Canton’s Oldest and Finest Restaurant” it’s exactly what we’re looking for! The Jacob family opened Bender’s Tavern in 1902; it’s now run by the 4th generation of Jacobs. The interior is gorgeous; leaded glass windows, coffered ceiling, lots of polished dark wood, a mural on the top third of the wall, the bar runs nearly the length of the room– I don’t imagine much has changed over the last 115 years. We’re seated in the second booth from the door, the room is cozy, everyone is friendly. The restaurant serves fine food and wine, the seafood is flown in fresh from Foley Fish in Boston MA; we just want something simple, hearty, like a burger. Bender’s gourmet burger is a blend of brisket, chuck and short rib served on a brioche bun, yum. A pile of fries and a housemade root beer round out our meal perfectly. I’m glad we came here. 

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Well-fed and rested we’re ready to tackle the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Did you ever wonder why the PFHOF is located in Canton? Let me tell you a story….Back in the early 1900’s professional football leagues were regional, you had teams on the eastern seaboard or in the Midwest that would play each other. Football was huge in Ohio, they had their own Ohio league. Ralph Hay, owner of the Canton Bulldogs and the successful Ralph E Hay Motor Company had a bigger idea, a national league. He invited owners of 10 teams from 4 states to meet with him at his dealership, they were told to bring $100 each to cover legal expenses to form the league. The meeting took place September 17, 1920 among Jordan Hupmobiles and Pierce Arrows. The men were unable to cover the $100 price tag, fortunately automobiles had made Hay a wealthy man, he wrote a check for $1,000 and the American Professional Football Association (in 1922 the name was changed to NFL) was formed. Hmm, automobiles paid for the birth of the NFL.

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The PFHOF opened in 1963, the building has a distinctly Mid Century Modern look to it; over the years it has grown to 118,000 sq. ft. The large glass entryway is located at the center of the structure, we push our way through glass revolving doors into the lobby; the current special exhibit is the football “Card Collection”, do kids still collect and trade sports cards? In the main museum the story begins with the NFL’s First Century; pre-NFL uniforms, leather helmets (if you can call them that) and shoulder pads are on display. From the beginning to the early 20th century we learn about game pioneers, great players and coaches. A statue of Jim Thorpe “The Legend” takes center stage. I check out a list of firsts: 1921 Fritz Pollard is the NFL’s first African-American head coach, 1922 and 1923 Bulldogs were first 2-time champions of NFL, 1929 the first night game is held, the first indoor game was held in 1932.

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Black and white photos are blown up wall-size and cover gallery walls, I’m a huge fan of nostalgia. Exhibits move us through the decades, placards are filled with interesting facts and stories. We watch the evolution of game footballs, jersey’s, helmets and cleats. We read about the Dolphins undefeated season in 1972, we look at drawings of formations and plays. Who do you like? Elway, Reggie White, Montana, Brady, Manning, Gonzalez–they’re all here. Showcases hold a kickoff ball from a Bengals home opener, Ref uniforms, Paul Brown’s sideline jacket, a Duluth Eskimos coat, they even have a team photo of the 1957 World Champion Detroit Lions: Detroit 59 Cleveland 14, the game was played December 29 at Briggs Stadium–how cold were those fans?

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We move into the Hall of Fame Gallery, the space is dimly lit, the granite floor gleams, illuminated shelves hold bronze busts of every inductee. Just standing here you know you are witnessing something special, these men were the greatest at what they did, they set records, changed the game, became familiar faces on our TV screens. The first face I recognize is Joe Namath followed by OJ Simpson. Each bust is labeled with the player’s name, the position they played and the teams they played for. I move ahead, there’s one player in particular I’m looking for, there he is, Barry Sanders. For you Detroiter’s, 20 of the inductees have played for the Lions, remember Lem Barney, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Bobby Layne, Curly Culp? 

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The movie in the Super Bowl Theater has already started so we move right into the Lamar Hunt Super Bowl Gallery. This section recaps every Super Bowl played to date, it’s also the most crowded section in the museum. The first Super Bowl was held in January 1967, the Packers triumphed over the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10. The Packers went on to win Super Bowl II, this time they beat the Oakland Raiders 33-14. Joe Namath guaranteed a Jets win in Super Bowl III, they beat the Colts 16-7 and became the first AFL team to win the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy. Display cases are filled rare artifacts such as tickets, hand-written letters, magazine covers, uniforms, gloves and shoes.

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Next we come to the section where they have every Super Bowl ring on display; as you would imagine in the early days the rings were simple and elegant, they get bigger and bigger as years go by. Funny, I couldn’t find one for the Lions…The largest Super Bowl ring ever made was for the New England Patriots (XLIX), it contains 205 diamonds with a total weight of 4.85 carats, pretty snazzy. Guess what? The rings are custom-made by Jostens, you know, the people you bought your high school ring from. In the Pro Football Today gallery we get a look at lockers filled with items belonging to Greene of the Steelers, Favre of the Packers, a Colts locker and HOF inductee Eddie Debartolo of the 49ers. The next hall spills into the HOF Store, here you can buy merchandise from all 32 teams; at 7,500 sq. ft. you could get lost in here. We’re back where we started. It’s time for us to hit the road.

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We’re staying in Cleveland tonight, it’s only about an hour drive. We check in at Stone Gables Bed & Breakfast and get situated. We’re having cocktails at Porco Lounge and Tiki Room on 25th Street. At one time big cities across the country had cool Tiki bars; Cleveland’s famed Kon Tiki closed in 1976, Chin Tiki in Detroit hung on a little longer. Many of the things in Porco came from those establishments–the Polynesian cocktail tradition lives on! The compact space is filled with Tiki paraphernalia; it’s fun to sit and look at everything. There’s a waterfall near the entrance, a large Tiki glows in blue l.e.d. light surrounded by tropical plants. Bartenders wear Hawaiian shirts, a Blowfish light hangs central over the bar, the back bar is overstuffed with liquor bottles. Drinks are made with fresh-squeezed juices, mixers and house made syrups. They’re garnished with fresh fruit, tiny umbrellas, mine has an alligator stirrer. Our server was knowledgeable and helpful, the drinks were great. A fun way to end another day of adventures on the road.

DETROIT: Ford Field Tour !

5 Feb

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Superbowl XLVI takes place in Indianapolis this Sunday February 5th, football is a popular topic this week. With that in mind we thought we’d take advantage of one of the behind-the-scenes tours of Ford Field. Walk Up Tours are available on Mondays and Fridays from January to July at 11am and 1pm. We parked in the structure next to Elwood Bar and Grill, walked across the street to the stadium and purchased our tickets.  When the group was fully assembled our lovely tour guide began, as she spoke it was apparent she was not a local. Though she was born across the pond as they say, she has been in Detroit for 16 years, and has been at Ford Field since the beginning. She is a wonderful hostess who possesses a wealth of information about the stadium.

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We began on street level; The 1920’s Hudson’s warehouse that was located on the stadium property now makes up the entire south wall of the structure, giving the stadium a bit of personality. The ground level is designated for restaurants, concessions and retail and plays homage to Detroit’s past. When J.L Hudson’s flagship store on Woodward was imploded in 1998 the bricks were recovered, cleaned and stored, then re-used to build Ford Field, how cool is that?  A 7-story atrium is within the warehouse, at the southeast corner is a glass wall which provides a panoramic view of the Detroit skyline, one of the building’s many unique features. I couldn’t believe how big this place is, there is a ton of natural light flowing in through immense skylights, large glass windows and open corners giving it a light open feeling, almost like being outdoors. There are 132 suites located on four levels, with one level of Club seating. There are eight varieties of suites seating from 8-30 people. We got to check out a medium to large one, Wow! The view: awesome, great amenities, and best of all the seats are Lincoln Navigator seats, really! Talk about comfort; Visteon manufactured all of the seats for the stadium. It’s so much fun to do this kind of tour; we saw Press Row, fancy lounge areas and the top-secret NFL Instant Replay room.  You overlook the entire field from up here, I have to admit I was in awe, it’s really a remarkable venue.

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Opened in 2002, it took 32 months to construct at a cost of $550 million, it seats 65,000 people. They say it has the best sight-lines of any football stadium in the US, with no obstructed views. Because of the long cold Detroit winters a permanent dome was the best design. The structural-steel supported dome with its two 18 ft wide concrete columns is quite a sight!  It’s interesting that the End Zones at Ford Field are East and West instead of the traditional North and South, special permission had to be granted from the NFL . The reason for that is sunlight can be a distraction to players, so precautions were taken to prevent that.

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Next we took an elevator down to what is the most coveted portion of the tour: the locker room and of course the FIELD. We got off the elevator in what is the original basement of the 1920’s warehouse, pretty amazing eh? First up: the Visitors locker room, nice, cherry wood makes up the actual lockers, indoor/outdoor carpet, nice; the Lions locker room, whoa, it’s huge. Same basic amenities just housed in a much bigger space, there are 11 locker rooms in all. Time to head out onto the field, there are actually two tunnels, one for the visitors, so of course it’s smaller, and one for the home team; that’s the one we took. The tunnels, made of concrete slope downward; the field is actually 40 ft below street level. There is an excitement as you walk through, then all at once you see it, a vast green expanse stretching out before you, the size of. …..well…… the size of a football field!  I looked around at my tour companions and every single one had a smile on their face. I don’t know what it is, but something about being in a place like this really brings out the kid in all of us.

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We have been wanting to try a new place that opened on Park behind the Fox called Hot Taco. With neighbors like Town Pump, Centaur, Park Bar, Bucharest Grill and Cliff Bells, this is quickly becoming a popular destination district. The diminutive, contemporary space offers a variety of tacos and burritos designed for hit and run dining. A chalkboard and paper menus on the counter describe your options; the fillings are made up of interesting combinations of flavors. They offer three different tacos on a 3 for $6.00 special; the Hot Taco Chicken, Pork and Chorizo, that sounded good to us. We started with an order of chips and asked for a sample of each of their available sauces: Salsa Verde, Chipotle Sour Cream and Mango Salsa. Tacos are wrapped individually in small sheets of foil, we ate ours sitting at a counter along the window overlooking Park.  We enjoyed all of them, I think the Chorizo was my favorite. Open from 11am to 2am you satisfy your taco craving almost anytime it strikes.