College Football Hall of Fame Celebrates Toe Meets Leather

Diverse signage elements create a powerful experience
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I recently enjoyed the ultimate culmination of business and pleasure. I drove to Atlanta to attend the grand re-opening of the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, which took place on August 23. When I was a kid, the Hall was located just north of Cincinnati; I’d been to it a couple of times, but, although I’ve been an ardent, lifelong college-football fan, I found it to be a mere repository for dusty relics. In the early ‘90s, the Hall moved to South Bend, IN. Although home to the University of Notre Dame, whose gridiron traditions borders on the mystical, the relatively small, northern Indiana city isn’t exactly a travel destination outside of home-game Saturdays.
The National Football Foundation, which operates the Hall, had a revelation: moving the Hall to Atlanta, a thriving metropolis that’s the de facto capital of the Southeast, where college football isn’t merely a ritual of dusting off school colors every September through November. Great plays, great players and intense rivalries are debated on an almost daily basis throughout the Southland. And not merely by regalia-clad men in sports bars; during my eight years in Georgia, I knew Garden Club presidents, straitlaced Baptist deacons and others from countless walks of life, who were both knowledgeable and bellicose in support of their teams.
So, the Foundation has chosen wisely its location. But, without the right content and presentation, it would fare no better than its predecessors. It must present the game’s glorious history and tradition in a way to make it engaging and relevant to viewers from all generations. Naturally, signage plays an enormous role in telling the game’s story.
TVS Design’s Atlanta office, the architectural firm that designed the facility, made the building somewhat of a sign itself: the building’s main entrance is oblong-shaped, like a football, and its red-brown hue closely resembles a pigskin’s color.
Gallagher and Assoc. (Washington, D.C.) served as the facility’s environmental-graphic designer. DeNyse Signs and Pacific Studio (Seattle) served as two of the project’s sign fabricators. I’ll be writing about the Hall’s signage for our November issue, and eagerly await the opportunity to learn and convey more details.
The channel letters installed atop the oblong turret’s façade and the multi-layered logo skin that cobrands the Hall and the Chik-Fil-A Fan Experience, which provides the chance to run, pass and kick on a simulated football field, provide clear identification for the Marietta St. destination. In between the signs, a frosted-glass display with graphics that depicts football players in action accents the powerful entry statement.
However, once you’re inside the environmental graphics truly grab you. As soon as you enter the two-story foyer, you’re greeted on your left with a colossal mural painted by Georgia artist Steve Penley that intersperses famous iconography of teams and personalities from throughout the game’s history. Justin Shealey, a project manager for Denyse Signs, performed heroic duty working nearly around the clock for several days to assemble Penley’s murals on a supporting wood frame. To its right, is a display that features the helmets of teams that represent all 678 schools that field a football team. Inside the helmets, multi-colored LEDs are implanted, and animation program bathes the gridded display in brilliant light. On the foyer floor, quotes from legendary coaches are etched into the floor.
On the second floor, an interactive video display scrolls through logos of scores of colleges, from such traditional powers as Alabama to smaller entities such as Grand Valley St. If you touch the logo, the viewer is treated to a smorgasbord of photos of images that highlight the school’s history. As you move forward, compelling displays recount such elements as the evolution of the football uniform, tailgating and interactive displays that let visitors break into karaoke-style renditions of their chosen fight song keep attendees entertained. Countless other static and dynamic displays inform and engage viewers.
The third floor features tributes to the Hall’s enshrinees. Having inducted the game’s greatest players, coaches and others who’ve influenced the game since 1951, how could homages to more than 1,000 inductees be stored in one room? Dynamic digital signage. Inside the room, several kiosks with handrails enable the user to move the displays to provide wide-angle displays to view stories and video content of each immortalized athlete. Touchscreens allow users to select the state, school and individual player whose story they wished to view. Along the room’s perimeter, handsome, illuminated blade signs list the name, school, position and year of induction for each members.
I witnessed a poignant moment in this room. I saw a family – a husband, wife and two boys who looked to be about eight and 10 – was wearing Syracuse Univ. garb. One of the boys excitedly shouted out, “Look, dad! Ernie Davis! Ernie Davis!” Davis, who played for Syracuse from 1959-1961, was the first African-American Heisman Trophy winner his senior year. Less than two years later, he died of leukemia. The fact that a boy would be excited to learn about a player who’d died about 40 years before he was born affirms how passion for college football passes through generations. No sport venerates its traditions more than college football, and the Hall of Fame brilliantly conveys this heritage in a manner that captivates even the youngest, media-saturated viewer. Without effective signage, that would be impossible.
If you love college football, if you appreciate 21st-Century museums, or even if you simply enjoy history, you owe it to yourself to travel to Atlanta to experience the College Football Hall of Fame. And, above all, do so if you appreciate how an expansive array of signage helps deliver such a powerful experience.