There are exactly two things in life that live up to their hype. One is the Grand Canyon. (It's very large). The other is the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which is a little more than an hour's drive from Youngstown, Ohio and which I and some of the other beatwriters visited today.
The room of busts sends goosies up and down your spine, and there are 49ers from every era. Joe Perry's bust is two away from Hugh McElhenny's, which is three to the left of Y.A. Tittle's. There's Bill Walsh, of course, and Ronnie Lott and Joe Montana and Steve Young. Mike Singletary's is above and to the right of Walsh's. His likeness, in my opinion, is one of the weakest. Samurai Mike needs glasses. Dan Fouts' bust looks more like Poseiden than Dan Fouts. But these are mere quibbles. Most busts are spot on.
Some of the best stuff, however, isn't on display. It's in storage in the basement, which - special thanks to the Hall's Matt Waechter - we were able to visit. On one of the shelves is a folded up piece of green carpet. Oh, that's the section of turf from Three Rivers Stadium on which Franco Harris made the Immaculate Reception.
What's the significance of the dark green tote bag hanging just a few feet away? That? That's the bag that Pat Tillman used on road trips while with the Cardinals. On it is a tag with his name and his address, New Almaden, Ca. If that doesn't squeeze your heart and send a rush of blood to your head, you need to go to the doctor toute suite.
The helmets - the most iconic part of football -- are very cool. There are helmets from every era and from every league - USFL, CFL, etc., etc - and there are stacks of them. There also are two full walls filled with what appear to be shoe boxes but which contain footballs. There are 800 of them being stored at the Hall, including one that was used in the 1958 Championship game, A.K.A. "The Greatest Game Ever Played," and one that was used three weeks ago in a game in Green Bay.
It's the one that bonked off and then over the crossbar that David Akers booted from a record-tying 63 yards away. When we arrived in the morning, it was in its box and was removed by an archivist wearing white gloves. (Everything there is handled with gloves, as the oils from the hand will accelerate deterioration).
By the afternoon, however, the ball was in a display case in the "Pro Football Today" gallery above Sebastian Janikowski's kicking shoe. Janikowski had a 63-year field goal in last year's season opener. Akers eventually will send his shoe to the hall of fame. He's using it right now.
* The program cover above is from the 49ers' first-ever regular-season game in 1946. They lost to the New York Yankees, 21-7.
-- Matt Barrows