College Shrine

ATLANTA – From Bruiser Kinard, inducted in the charter class of 1951, to Wesley Walls who will be inducted later this year, the College Football Hall of Fame means something special to Ole Miss.

The sport’s shrine has a new home here, moving from South Bend, Ind., where it had been since relocating from metro Cincinnati in 1995. It had been in Kings Island, Ohio, from 1978-95. Before that, a small facility in New York City.

The new facility opened last Saturday at Centennial Olympic Park and near the Georgia Dome, Georgia World Congress Center, CNN Center, and Georgia Aquarium. It cost more than $66 million to build, and covers nearly 95,000 square feet on some 2.7 acres.

The hope by the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame is that it has truly found a home in this southern city, a region of the country where passion for the sport at its highest amateur level runs deep.

“It’s a good place because it’s easy for everybody to get to,” said the Hall of Fame’s President and CEO, John Stephenson, Jr. “Atlanta is a two-hour flight for 80 percent of the country’s population. Atlanta is in the middle of this hotbed of college football passion.”

Stephenson said college football is popular throughout the country. But it is here that the Hall of Fame seems to have found a home. And Stephenson likes what he sees in the finished product.

“We’ve got this building broken up into all kinds of subject matter, from bands and cheerleaders to tailgating to traditions to stadiums to uniforms to players and coaches,” he said.

A wall of helmets greets the visitor in the large lobby area. There are 768 helmets on there, including Ole Miss, of course, along with every college team at any level of the sport.

That’s right, currently there are 768 college football teams in the U.S. And all of them have a helmet on the huge wall in the lobby. And they light up, too, if someone affiliated with that particular college is in the building and has signed in.

The first floor also contains some interactive games in a large exhibition area that is lined as a football field with a goalpost. Visitors can experience different aspects of fun and games as well as concessions here. It’s also the space where the Hall hosts banquets, ceremonies, and other large-scale events.

The second floor is filled with memorabilia and more fan interactive scenarios, such as an ESPN Game Day set where fans can take part by reading a script and virtually putting on their mascot’s head. There’s a sing your fight song section, and a fantasy play by play radio that allows visitors to call great plays from college football.

The third floor is the sanctuary. It’s the home of those enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Archie Manning, an enshrined player from Ole Miss who has been a National Football Foundation board member since 1993 and chairman since 2008, likes the new home of the Hall.

“The board is really excited,” he said. “We had a really nice college football hall of fame in South Bend. They were great people. For Notre Dame games and big events, people went. The big difference in Atlanta is there's just so much going on in Atlanta and the area."

Manning said he is honored to be in the Hall and is excited for Ole Miss' latest entry.

"Colleges, including Ole Miss, take pride when their people go in the Hall of Fame," he said. "I could not be prouder of Wesley Walls. Here's a guy that not that long ago was playing both ways in college football. Ole Miss fans should take a lot of pride in the number we have in the Hall, especially with Wesley now going in."

The Rebels have 11 members of the College Football Hall of Fame. In addition to Kinard, Walls, and Manning, the other Ole Miss members are Charlie Conerly, Barney Poole, Doug Kenna, Thad “Pie” Vann, Parker Hall, Jake Gibbs, Charlie Flowers, and John Vaught.

Also, Ole Miss alumnus Jimmie McDowell served as executive director of the National Football Foundation for more than two decades in the latter part of the 20th century.

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