CANTON, Ohio – Workers assembled the metal framework for outdoor tents in the parking lot of the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Friday, getting ready for its big enshrinement weekend – one that won’t include a game for the first time in 45 years.
The labor dispute between NFL owners and players forced the league to call off the annual Hall of Fame game between Chicago and St. Louis scheduled for Aug. 7.
Everything else will go as planned, including the enshrinement on Aug. 6.
But it’s much more than a lost exhibition game for the northern Ohio community with deep football roots.
It’s a financial blow to the Hall of Fame, which could lose about $1.5 million out of its $20 million annual operating budget. And it’s a big loss for the community.
“We’re such a football community,” said Joanne Murray, director of the Hall of Fame festival for the local Chamber of Commerce. “From the staff to the man on the street, I doubt you’d find a single person who would say they’re not disappointed.
“We’re just going to have to get through this unusual year and embrace the other events.”
A day after the game was cancelled, the city was feeling the sting.
“We have more than 4,000 volunteers in the community that help with the events,” said Joe Horrigan, a vice president with the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “So there are people who have been working very hard with us on game preparation – that’s their event. They’re very disappointed.
“But I think it’s more the feeling of losing a little bit of tradition. This is middle America here, and we like tradition. I think that’s part of it.”
The Hall of Fame game started in 1962, a year before the building opened. There was no game in 1966, but it has been played every year since.