College Football Hall of Fame ready for opening day

The new College Football Hall of Fame, which opens this weekend in downtown Atlanta, gave a sneak peek Wednesday to media members — and to a few of the folks enshrined there.

Danny Wuerffel, former Florida quarterback, viewed an interactive display on his college career and realized a benefit of the Hall of Fame’s proximity to his Atlanta home: “I can bring my kids here and remind them, ‘Hey, your dad is somebody. You should listen to me.’”

Tracy Ham, former Georgia Southern quarterback, thought of his childhood when he saw himself enshrined alongside the sport’s greats: “My (older) sisters and brothers used to kick me out of games when I was in the yard playing. Or I was the one guy that made the teams balanced and they were, like, ‘All right, we’ll take him.’ I was always the last pick.”

Wuerrfel and Ham are among 948 players (plus 207 coaches) in the College Football Hall of Fame, which completes its move from South Bend, Ind., to Atlanta with Saturday’s grand opening of the 94,256-square-foot facility near Centennial Olympic Park.

At Wednesday’s media event, Gov. Nathan Deal joined Hall of Fame officials in declaring the long-in-the-works attraction — built mostly with money from corporate sponsors — ready for prime time.

“There are a couple little cosmetic things to do around the building, but by and large everything is done,” said John Stephenson, president and CEO of Atlanta Hall Management, the non-profit organization formed to build and operate the attraction here.

“It is going to be a great contribution to the increased tourism attractions that we have right in this part of the city,” said Deal, citing estimates that the facility will draw 500,000 visitors per year and generate annual taxable sales of about $12 million.

“Now, as the governor of this state, I can tell you those are good numbers,” Deal said.

The state spent $15 million on the project for an adjacent parking deck, road work and a new entrance into the adjoining Georgia World Congress Center. Not including those expenses, the building cost $68 million, which was privately funded except for $1 million from Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development authority, Stephenson said.

Chick-fil-A is the largest of about 15 corporate sponsors and has its name attached to the facility, which officially is called the College Football Hall of Fame and Chick-fil-A Fan Experience.

About 520 artifacts, which will be rotated regularly, are mixed with dozens of interactive features in the building.

“It’s college football history meets the best technology of the 21st century,” said Wuerffel, the 1996 Heisman Trophy winner.

He and the other Hall of Famers in attendance Wednesday gravitated to the circular enshrinement room on the third floor, where 10 “augmented reality viewers,” each about five feet tall, allow guests to access multimedia content on the game’s greats.

“It brought back a lot of memories, the pictures of me when I was in college,” said Art Shell, who starred at Maryland-Eastern Shore in the 1960s, went on to an outstanding NFL career and lives in Monroe. “It’s a great feeling. I’m going to have to come back and bring my family and friends.”

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