Get in the game with 'Gridiron Glory' exhibit at History Center

| Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, 9:19 p.m.

Call it the immaculate exhibition.

Officials for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, say choosing Pittsburgh to debut its interactive traveling exhibit was no accident.

“Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame” starts Saturday at the Senator John Heinz History Center, Strip District.

Here, you can see “Mean” Joe Greene's battle-scarred helmet, compare your hips to casts of those of Jerome Bettis' and, thanks to videos produced by NFL Films, hear the hits on the field.

Ever wonder how they can fit speakers, microphones and pads into a regulation helmet? This is the place to find out.

There's even an instant-replay booth where visitors can review disputed plays themselves.

“This provides an immersion experience you can't get with stat books,” says Andy Masich, the history center's president and CEO.

The exhibit culls together more than 200 pieces of football memorabilia, comprising the largest collection of such artifacts outside the Hall of Fame.

Saleem Choudhry, a Hall of Fame researcher, says choosing Pittsburgh to debut its six-city tour was no coincidence. This is a big year for football anniversaries in Pittsburgh — it's the 80th anniversary of the Steelers franchise, and the 40th anniversary of Franco Harris' Immaculate Reception.

It also marks the 120th anniversary of what is believed to be the first game in which a player was paid for his skill on the field. Visitors to the exhibit will see proof of that historic transaction in the form of pages of a ledger book that was kept by O.D. Thompson.

He managed the Allegheny Athletic Association, which played the Pittsburgh Athletic Club on Nov. 12, 1892.

Thompson wanted to win. Badly.

So badly that he called in a ringer — William “Pudge” Heffelfinger, an All-American guard from Yale. Pages of the ledger are yellowed by time, but you still can clearly make out one of the line items: “Game performance bonus to W. Heffelfinger for playing (cash) $500.”

The document often is referred to as the pro game's birth certificate.

“This kind of history is something we know resonates with people from Pittsburgh given its deep roots in football,” Choudhry says.

The region's connection to professional pigskin is undeniable.

In all, 273 players are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Of them, 46 have some tie to Western Pennsylvania.

And Latrobe, at one time, was in the running to be home of the Hall of Fame in the 1950s. In the end, Canton, Ohio, was chosen and was able to raise $400,000 to start the coveted hall.

During a media tour this week, advertising company employees David Hughes and Mike Giunta snapped pictures of each other trying on old leather football helmets and jerseys from the exhibit. Hughes, of Mt. Lebanon, was stunned how “regular I feel” after measuring his hands against those of East Brady native Jim Kelly, the former Bills great. Molds of his throwing hand, along with those of Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, are part of the exhibit.

“There's no way I could have done this,” Hughes says. “Look how big his hands were. No way I could have thrown that thing the way he did.”

The exhibit will be in Pittsburgh until Jan. 6.

Steelers Hall of Famers Franco Harris and Dermontti Dawson headline a cast of special guests who will open the “Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame” exhibit Saturday.

A public rally takes place at 10 a.m. in the History Center parking lot, 12th and Smallman streets. Admission to the rally is free.

Chris Ramirez is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-380-5682.

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