A Pro Football Hall of Fame exhibition opening May 23 at Union Station is a comprehensive walk through sports history without having to visit Canton, Ohio.
"Professional football in America is a special game. A unique game. The men who play it make it so. All of them are fearless. All of them are strong. Quick. And all of them are part of a story that began long ago, a story written by men who found in a sport a demanding measure for their own courage and ability." -John Facenda, the voice of NFL Films
As a kid, George Guastello loved watching the venerated Kansas City Chiefs teams of the 1960s and 1970s and got into the old Municipal Stadium for free as a member of the Huddle Club when he went to the games with his family. Those Chiefs teams were defined by an amazing assemblage of talent that produced a slew of Pro Football Hall of Famers—and a victory in Super Bowl IV.
As the President and CEO of Union Station, Guastello is excited that the story of pro football gets to be told within the walls of the historic building where he works.
"Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame," the largest-ever traveling professional football exhibition, opens May 23 and is coming directly from Phoenix, which hosted this year's Super Bowl. To experience it themselves, Guastello and Union Station Evecutive Vice President and COO Jerry Baber saw "Gridiron Glory" at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, N.J. And with the help and cooperation of the Chiefs, the Union Station team was able to land it for Kansas City. The exhibition will satisfy the cravings of football fans and Chiefs fans everywhere until Sept. 6.
"The Chiefs pull from such a huge market in our area. For us to be having it this summer during training camp, during the preseason, building up to the season and the economic support that it adds, will be quite impressive," Guastello says.
"Gridiron Glory" encompasses nearly 10,000 square feet of priceless original founding documents and artifacts, including a leather helmet dating back to the game's infancy and a game ball used by Jim Thorpe in 1917.
Another 4,000 square feet is set aside just for the history of the Chiefs.
"In this exhibition, there's always a hometown gallery, but nothing to the extent that we will be building and doing for the Chiefs, to pay homage to what the Chiefs have done for our community," Guastello says.
One of the more moving exhibits is the display of the Lombardi Trophy, but the Chiefs wanted to do something special with that. They agreed to put the Lombardi Trophy they won in Super Bowl IV against the Minnesota Vikings in the exhibition, which is also historically significant because it was the last trophy to feature both the AFL and NFL logos before the merger. On Jan. 12, 1970, players waved that sterling-silver beauty of a trophy during a parade route that made its way through Liberty Memorial and directly in front of Union Station. The Chiefs' lone Lombardi Trophy is coming full circle, 45 years later.
Bobby Bell and Jan Stenerud, fellow Pro Football Hall of Famers and members of that Super Bowl team, were on hand when Union Station made the announcement about "Gridiron Glory."
"When you have the chance to talk to these gentlemen, they are true deans and true classics of the sport. They have this gravitas, and you have the sheer honor to be in their presence," Guastello says. "To have them both in front of everybody in those gold jackets was pretty amazing, and you can see the pride in their eyes."
Besides the 200 artifacts and multiple galleries that recount the best players, coaches and games in pro football, an exhibition like this really lends itself to visitor participation. Guastello's favorite interactive piece of "Gridiron Glory" is a "You Make the Call" replay booth where you can look at actual plays that were under further review and determine whether you've got the goods to be a ref in the NFL. Kids and adults alike can suit up in a uniform or test their football skills. The connection between football and science is also explored, which is a perfect fit for a place that also houses Science City.
A pro football exhibition wouldn't be complete without the integration of NFL Films footage. One of the major reasons why the NFL has grown in popularity is because of the father-son co-founders of NFL Films, Ed and Steve Sabol, and how they captured the game in a way that nobody else had.
Previous Union Station exhibitions, such as “The Discovery of King Tut,” “Diana, A Celebration” and “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition,” welcomed between 100,000 and 120,000 people. According to a 2014 Associated Press poll, nearly half of all Americans consider themselves pro football fans, and because of that broad appeal, it wouldn't be surprising if this exhibition generated record numbers. It's estimated that 40 percent of attendees come from a 250-mile radius, and with a rabid Chiefs fan base right at their doorstep, the potential is great for a summer blockbuster at Union Station.
"I hope Kansas City and more importantly the five-state radius really embraces this exhibition and comes out in droves,” says Guastello, “because they'll have a great time, they'll learn something and have fun."