Pro Football & the American Spirit!


In observance of Memorial Day, I thought it would be fitting to write about an exhibit the Pro Football Hall of Fame is currently travelling around the United States – Pro Football and the American Spirit.

The popular display tells the story of professional football players and personnel who served our nation in the armed forces from WW II to Desert Storm to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It currently is showing at The Hall at Patriot Place in Foxborough, Massachusetts which is a museum that showcases the history of the New England Patriots while providing a permanent home for the franchise's Hall of Fame. I traveled in February to the Patriots Place to install the exhibit. It will run through the end of June.

There are more than 40 artifacts in the exhibit including Hall of Famer Art Donovan's Marine Corps uniform; the career medals of General Ernest Cheatham, pro football's highest ranking former player; the Cleveland Browns sideline jacket of Don Steinbrunner, one of only two NFL players to lose his life during the Vietnam War; and Pat Tillman's Army Ranger uniform.

Donovan was not only a great defensive tackle for the Baltimore Colts but an honored member of the United States military. Here's his Marine Corps uniform that is on display in our exhibit:

Now, while purists remember Art for his football career, who can forget his regular visits to David Letterman.

One of the most amazing sections of the exhibit is the Honor Roll of NFL players, coaches and personnel who delayed, interrupted, or cut short their NFL careers to serve during some of our county's' most trying times. I am always amazed at the number of players who served during times of national crises – the total is close to 1,300.

These men were not just second stringers or journeyman players. They included Hall of Famers like Dante Lavelli and Andy Robustelli who both severed in World War II before they embarked on their pro football careers. Hall of Fame backs Bill Dudley and Clarence (Ace) Parker were among those players who interrupted their football careers to serve in World War II.

Another great story which is chronicled in the exhibit is about Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rocky Bleier. He was drafted into the U.S. Army following his rookie year in 1968. While serving in Vietnam he was seriously injured by enemy rifle fire and then grenade shrapnel. Doctors were concerned that he may not ever walk again let alone resume his football career. Amazinginly he fought his way back to the football field and was later a 1,000-yard rusher for the Steelers.

Rocky Bleier's Purple Heart is on loan to us and included in the exhibit:

Pro Football and the American Spirit really pulls on the emotional strings of the people that have a chance to see the exhibit, especially for those who have served in the military. I have personally seen grown men drawn to tears after immersing themselves in the stories documented in the displays.

After the exhibit's stop in New England, it will travel to the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame located near Wichita, Kansas. It will reside there from July through October. Then it is off to Green Bay, Wisconsin where it will show at the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame.

If you have a chance to visit these facilities where Pro Football and the American Spirit is showing, it will be well worth your time.

If you're in the Boston area, be sure to stop by The Hall at Patriot Place to see our exhibit before it moves on after June 30.

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