Joe Horrigan retiring from Hall of Fame after 42 years
One of the longest-serving employees of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Joe Horrigan, will retire June 1.
When Hall of Famer Marv Levy was thinking about retiring from the Buffalo Bills — for the second time — he told Joe Horrigan, “When you’re thinking about retiring, you probably already have.”
“That always stuck with me,” said Horrigan, the Hall of Fame’s executive director and historian. “I was thinking more about it (retiring) and realized that probably the reason I’m thinking about it is because, subliminally, I’m ready.”
On Tuesday, Horrigan made it official, surprising his coworkers with the news at the Hall’s monthly “Team Huddle.”
The South Buffalo native, who has worked at the Hall for 42 of its 55-plus years in existence, will officially step down June 1, the 42nd anniversary of his first day in Canton.
“There was no one event or reason,” Horrigan, 67, said of his retirement. “It was just time, you know. That’s the beauty of retiring from someplace you love. I’m not leaving angry. I’m not leaving happy because I’m leaving. I’m just looking at it as, ‘I’ve completed this chapter, I’m pleased with it and it’s time to move to another one.’
“Everyone comes to this point where you have to make this decision. You’re just happy if you can make it on your own.”
For many years, Horrigan has served as the face and voice of the Hall to media outlets around the country. He has served in many roles since arriving in Canton in 1977 and has spent most of his career as a member of the Hall’s executive staff.
“Joe will forever be a part of the Hall of Fame family,” said Pete Fierle, vice president of communications and chief of staff. “He has been such a part of the Hall of Fame and the face for so long. It’s mixed emotions. ... It’s a job you don’t get a lot of free weekends, and we are excited for him to spend time with his wife, Mary Ann, and the rest of his family.”
David Baker, president and chief executive of the Hall, informed staff members at the end of the monthly meeting.
“The Pro Football Hall of Fame is a significantly different institution than when Joe started 42 years ago (when) it had three people in management and nine employees,” Baker said. “Now the future is brighter than ever before. Along the way, Joe has made a lot of significant contributions to make that happen. I will miss him personally because of the wise counsel he has provided me. He will continue to be involved.”
Horrigan has written a book due out in late August, titled “NFL Century: The Rise of America’s Greatest Sports League.” His retirement will allow for promotional tours to publicize the book.
“The book idea was just a ‘bucket list’ item, not a retirement plan,” Horrigan said, chuckling. “The timing of the book was connected to the 100th anniversary and that’s the only connection. But It’s nice to have that kind of anchor, just to put a period or an exclamation point on my time here.”
The Hall of Fame has changed dramatically since Horrigan arrived in 1977. The building was still just a modest museum at that point, although it was undergoing its second expansion, growing from 34,000 square feet to 55,000 square feet. Thanks to gallery renovations in 1995, 2003, 2008 and 2009, it is now 118,000 square feet and the campus will continue to grow over the next decade thanks to the Johnson Control Hall of Fame Village project.
“Every time it has expanded or been renovated, I felt great about the direction it was going,” he said. “I always tell the staff, particularly the younger staff, that they should look out the window and kind of create a mental photograph, because in a year or two, you won’t remember what it looks like.”
Hall of Fame voter Peter King, who has covered the NFL for 35 years, compared Horrigan to the late Steve Sabol, praising their institutional knowledge and passion for the game.
“I’m sad to hear the news because it is a tremendous loss to me and more than that, it’s a tremendous loss to football fans everywhere,” King said. “You could ask him (Horrigan) any question about any era in football history and he would know more than anybody.
“He’s the internet of football.”
But Horrigan isn’t just knowledgeable, King said. He is generous with that knowledge.
“He viewed his job as much of a service job as anything else,” King said. “He helped so many people on so many projects to advance the NFL. Whoever replaces him ought to remember this job has to be about service and a deep and abiding knowledge of this game.
“There are a lot of people who know what’s gone on in the last 20 years. There aren’t a lot of people who know what’s gone on in the 100 years and Joe led the league in that one.”
Of the nine people employed by the Hall in 1977, four of them were still working in Canton in recent years. Two of them — Tammy Owens and Dave Motts — retired in 2016, while Kay Hatfield is now in her 47th year at the Hall.
“Between those four people, that’s about 125 to 130 years of experience and that’s remarkable,” Baker said.
Horrigan, who will oversee the voting for this year’s Hall of Fame class on Feb. 2, will continue to be involved with his radio show on Sirius as well as the Black College Hall of Fame. But he isn’t worried about leaving behind a void, saying the Hall currently has the “best and most qualified people we’ve ever had to do the jobs that are ahead.”
And while he plans to stay involved with the Hall — “I’m not going anywhere and hopefully I’m not getting any dumber,” he said — he insists this isn’t a fake retirement.
“I’m not looking to redefine my job,” he said. “I really, truly am retiring.”
One thing is certain, Baker said. He will be missed.
“To me he is not just a Canton treasure, he’s a national treasure,” Baker said. “He has so much knowledge about the game.
“He could have stayed until he was 98, as far as I am concerned.”
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