What is 'The Most Inspiring Place on Earth'?


By George Veras, Executive Producer, Pro Football Hall of Fame

It is a great challenge when you use “Earth” in a slogan. Think about what you must do to prove you are worth the enormity of what the Earth encompasses.

Add in “The Most Inspiring Place” and you have your work cut out for you. When you google it, up pops the marketing campaigns for British Columbia and Perth, Australia. Not sure how “earthly” or “inspiring” they are, having worked in both locations, but they do have their special days. At the Pro Football Hall of Fame, that is our slogan, and as historians of football, we like to look at all history for perspective.

Sherwin Williams, founded in 1866, created its current slogan, “Cover the Earth,” in 1905, but it was not until 1929, when it bought a Cuban paint company, that it really began to “cover the Earth.” Today it operates in 109 countries and has become a $14 billion company.  It might have taken awhile for performance to be true to the marketing message, but it has been well worth the wait.

The “Happiest Place on Earth” was created by the Walt Disney Co. for the 1955 opening of Disneyland, 27 years after the Disney brothers, Walt and Roy, founded the company on the back of a cartoon mouse. The term “Earth” again took time to be relevant, but it paid off, as Disney opened parks from Paris to Shanghai.

This brings us to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. When did it become “The Most Inspiring Place on Earth”?

Well, when current President and CEO David Baker came to the Hall in 2014, he first took the Hall’s mission statement, “Celebrate Excellence Everywhere,” and added to it – “Honor the Heroes of the Game, Preserve its History and Promote its Values” – when he saw the 40 million documents, 6 million photos and thousands of artifacts not even on display. As he became familiar with the visitors at the museum, he was struck by the respect they had for this history of the game. It was as if they were walking through the Vatican of Football.

Baker, a former mayor of Irvine, Calif., was a huge fan of Walt Disney – his vision, determination and living by his mission to bring happiness to as many people as possible. It was Baker who began calling the Hall “The Most Inspiring Place on Earth.” It will take years, like Sherwin Williams and Disneyland, to grow it, but stories like those that follow show its potential.

A family brought an urn of the ashes of their loved ones to spread on the construction site of Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. In other cases, relatives brought dying members of their families to the Hall to fulfill a final wish.

One such person was Broncos fan Tom McNulty, who when given a Gold Jacket to wear in front of legendary quarterback John Elway said, “I feel like my cancer has left me.” When he went into hospice, his grateful wife texted the Hall, “Thank you for bringing him peace and hope during these last days.”

Even Pope Francis got involved.

The Hall was honored to be the first American sports organization to receive the pontiff’s invitation for a private audience. His staff had seen how the Hall was using values of the game of football as an educational and inspirational playbook to engage young adults. With 10 Hall of Famers and Hall of Fame staff in attendance, his opening remarks referred to the Hall as “The Most Inspiring Place on Earth.” Think about it: The slogan could work for the Vatican as well!

Pope Francis even “uplifted” a helmet, given to him as a gift, over his head.

It happened again one week after the Hall re-opened on June 10th after being closed for three months.

Travis County brought his 12-year-old nephew, Colton County, for a visit to the Hall. Travis’ brother, John Chadwick County, died of a heart attack at age 42 last winter. Travis had been to the Hall four times and had begged his brother to bring Colton, who played football and had won his league’s “Lion Heart Award” for his teamwork and love of the game. Colton’s mother was still too distraught to leave the house, so Travis took it upon himself to bring Colton when the Hall reopened in June.

“I called the Hall, not to ask for a free ticket or any merchandise, just to ask them if they would do something a little special to lift the spirits of Colton,” Travis recounted in a post-visit interview. The Hall’s front desk supervisor, Pat Bearducci, took the original call and sent out word about the back story and visit. See for yourself why Travis, when he saw the video summary of their day, said, “You have given us the best 3 minutes of our life.”

Over 200,000 people have seen the video. A sample of the outpouring of support from over more than 1,000 comments:

  • Bless that young man; it's awesome that the Hall showed him so much love ... GO STEELERS!!!
  • This was so heartwarming.  God bless that young man. Go Steelers!
  • I believe that your dad is with you, Colton ... what an awesome family you have to make your dreams come true ...
  • Hope he can keep that wonderful feeling he had that day for a very long time!!!
  • His father is smiling down from heaven!
  • That's cool that his uncle was able to make it happen ... Go Steelers 🖤💛

And from Colton’s mother, Katie:

I've been showing Colton.  It's been an overwhelming response of support. Nice to see good in the world with all that's been going on. Thank you.

Travis, Katie, Colton and John, their beloved brother, husband and father, are special people whose love of football and what the game teaches was readily evident. In the town of Brilliant, Ohio – near Steubenville at the apex of West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania – the football field is named for John Chadwick County. He donated all his organs and his eyes.

That generous donation of life-saving organs came to the attention of the Carnegie Science Institute, which was so grateful for his gift, it paid for all the body preparations for the funeral.

John would have been proud that Colton could name all the players at the Hall and more importantly, agreed to live a Hall of Fame life when presented with a HOF pin by President David Baker.

And just last week, the Baltimore Ravens reached out to the Hall with a request to accept the first Braille draft card at the museum.

On April 27, 2019, Ravens superfan Mo Gaba had used the special card to announce the team’s selection of Ben Powers, a guard from the University of Oklahoma, as their fourth-round draft pick.

Gaba, only 13 when he made the pick during a Ravens fan fest held on the third day of the annual NFL Draft, lost his eyesight to cancer at age 9 months. His courageous and inspiring battle ended July 28, only a few days after Pro Football Hall of Fame President and CEO David Baker recorded a special video message letting Gaba know his contribution to the Game would be part of the Hall’s collection and on display.

So, is the Hall “The Most Inspiring Place on Earth?” Perhaps the better question is this: Does it matter if it is or not? What matters most is the Hall’s Mission. Every staff member lives it, believes it and is inspired themselves by it, so that when guests walk through the doors of 2121 George Halas Drive, they experience it.

It is the same when Canton hosts 700,000 for Enshrinement Week Powered by Johnson Controls. It is the same when Hall of Famers give their nationally televised speeches –never talking about their accomplishments on the field. Instead, they recall how the game inspired them to keep fighting and that we never should give up, either.

It was the same for young Colton County, who walked into the Hall expecting a day of pleasant distraction and left with a never-to-be-forgotten, life-changing memory as he builds a new foundation of hope, inspired.