“Gridiron Glory” is coming to town.
If that sounds like a proclamation nearly two decades behind the times, it’s because we’re not referring to the Patriots’ longstanding NFL dominance. Sure, since 2002 New England’s team has won five Super Bowls and played in two others. And yes, thanks to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady (and no thanks to Roger Goodell), there’s been more gridiron glory at Gillette Stadium than in any other pro football locale. But what we’re talking about here is something that next month will kick off some 25 miles north of Foxborough.
“Gridiron Glory” is an exhibit opening Oct. 8 at the Museum of Science, with more than 200 artifacts from the 125-year history of professional football, all drawn from the collection of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Along with uniforms and equipment from every era of the game, rare photographs and documents, and footage from the NFL Films archives, there will be interactive exhibits such as an instant replay booth that will allow visitors to experience how game officials view video of a play that’s been challenged by a coach. In other words, fans get an enhanced opportunity to do pretty much what they always do on Sundays: second-guess the refs.
The Hall created this traveling exhibit five years ago to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Each year since, “Gridiron Glory” has popped up in the host city of the Super Bowl, and it’s also been displayed in several other NFL cities around the country. While viewing the Vince Lombardi Trophy may not be as rare a treat for New England fans as it has been for those who’ve visited the exhibit in Super Bowl-starved locations, this 6,000-square-foot showcase digs a lot deeper into the game’s lore than just recent history.
Among the rarest of items on display will be an 1892 accounting ledger for football’s first paid player, a document that the Hall describes as “pro football’s birth certificate.” And speaking of birthing stories, local fans might especially enjoy seeing the most seminal Patriots artifact: the Nov. 18, 1959, letter from AFL Commissioner Lamar Hunt to William Sullivan, awarding him the league’s Boston franchise.
That last document will be part of a “Hometown Tribute” section created to celebrate the Patriots — from the earliest days at Fenway Park to their current run of, um, gridiron glory. Feast your eyes, for instance, on a document that’s proven key to the local team’s success: a player selection card from the 2000 NFL draft, for the Patriots’ sixth-round pick, No. 199 overall, a quarterback out of Michigan by the name of Tom Brady. There’s also the frumpy jacket that fashion-plate coach Bill Belichick wore on the sideline during Super Bowl XLII. And there’s the game jersey worn by Rob Gronkowski on Dec. 4, 2011, when he tied the NFL season record for touchdown receptions by a tight end. (Unfortunately, the 75 beer cans Gronk crushed against his forehead that night while celebrating his milestone did not make it to Canton.)
“ ‘Gridiron Glory’ presents an opportunity for fans to experience the intersection of sports, society and science,” Ioannis Miaoulis, president and director of the Museum of Science, said via e-mail. “Through exhibits, programs and events, we are committed to developing new ways to engage people of all ages and interests. With New England’s incomparable love of football, we hope to attract a new wave of science enthusiasts spanning all generations.”
Where’s the science? Well, there’s science involved in a field-goal kicker determining the velocity necessary for a kicked football to soar through the uprights from various distances. There’s science in understanding the pounds-per-square-inch of pressure a player must use to jump high enough to block one of those kicks. The science behind both of those elements of the game will be on display, as will many more. (Don’t expect to learn any of the science critical to PSI and football deflation, though. Touchy subject in these parts.)
“Science is just an element of this larger exhibit,” said Saleem Choudhry, director of exhibits/museum services at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “But it’s an essential part of the game and even the game’s history. The exhibit depicts the technology of the helmet, for example, and how it has evolved from the early years of pro football. Originally it was a felt cap, and now it’s an instrument of protection.”
Boy, those felt caps sure would have been bad news if there had been early NFL concussion studies.
At Museum of Science, starting Oct. 8. 617-723-2500, www.mos.org