College football fans have entered one of those dreaded “down times” on the annual calendar.
We slide rapidly, without a break, from summer camp to preseason practice into the season and bowl season, followed by recruiting.
Now there’s a brief lull before spring practice, and then the interminable break until the calendar begins anew.
The second break, though lengthy, is filled with anticipation and prognostications, injury and police reports, and the staggered arrival of myriad periodicals professing expertise in previewing the upcoming season.
That leaves the current lull the most difficult to negotiate, the true nadir on the college football calendar. Can it really still be six months until kickoff?
For those in despair, a new cure became available last August. If you haven’t treated yourself to a trip to the College Football Hall of Fame and Chick-fil-A Fan Experience, hustle down to 250 Marietta St. in Atlanta. Though you’ll be itching for kickoff when you leave, the time spent inside will quench your longing for the college football experience.
You enter into The Quad, which includes a dazzling wall featuring helmets for all 768 college football teams. There’s also a huge mural, painted representations of many scenes and people famous in college football circles.
Here you sign in, and pick the college of your choice. As you meander through the building, your all-access pass will be read, and exhibits will greet you and flash to features focusing on your favorite school.
You can enter the Skill Zone across the quad and test yourself with various football skills, and even attempt field goals.
On Level 2, you confront the Why We Love College Football exhibit. The interactive wall shows a collage of scenes from your chosen school, and allows interaction. You’ll also see the awards presented to national champions, bowl victors and individual award winners. Yes, you can stare eyeball-to-eyeball with the Heisman Trophy.
Don’t miss the Game Day Theater. A 10-minute, ultra high definition 4K feature film entitled “The Game of your Life” rivals anything produced by Ed or Steve Sabol. You’re taken on a brief trip through game day, from the inside. If you’re not ready for kickoff after this, you haven’t got a pulse.
You could spend hours perusing the rest of Level 2. You can enjoy tailgating through the decades, sing your school fight song, simulate face painting, even sit at the College Game Day desk and proffer a prediction.
You can study how the uniform has evolved over the decades. (Did that plastic shell of a helmet that Jerry Rhome wore in the ’60’s protect anything?) Shoes and shoulder pads are displayed, but, oddly, no pants.
Among the jersey collection are Charley Trippi’s red with the silver 62, and Red Grange’s black with the six vertical bars, more brown than gold. A fascination for those who always wondered what the colors were in those old black and white photos.
The jerseys also featured a tail, which came up through the legs and buttoned in front. This prevented jerseys from coming untucked, but could afford breathtaking pain if the jersey was grabbed.
All aspects of the game are represented, from USC cheerleading uniforms to the Notre Dame Leprechaun outfit, to Purdue’s World’s Largest Drum.
A section on coaches features quotes, caricatures, coaching trees and such artifacts as Joe Paterno’s shoes and the black, block “O” hat worn by Woody Hayes. The play chart from Lou Holtz’s last game at Notre Dame reveals that Holtz can’t write any better than he can speak.
You can even see the simple, three-ring binder with classic blue-lined essay paper which was the playbook of Francis “Close the Gates of Mercy” Schmidt. Perhaps it contains the play he was diagramming one day while getting his oil changed. Schmidt was so engrossed as he finished the play that he stepped out of the car, forgetting that it was on the lift, six feet up in the air.
You can announce a great play from your school (“Run, Lindsay!”) and view a film of highlights. Johnny Rodgers’ punt return in the 1971 Nebraska-Oklahoma game remains as unbelievable today as it was then.
You can also step inside a virtual stadium, and be on the sideline or in the band as the crowd roars around you.
Level 3 is reserved for the Hall of Fame itself, listing all annual inductees with highlight tapes you can select. You could spend an entire day in this room alone.
The calendar may say it’s a down time for college football, but every day is game day at the College Football Hall of Fame and Chick-fil-A Fan Experience.
Denton Ashway is a contributing columnist for The Times. His column appears weekly.