NEW ORLEANS (October 2, 2012) - Just before the biggest day in football, The National WWII Museum, on January 26, 2013, will open a major new traveling exhibition detailing the professional sport's history in America, with special sections devoted to the game's Second World War history and the host city's team, the New Orleans Saints.
Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame documents professional football's rise from humble beginnings in 1892 to its status as the most popular sport in two centuries of American culture. This rich story is told through the use of more than 200 iconic artifacts from the Pro Football Hall of Fame's collection such as Saints kicker Tom Dempsey's shoe, a jersey worn by Johnny Unitas and "Mean Joe" Greene's helmet, to name a few.
The exhibition, produced by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, will be on display in the Museum's Louisiana Memorial Pavilion through May 5 and entry will be included in the price of regular admission.
"This is the most comprehensive exhibition on pro ball ever assembled," said Dr. Gordon H. "Nick" Mueller, president and chief executive officer of The National WWII Museum. "We're proud to be able to host Gridiron Glory and look forward to educating Museum-goers on the game's WWII legacy, chronicling how pro football did so much to boost the nation's morale during the war's darkest days."
Three scheduled NFL games were under way when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Sunday, December 7, 1941. In the Polo Grounds, where New York Giants fans were celebrating "Tuffy Leeman's Day" in honor of their star running back, the public address announcer interrupted his commentary to tell all servicemen to report to their units. A similar announcement was made at Chicago's Comiskey Park. At Washington's Griffith Stadium, the announcer paged high-ranking government and military personnel who were in attendance, but did not mention the attack. Newspaper reporters in attendance were instructed to check with their offices. A program and ticket from this historic Washington Redskins game will be just two of many WWII-related artifacts on display.
Following Pearl Harbor, the wartime draft decimated pro ball. In 1943, for example, the NFL's Brooklyn Dodgers could muster only seven players from the previous year. With young players at war, retired players returned to the field, including the Chicago Bears' Bronko Nagurski. The powerful fullback had quit the game in 1937 but returned in 1943 to play tackle. The player shortage forced entire teams to halt play. The Cleveland Rams sat out the 1943 season, while the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles merged to play as the "Steagles."
At least 21 NFL men made the ultimate sacrifice during the war. Nineteen players, an ex-head coach and a team executive all lost their lives in service to the country. The best known was New York Giants tackle Al Blozis - killed by Nazi machine guns while searching for members of his platoon on a patrol in France's Vosges Mountains. Just six weeks earlier, Blozis had played in the 1944 NFL Championship Game.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt favored sustaining professional sports activities after America's entry into WWII, arguing that the country still needed this entertainment diversion. Roosevelt initially focused on the importance of baseball - the most popular pro sport at the time - for keeping up American's morale. At its spring leadership meeting in 1943, the NFL followed baseball's lead and decided to continue playing.
"Gridiron Glory will show how the game summoned the American spirit, bringing the nation together to cheer for their favorite team during a challenging struggle," Mueller said. "As the nation's WWII Museum we will focus on those years, but visitors need to know Gridiron Glory is a comprehensive exhibit covering all 121 years of pro ball. It's a fascinating, engrossing slice of American history."
The exhibition is packed with displays about the game's legendary stars, players such as Jim Thorpe, Red Grange and Sammy Baugh, while showcasing the feats of today's hottest players. Museum-goers will be able to learn how superstars such as Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are carrying on a long and distinguished tradition.
"Gridiron Glory is a touchdown for New Orleans," added Steve Perry, president and executive director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "New Orleans is a football town, and now, with this moving exhibition opening just before the Super Bowl, we're thrilled to bring the treasures of the Pro Football Hall of Fame to the Gulf Coast."
About the Pro Football Hall of Fame
Founded in 1963, the Pro Football Hall of Fame is currently undergoing the largest expansion in its history. The "Future 50" project is set for completion in 2013, to coincide with the Hall of Fame's 50th Anniversary. The completed building will be 118,000 square feet. The Pro Football Hall of Fame's mission is to honor, preserve, educate and promote. To honor individuals who have made outstanding contributions to professional football; preserve professional football's historic documents and artifacts; educate the public regarding the origin, development and growth of professional football as an important part of American culture; and promote the positive values of the sport. For more information about the Pro Football Hall of Fame, visit www.profootballhof.com and @ProFootballHOF on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Viddy.
The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world - why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today. Dedicated in 2000 as The National D-day Museum and now designated by Congress as America's National WWII Museum, it celebrates the American Spirit, the teamwork, optimism, courage and sacrifice of the men and women who served on the battlefront and the Home Front. For more information, call 877-813-3329 or 504-528-1944 or visit www.nationalww2museum.org.