One might think the bust of Lamar Hunt was cast in gold the way the Pro Football Hall of Fame is so protective of it.
The first and only time it has ever been outside the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, was to travel to Kansas City for a football exhibit that opens at Union Station on Friday, one day earlier than previously announced.
But the bust will only be here through Wednesday, offering a very rare opportunity to see it displayed next to the Kansas City Chiefs’ Vince Lombardi Trophy from Super Bowl IV.
The bronze bust of the former Chiefs owner and founder of the American Football League is one of hundreds of objects that make up Union Station’s summer exhibit “Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
The collection is augmented by items from the Chiefs’ own history trove and fills the entire 20,000 square feet of Union Station’s exhibition space. Film footage of historic plays and roaring stadium sounds form the backdrop to an exhibit full of some of the most significant items and moments in professional football.
Knute Rockne’s helmet. Len Dawson’s Super Bowl jersey. The football carried by Eric Dickerson when he broke the single-season rushing record.
An accounting ledger from 1892.
“That’s the first documented instance that someone was paid to play pro football,” said Saleem Choudhry, manager of exhibits and museum services for the Hall of Fame. “That’s our birth certificate.”
It is displayed next to the very first trophy awarded to a professional football championship team, Pittsburgh’s Homestead Library Athletic Club, in 1900.
“That’s pro football’s very first Lombardi Trophy, if you want to call it that,” said Choudhry, who is in Kansas City to oversee the installation of the exhibit, which runs through Sept. 6.
The Hall of Fame traveling show normally sets aside a section for its objects that highlight the home team of the city it is visiting. But in this case, and for the first time, the local team has opened its own treasure. The Chiefs contributed 26 cases of objects and documents.
That includes some scribbled notes by Hunt outlining his thoughts on the founding of the American Football League.
“It’s sort of like the Magna Carta of the AFL,” said Chiefs historian Bob Moore. “He came up with some organizational principles that he sketched out on American Airlines stationery on a flight back from Miami in 1959.”
Other contributions from the Chiefs include a jersey worn by Jan Stenerud in the last AFL All-Star Game and three wooden seats from Kansas City’s old Municipal Stadium.
“This is an amazing opportunity to showcase Chiefs memorabilia,” said Bill Chapin, senior vice president of business operations for the Chiefs. “Some things have been shown and some things have never been shown.”
The Hall of Fame portion of the exhibit touches on various aspects of the game, including the early days when it was considered so dishonorable that Knute Rockne played under an assumed name. That began to change when 1912 Olympic gold medalist Jim Thorpe announced he would play pro ball.
A section of the exhibit looks at the history of African-American players dating from 1902 through an unspoken color ban in 1933 and the reintegration of the sport in 1946 — before professional baseball.
Interactive stations within the exhibit allow visitors to dig into football history on digital screens, to play the part of a referee in an instant replay booth and to kick a simulated field goal.
The exhibit even has a bit of ephemera from what football fans know as the “Immaculate Reception.”
In 1972 it looked as if the Pittsburgh Steelers were going to lose a playoff game against the Oakland Raiders. Owner Art Rooney got in the elevator to the locker room to greet and console his team. He missed “one of the wackiest plays and one of the most fantastic finishes in NFL history,” according to the Hall of Fame. Rookie running back Franco Harris caught a ball at his shoetops after a collision of other players and ran to the end zone. The Steelers won in the final seconds and Rooney missed it.
The exhibit includes the interior control panel from the elevator Rooney was in at the time. It was salvaged when Three Rivers Stadium was torn down.
“Gridiron Glory” is here for a relatively short run, but Union Station officials hope it will draw at least 50,000 visitors.
Deron Cherry, a Chiefs safety from 1981 to 1991, will be at the exhibit to sign autographs from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday. Other Chiefs Hall of Famers are expected to visit occasionally while the exhibit is here.
The show will coincide with the August induction of former Chiefs player Will Shields into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He will become the 11th Chief to be so honored.
Gridiron Glory tickets are $14.95 for adults and $11.95 for children. Members’ tickets are $9.95. For more information, go to unionstation.org.