While some fans will be traveling to Ohio this summer to see former Chiefs great Will Shields’ induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, those that can’t won’t have to go very far to get a taste of Canton.
That’s because the Chiefs, along with Union Station, have partnered to bring a new exhibit — Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame — to Kansas City.
The exhibit, which opens May 23 and runs through Sept. 6, is the largest traveling exhibition ever created for professional football. Housed in Union Station’s 10,000 square-foot Bank of America Gallery, the exhibit will let fans immerse themselves in more than 200 football artifacts, photos and documents from the hall of fame.
The fact that the exhibit will coincide with Shields’ Hall of Fame induction — this August he will become the 11th Chief to be inducted — was only icing on the cake for organizers.
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“Some families may not go to Canton, so to bring the best of what the Pro Football Hall of Fame is and have some unique Chiefs elements to that right here at Union Station for everyone to see, that is a win-win,” said Bill Chapin, the Chiefs’ senior vice president of business operations.
George Guastello II, Union Station’s president and CEO, said you would be hard-pressed to find anyone rooting harder for Shields during the announcement of this year’s hall of fame class in late January.
“That Saturday night when he made it, we went ‘That’s it, that is the Holy Grail … that’s the crown jewel,” Guastello II said. “This summer, he’s going to be inducted in Canton and everybody in Kansas City is gonna be here.”
What’s more, a significant chunk of the event space — 4,000 square feet — will be dedicated to unique artifacts that pay tribute to the Chiefs, the highlight of which will be the 1969 Super Bowl Trophy, one of only four that have the AFL-NFL logos on them.
The Chiefs say this marks the first time in at least 27 years the club has loaned the trophy for any purpose. Chapin says the Chiefs are doing so because the exhibit aligns with former owner Lamar Hunt’s desire to preserve the legacy and history of the game of football, which remains the club’s mission.
“He would be smiling right now,” Chapin said. “His historical and impactful drive for football permeates with us today.”
The exhibit is now in Phoenix, where it includes a 1919 helmet that belonged to Knute Rockne and a game jersey worn by Jim Brown among more than 200 other artifacts and documents.
Video from NFL Films of key plays and players will be included. Visitors will be able to try on protective gear, play the part of a referee in an instant-replay booth, kick a field goal and put on a helmet to receive instructions from a coach.
The exhibit will also explore the early days of football and the rise of black athletes.
Former players like Bobby Bell and Jan Stenerud — two hall of famers who were at the announcement — were thrilled to see the exhibit come to Kansas City.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Stenerud said. “You know how important Lamar was to pro football. … We’re one of the first places in the country to have this, so I think it’s phenomenal.”
“We’ve got one of the greatest fan bases in the country,” Bell said. “Coach Stram made all the players go out and visit the fans, and we got to know them personally. … I’m 74 years old, and people say ‘I remember you.’ I’m glad to see people who remember me that long.”
“Gridiron Glory” is the latest in a string of summer spotlight exhibits for Union Station. Topics in past years have included King Tut, the Titanic and Britain’s Princess Diana.
That last one, Gusatello said, drew a crowd of 105,000 in 88 days. That’s more than Arrowhead Stadium’s capacity of 79,451.
“We did ‘Diana’ a couple years ago, so this is like ‘Diana’ for the football fanatic,” Gusatello said. “We’re extremely cautious and conservative, so we feel comfortable (saying) — and it will only be here three months — that we’re looking forward to at least 50,000 people.
“What I want to be able to say is we had as many people come to Pro Football Hall of Fame exhibit as one sellout to a Chiefs game.”
Tickets for the general public, which cost $14.95 for adults and $11.95 for children, go on sale March 13.
Union Station and Chiefs season ticket members may buy tickets beginning today. Members’ tickets are $11.95. For more information, visit unionstation.org/football.
The Star’s Matt Campbell contributed to this story.