Pro Football Hall of Fame Game
Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium before the start of the 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame Game
|Baltimore Ravens 17, Chicago Bears 16|
The Pro Football Hall of Fame Game is an annual National Football League (NFL) exhibition game that is held the weekend of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's induction ceremonies. The game is played at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, which is located adjacent to the Hall of Fame building in Canton, Ohio. It is traditionally the first game played in the NFL preseason for any given year, marking the end of the NFL's six-month off-season.
The two teams that play in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game are typically selected by the league in advance of the remainder of the preseason schedule. The participants are usually announced around the time that the new Hall of Fame members are announced, which coincides with Super Bowl week. Often, if a particularly notable player will be entering the Hall of Fame that year, a team they were strongly associated with may be selected to play in the game to help maximize attendance and publicity of the game itself. From 1971 to 2010, the opponents for each game usually included one AFC team and one NFC team. In 2009, as recognition of the 50th anniversary of the American Football League, the game paired two AFC teams who were part of the "original eight" franchises of the AFL, the Tennessee Titans (dressed as their previous incarnation, the Houston Oilers) and the Buffalo Bills, whose owner, Ralph Wilson, was inducted into the Hall that year. An all-NFC matchup was scheduled for 2011, but it was canceled due to the 2011 NFL lockout; the following year, another intra-conference matchup of two NFC teams took its place. From 2011 onward, each team selected to play in the game has had at least one prominent alumnus being inducted into the Hall that year.
Because this game and the Hall of Fame's induction ceremonies are scheduled on the weekend before the league's regular four-week exhibition season begins, both teams end up playing five exhibition games instead of the normal four, and unlike the Canadian Football League (which plays its two-game exhibition season over three weeks), the league does not remove antone. The last four expansion teams to have been added to the league each played in the Hall of Fame Game as their first game. In 1995, expansion clubs Jacksonville and Carolina played each another, and in 2002, Houston was one of the participants. When the Cleveland Browns returned to the league with a rebooted roster in 1999, they too played in the Hall of Fame Game. The Baltimore Ravens, while officially considered as being established in 1996, did not play in the Hall of Fame Game until 2018. With the Ravens' participation in the 2018 game, all 32 current NFL teams have now played in the Hall of Fame game at least once.
Prior to the AFL–NFL merger, the Hall of Fame Game was played in August or September, in some cases at the end of the preseason. In 1970, it was moved to the beginning of the preseason. Prior to 2002, it was not uncommon for the game to be played in July. Since 2002, when the league permanently moved the start of the season to the weekend after Labor Day, the game has always been played in early August.
The 2011 game was originally scheduled between the St. Louis Rams and the Chicago Bears, but the game was canceled due to an ongoing labor dispute that had disrupted nearly all league activity during the 2011 offseason. The two clubs had set a deadline of July 22 to ratify a resolution in enough time to prepare for the game. The league and players did not ratify the agreement until July 25, forcing cancellation of the game.
The 2016 edition, which was scheduled to be played between the Green Bay Packers and the Indianapolis Colts, was canceled due to unsafe playing conditions. Mike Silver of NFL.com reported that on the morning of game day, the logos at midfield and the end zones had been painted using paint which was not intended for use on artificial turf. When it was apparent the paint wasn't drying fast enough, the field was heated to speed up the drying process, but this caused the turf's rubber to melt. These issues led to unfavorable play conditions. The affected areas were described as being slick and "like cement," making it impossible to get decent footing. Stadium officials attempted to address this by applying a solvent, reportedly paint thinner, to the turf. A Packers employee noticed a label warning that this substance could result in burns when exposed to skin, and alerted others to the discovery. When officially cancelling the game, both the league and the Players Association cited safety concerns. Both teams were told at 6:40 p.m.—an hour and 20 minutes before kickoff—that the game was going to be canceled. However, fans in the stadium only learned of the pending cancellation via social media. No official announcement was made until just before the scheduled 8 p.m. kickoff.
On December 28, 2016, the NFL announced that the 2017 edition of the game would be played on a Thursday (August 3). This scheduling change made the Hall of Fame Game the first event of the Hall of Fame Weekend. The 2018 game was also played on a Thursday (August 2).
Television and radio
Unlike the majority of NFL preseason games, which air on local TV stations, the Hall of Fame Game airs nationwide. From 1999 to 2005, the game was held on Monday night, televised as part of ABC's Monday Night Football package. It had previously been held typically on Saturday afternoons, except from 1963 to 1965 on Sunday afternoons, televised as part of ABC's Wide World of Sports package (still using the MNF crew). In 1998, the game was put in the MNF package, and played on a Saturday night, which served as a test run for the move to Monday night. Starting in 2006, it was moved to Sunday night, coinciding with the new NBC Sunday Night Football television package. The 2007 game was telecast on NFL Network as NBC was intending to televise the China Bowl game in Beijing, China (a game which was postponed to 2009 and later canceled). The Hall of Fame Game has since bounced between both networks. The 2012 game aired on NFL Network due to NBC's coverage of the Summer Olympics. After a two-year absence, the game returned to NBC in 2013 and remained on the network until 2015. The 2016 game was scheduled to air on ESPN as it was to be played two days into the 2016 Summer Olympics but the game was canceled due to field conditions, it returned to NBC in 2017 and will remain on the network until 2019. The 2020 game will be on either ESPN or NFL Network due to NBC's coverage of the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Westwood One owns national radio rights; it is the only preseason game to air on a nationwide network. Each team's radio network is also allowed to broadcast the games (albeit usually with fewer affiliates since exhibition games are traditionally much lower priority to non-sports and non-flagship stations).
In 2007 and 2008, the game was broadcast live in both Ireland and the United Kingdom by Sky Sports. It was not shown in 2009 because of a dispute between Sky Sports and the NFL over TV rights. ESPN America (formerly North American Sports Network) broadcasts the game in the rest of Europe.
From 1998 to 2005, the Global Television Network aired the game in Canada, simulcasting ABC; upon the move to Sunday night in 2006, the CTV Television Network aired the game until 2010. With CTV airing the 2012 Summer Olympics, TSN broadcast the Hall of Fame Game in 2012. Azteca 7 aired Spanish-language coverage of the Hall of Fame Game in Mexico from 1998 to 2005; the Game moved to Canal 5 in 2006 and aired on that station until 2010. Due to the cancellation of the 2011 Hall of Fame Game and Televisa's Summer Olympics coverage, the Hall of Fame Game moved to Televisa Deportes in 2012 and then to Galavision in 2013.
Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium is part of the Cleveland market, and is also within 75 miles of numerous other television markets in northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania. As such, the NBC affiliates (and before them, the ABC affiliates) were within league requirements to blackout the game in the rare event the game does not sell out, during the time the league had a blackout policy (the policy has been suspended indefinitely since 2015). Because the stadium only holds 22,375 fans (less than half the capacity of any other NFL stadium except the StubHub Center, which is the temporary home of the Los Angeles Chargers while their permanent stadium Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park is built) and the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies bring large numbers of outside fans to Canton, the game has, to date, always sold out; several NFL teams, as well as the Super Bowl, have similarly enjoyed long sellout streaks.
- The 1980 game ended with 5:29 remaining in the fourth quarter in a 0-0 tie due to severe lightning.
- The 2003 game ended with 5:49 remaining in the third quarter due to severe lightning with the Chiefs leading 9-0.
- The 2011 game was scheduled to be St. Louis Rams vs. Chicago Bears, but was canceled due to the lockout.
- The 2016 game was scheduled to be Green Bay Packers vs Indianapolis Colts, but was canceled due to poor field conditions.
|New York Giants||5||3||1||1||.700||2014|
|New Orleans Saints||5||2||3||0||.400||2012|
|Arizona/St. Louis Cardinals||5||1||3||1||.300||2017|
|Green Bay Packers||4||1||2||1||.375||2003|
|Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders||3||3||0||0||1.000||2006|
|New England Patriots||3||2||1||0||.667||2000|
|San Francisco 49ers||3||2||1||0||.667||2000|
|Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams||3||2||1||0||.667||2001|
|Kansas City Chiefs||3||2||1||0||.667||2003|
|Tennessee Titans/Houston Oilers||3||1||2||0||.333||2009|
|New York Jets||2||1||1||0||.500||1992|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||2||1||1||0||.500||1998|
|Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers||2||0||1||1||.250||1994|
- Most appearances – 6: Pittsburgh Steelers (1963, 1964, 1983, 1998, 2007, and 2015) and Dallas Cowboys (1968, 1979, 1999, 2010, 2013, and 2017); if the 2011 game was not canceled due to the lockout, the Chicago Bears would be scheduled for their 6th appearance in 2018 (1968, 1977, 1990, 2005, 2011, and 2018)
- Most wins – 5: Washington Redskins (1965, 1975, 1989, 2004, and 2008)
- Longest active drought without Hall of Fame Game appearance – 27 seasons: Detroit Lions (last appearance – 1991); 26 seasons: New York Jets (last appearance – 1992); 24 seasons: Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Chargers (last appearance – 1994); 23 seasons: Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars (last and only appearance – 1995)
- "Individual Tickets & Festival Fan Packages". Profootballhof.com. Archived from the original on September 10, 2012. Retrieved September 28, 2012.
- Silver, Mike (2016-08-04). "Hall of Fame Game cancellation: NFL made the right decision". NFL.com.
- Demovsky, Rob (August 7, 2016). "Poor field conditions force cancellation of Hall of Fame game". ESPN.com. Retrieved August 7, 2016.
- "Hall of Fame Game fiasco: How the wrong paint, melted rubber, and caustic paint thinner nixed Packers-Colts". Acme Packing Company (SBNation). Vox Media. Retrieved 10 August 2016.
- Doyel, Gregg (2016-08-07). "Doyel: NFL fans deserve better". The Indianapolis Star.
- "Pro Football Hall of Fame Experiences". hofexperiences.com. Retrieved January 16, 2018.
- ""Sunday Night Football" Debuts". NBC Sports History Page.