ATLANTA — "This is a fun, celebratory, fully immersive attraction that takes the college football fan into the game as never before."
That's the description of the new College Football Hall of Fame from John Stephenson, CEO of Atlanta Hall Management.
He's not lying.
The new 94,000-square-foot attraction opens in downtown Atlanta adjacent to Philips Arena and the Georgia Dome on Aug. 23—less than a week before the first of two Chick-fil-A Kickoff Games. The overwhelming theme of the facility is a new-school flavor of an old-school sport.
It's not your standard-issue museum—it's a fully-personalized, interactive, college football nirvana designed to offer unique and new experiences on every visit.
Stephenson opened the doors of the facility to Bleacher Report for a sneak peek, and it was nothing short of magnificent.
When you walk through the doors of the Hall of Fame, there will be no confusion as to where you are. Designed like a tunnel coming out of the locker room, the round hallway is lined with screens that will display the sights and sounds of the pageantry of college football.
Great, right? What if you're an Auburn fan and Alabama's fight song is playing? What if somebody on the screen is "dotting the I" and you're wearing maize and blue?
Those scenarios are much less likely thanks to radio frequency identification (RFID) technology that will be embedded within your ticket. Much like the "MagicBands" at Disney World, every visitor to the Hall of Fame will have the opportunity to fully personalize their experience with their favorite teams.
Designed as a virtual hype-machine, the tunnel will make you want to run through a wall. There's good news, too, because one will be waiting right in front of you. Don't run through it, though, because the helmets of every college football team will come tumbling down.
The massive, three-story helmet wall contains helmets that are lit in the front through the ear hole. Your favorite team will light up upon your arrival to the facility, which is a good thing because it'd be like finding a needle in a haystack otherwise.
"Everyone knows the top teams, but this wall exemplifies just how important college football is to so many people," Stephenson said. "There are helmets up there that people won't even know."
What's more is that the lights on the wall of helmets are fully customizable. Logos of all kinds can be programmed to be illuminated with the helmets.
"If we're hosting an Alabama alumni club, we can put a giant script 'A' up there through the lighting system," Stephenson said.
Mixing Old with New
The Heisman Trophy? It will be in the Chick-fil-A "Why We Love College Football" section along with other historic awards and the new College Football Playoff trophy.
What's next to them on the second floor is something incredibly unique.
A 52-foot-long touch-screen wall with 12 stations allows fans to view past highlights, traditions and pictures from their favorite teams. The station, like virtually everything else in the facility, is equipped with RFID technology, so you won't have to search for your favorite team. It'll already know.
Upon standing in front of the screen, you'll become immersed in the sights and sounds of your chosen squad.
Will it get loud? Nope. Ultra-directional speakers that resemble large rain shower heads shoot sound down to each station that's virtually inaudible unless you're standing directly underneath.
Stephenson says the goal of the Hall of Fame is to protect and preserve the history of the game with exhibits like Red Grange's jersey and the evolution of equipment while creating exhibits that can be routinely updated with new and different information—making it attractive for repeat visitors.
The theme continues in the Coca-Cola Fans' Game Day section, which is a wing devoted to all of the great things in college football other than the game. Historic mascots, cheerleading uniforms, band uniforms, programs and tailgates of yesteryear litter the section.
Mixed in this exhibit—and all exhibits—are interactive features tailored for individual fans. Want to sing karaoke to your team's fight song? Reenact a radio call from one of college football's iconic plays? How about be the "guest picker" on ESPN's College GameDay? You can do it, and you have those videos instantly sent to an account you set up with your RFID for you to download from CFBHall.com once you get home.
It doesn't stop there.
Kia's Building a Champion section is devoted to the people who made the game great, with the most remarkable exhibit being an interactive version of John Heisman's playbook from 1905. The Heisman family allowed the Hall to scan each page of the book, which is featured in a station in front of a giant wall of cartoon images of coaches created by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Mike Luckovich.
Do you want to learn the basics of Steve Spurrier's offense? Have Barry Switzer teach you the wishbone? Participate in a virtual Q&A with Peyton Manning? That's all possible through fully interactive displays.
The X's-and-O's aspect of this section is fascinating. I ran one of Spurrier's plays at South Carolina, which was a four-wide set in which two receivers to the right run slants, the outside receiver on the left runs a hitch and the slot receiver on the left runs a corner. Spurrier (or whichever coach you select) goes through the concepts of the play, quizzes you on your memory and then shows you an example in a real game. In my case, it was a touchdown pass from Connor Shaw to Bruce Ellington in the 2014 Capital One Bowl vs. Wisconsin.
The actual Hall of Fame is a third-floor oasis where the game's greats are immortalized. There are no busts or plaques for those enshrined. Instead, flat screens on swivel stands allow fans to learn about each Hall of Famer through videos, biographies and images. Members of each Hall of Fame class are etched onto walls around the oval-shaped room, with giant screens above showing highlights of the Hall's members. Those highlights are—you guessed it—tailored to each visitor.
"If you're a Georgia or Auburn fan and you walk in this room, you'll see more highlights of the Bulldogs and Tigers mixed in with the other highlights of Hall of Famers," Stephenson said.
There are two main "event areas" of the Hall of Fame—a 45-yard-long football field with a giant HD screen and a 150-seat theater with a 40-by-10-foot 4K ultra-high-definition screen.
The field will primarily be used as a recreational area where kids can kick field goals, run through tackling dummies and throw passes while the theater will show highlights of recent games in a 10-minute video in 4K ultra-high definition. The Hall has spent three years shooting and collecting more than 100 hours of 4K video at 25 games.
Both areas can be reserved by alumni groups for viewing parties or local corporations for events.
The versatility of each of these rooms allows the Hall to play host to a wide variety of events and keep the experience for the visitor up to date at all times, which is a primary focus of all exhibits.
The video experience is supplemented by 360-degree viewers that put fans on the field as their favorite team rumbles out from the tunnels.
The new College Football Hall of Fame announced its formal name in July as the "College Football Hall of Fame and Chick-fil-A Fan Experience"—very appropriate.
It's truly an experience.
It's not a standard-issue museum; it's an interactive celebration of the past, present and future of the sport, with a mission to educate and entertain.
Judging from my brief tour, that mission will be accomplished.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.