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Wednesday, August 21, 2002
Updated: August 23, 1:09 PM ET
One Hall of a trip

By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist

Miles: 118 (Saratoga, N.Y., to Springfield, Mass.); total miles: 3,298; hours of driving: 2; hours of sleep: 6; Diet Pepsi: 7 units; fast food stops: 3; facial hair: four-day growth. Severe stubble. toll booths: mounting; miles remaining: 90 (I can almost smell the Fenway Franks) ...

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- I didn't hit .300 with 500 career home runs. I didn't rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season. I didn't score 38,000 points, lead a college to a national championship or knock the heavyweight champ to the canvas in a title bout.

Thus, I had to reach the Halls of Fame the way 99.9 percent of the population must, by following Interstate 90, a k a "Hall of Fame Row."

You can drive more than 3,000 miles on I-90, but if you just take an occasional exit ramp, you not only can go from Seattle to Boston, you can also travel back in time to when we all were younger and our sports heroes were at the peak of their talents. The Baseball Hall of Fame (Cooperstown, N.Y.), the Basketball Hall of Fame (Springfield, Mass.), the boxing Hall of Fame (Canastota, N.Y.) and the college football Hall of Fame (South Bend, Ind.) all are within 25 miles of I-90, while the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Canton, Ohio) is less than an hour from the highway.

Shoeless Joe Jackson's shoes, Jack Dempsey's boot and Bob Lanier's size 22. Pittsburgh's Terrible Towel and Minnesota's Homer Hankie. A cast of Primo Carnera's 14¾ fist and a set of Ty Cobb's dentures. Marvin Hagler's robe and the Philly Phanatic's costume. Johnny Most screaming that Havlicek stole the ball and Costello begging to know Who's on First ("Yes").

Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, James Naismith and Magic Johnson, Bronko Nagurski and Walter Payton, John L. Sullivan and Muhammad Ali, Bear Bryant and Eddie Robinson, they're all there, waiting just off the road.

Let's pull off and visit all five.

College Football Hall of Fame, South Bend, Ind.
I'll admit, I have a personal beef with the College Football Hall of Fame.

Washington Huskies fans
Fans of the Washington Huskies won't see their team's flag flying in South Bend, Ind.
The Hall has a flag pavilion outside its entrance, with pennants flying from major college programs. But I didn't see my alma mater. I saw one for Syracuse. I saw ones for schools I didn't recognize. But I did not see one for the University of Washington, one of the nation's most successful programs.

So I went into the museum a little miffed, and my attitude didn't improve when I couldn't find mention of the Huskies' 1991 national championship season on the college football timeline.

Oh, there are some very nice things in the museum. I could watch the clips of Doug Flutie's Hail Mary pass against Miami and Kevin Moen running through the Stanford band all day long. And I could barely stop myself from repeatedly playing college fight songs in the marching band and cheerleader exhibit.

Overall, though, the museum left me underwhelmed. I saw too little on football west of the continental divide and too little since the early '70s. Fans deserve more for their $10 admission. For a full sense of the sport's history and tradition, you're better off taking a free drive through the nearby Notre Dame campus.

When I left the museum I asked an employee for the best route to I-90, which runs past the edge of town. He said he didn't know. I asked him which direction to go to find I-90. He said he didn't know, then looked at me quizzically.

"I-90?'' he asked.

Yes, I replied, Interstate 90.

"Never heard of it.''

Must be the same guy in charge of the Husky exhibits.

International Boxing Hall of Fame, Canastota, N.Y.
This little town along the Erie Canal seems an unlikely spot for boxing's Hall of Fame, until you understand the town is so passionate about the sport that the local funeral parlor has boxing photos hanging on the wall.

"There was bare-knuckled boxing up and down the Erie Canal here in the late 1800s," said Ed Brophy, the hall's executive director. "There were high school fighting teams in Canastota. We're a village of about 5,000 people, but we've had two world champs, Carmen Basilio and Billy Backus. There's just always been an appreciation of boxing here.

"This was a community effort. We all came together to do something for the sport of boxing."

Canastota broke ground on the hall in 1989, and it inducted the first class a year later. It's small but lovingly maintained by boxing fans eager to show you around and talk about the sport. Within minutes of entering, Scooter and I were smiling over the old nicknames of the Hall's inductees -- John L. Sullivan, "The Boston Strongboy," "Kid Chocolate" and Jack Dempsey, "The Manassas Mauler" -- and marveling over the size of Carnera's fist. Soon, Brophy was describing the Hall's plans for expansion, showing Scooter photos of Basilio's bruised and battered face, inviting me to slip a WBA championship belt around my waist and pointing to a list of Willie Pep's boxing matches for 1942 (when he fought 24 of his 242 career bouts).

We asked Brophy to pose for a photo, and when he did, he wore the smile of a man who couldn't be prouder or happier even if his name was on the Hall's list of inductees.

"Everyone has always talked about boxing in this town," he said, "and this is Canastota's way of saying thanks to boxing."

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Canton, Ohio
Canton is outside the 25-mile rule for my I-90 trip, but passing up this site would have been like going to the concession stand when John Elway dropped back to pass late in the fourth quarter.

Pro Football Hall of Fame
The Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, is comprehensive without being overwhelming.
The curators do a real nice job here. The Hall provides a concise history of the game's development with a good sampling of memorabilia and artifacts (my favorites were Dempsey's boot, a spectacular Duluth Eskimos winter coat and a souvenir box of frozen turf from Lambeau Field). It's complete -- there is even an exhibit of electric football games -- and yet so manageable that you really feel you can see everything during one visit.

The busts of the Hall of Famers are very impressive and, because they show the players with bare heads, there isn't any of that nonsense over which helmet an inductee will wear.

There weren't many debates over which of the inductees belong here until Scooter pointed out Wilbur (Pete) Henry. By the looks of the drawing accompanying his bust, old Wilbur resembled Ned Beatty in hip pads. Not to question his credentials, but you have to wonder a bit about someone whose plaque reads, "Largest player of the time."

There are no such questions regarding Jim Brown. Reading his rushing totals -- nine years, 12,312 yards on 2,359 carries (more than five yards a carry), Scooter and I shook our heads so much in amazement that we must have looked like plastic figures vibrating on an electric football field.

That's the real benefit and point to a sports Hall of Fame. They honor the players, yes, but more importantly, they forever remind us just how good the players in the past were.

Basketball Hall of Fame, Springfield, Mass.
At the end of September, the Hall moves just across the parking lot to a modern, impressive structure almost as spacious as Lanier's shoe. Having moved many times myself, I don't envy them. But if they hold a garage sale first, I'm there.

You know you're in for a treat as soon as you spot Lanier's famous shoe at the ticket booth. From Naismith's original 13 rules to John Wooden's pyramid model for success, the museum covers it all, both pro and college, men and women, the Olympics and the Harlem Globetrotters. There are old wood backboards and scoreboards, canvas Chuck Taylors and leather Air Jordans, the ABA and the NBA.

If anything, there is too much. The other halls can narrow their subject matter and inductees, but basketball tries to put it all under one roof, which is a bit like fitting Shaquille O'Neal into a VW Beetle.

Still, I found myself staring at a mural of the Boston Garden, measuring my foot against Lanier's, posing with the Larry Bird statue, staring at an exhibit on when the game was played in cages and wishing I had more time on the shot clock to see it all. The most impressive exhibit to me is the room that gives you a feel for how incredible these athletes are. One wall shows Kevin McHale's 96-inch armspan and another shows just how high Michael Jordan can soar. Both seem ludicrous, almost impossible, the stuff of a different species.

Such things really stand out here. On one wall, there are black and white photos of players in their tight little shorts laying up a ball underhand. On another are markers that look like they can only be reached with a ladder and a stick. And it becomes clear that the gap between today's game and yesterday's is so wide not even Jordan could leap it.

Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, N.Y.
Baseball Hall of Fame
Babe Ruth still lives in Cooperstown, N.Y.
No one argues over which players are in football's halls. No one even knows which players are in basketball's. But people care passionately about who enters the Baseball Hall of Fame. It is the original and the best by far, with a 20-game lead over basketball or pro football.

Begin with the location. The pro football, boxing and basketball halls are located next to major interstates. College football's is located in downtown South Bend across from a hotel. But baseball is located in the peaceful village of Cooperstown, just blocks from the spectacular Lake Otsego. Stroll through town or sit on the shores of the lake and you'll feel more relaxed than a manager with a seven-run lead and a rested Curt Schilling on the mound.

Then step into the museum. Baseball reveres and preserves its past so thoroughly that you can hear the game's heartbeat echoing through the building.

There's the promissory note selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees. The green light letter FDR wrote giving his go-ahead for baseball to continue playing during World War II. A scorecard signed by Ernie Harwell and Russ Hodges from the Bobby Thomson game (with Thomson's final square left blank -- whoever kept score forgot to scribble down the home run amid the excitement).

The original Doubleday baseball. The lineup card from the night Cal Ripken Jr. passed Lou Gehrig. Babe Ruth's bats and Roy Hobbs' Savoy Special. Hate mail to Jackie Robinson. Cy Young's vanity plate, and of course, all the plaques for all the players.... There are so many artifacts and so much history that the challenge is taking it all in.

But that's all right. Time moves slower here, like a Tigers-Royals doubleheader in August.

It's the same at the other halls. Cars whiz along I-90 at 75 or 80 mph. But just a little distance away, time seems to stand still, allowing ample opportunity to remember how everything once was in our games. And how it will be preserved forever here.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at cuffscaple@hotmail.com.