CANTON, OHIO---As they transition from college to professional football, rookies in the NFL represent the game’s future.
Through the Player Development Department, the future got a chance to catch up on the past and present with a trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Museum in Canton on Wednesday afternoon.
“We don’t have a lot of the sunshine that the West coast and East coast teams have, but we have some uniqueness here,” said Jerry Butler, the Browns’ Director of Player Development. “We have the history of the game and we have 16 Hall of Famers here. It’s encouraging to see the possibilities.”
Trips to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Museum have become a tradition for the Browns rookies, starting under previous coach Marty Schottenheimer and continuing over time.
“For most, if not all of them, it’s an enlightening experience because they really don’t yet have an appreciation for the game and the players that came before them,” Joe Horrigan, the Hall’s Vice President of Communications/Exhibits, said. “As they’re going through, they’re a little bit humbled, so that’s a nice thing to see. I don’t think that there’s been a rookie who’s come through yet and knew what he was going to experience that has not walked away with something more.”
From their welcome video to a brief talk in front of Jim Thorpe’s statue at the Hall of Fame’s entrance, the rookies got to experience everything Canton had to offer. During the day, players watched game highlights in the Super Bowl Theatre and designed their own championship rings at an interactive station.
“We’ve learned a lot of the facts that I didn’t know about, that the NFL started here and why the Hall of Fame’s actually in Canton, Ohio. It’s been fun to see some of the helmets and old things they used to wear,” said running back
“It’s just a blessing to be here, checking out everything and learning about the original football and how this got started,” safety T.J. Ward said. “It’s been a very good experience. The Browns have an outstanding tradition and just to be a part of the Browns is a blessing, but to hope that one day, you could add to that tradition is a very good thought.”
The rookies also took the time to see and take photos of their favorite players’ bronze busts.
“Being a running back growing up, I was definitely a real big Emmitt Smith, real big Marcus Allen, real Barry Sanders fan,” Hardesty said. “The biggest of all time, the one that I loved was Jim Brown and even more than Jim Brown was Walter Payton.”
“I took a picture with Otto Graham’s headshot and that was pretty sweet,” said quarterback