To be a Group of 5 school fan is, by definition, to dwell in the minority.
You watch College Gameday for three hours knowing your team probably won't get a mention. You see raised brows when telling strangers your favorite school. You had to check every year to see if your team would even make the latest NCAA Football video game (R.I.P.) knowing that if they did the lazily-sculpted virtual version would bear no resemblance to the real team (not that it would anyway... nevermind).
So when the College Football Hall of Fame moved from its curious former location of South Bend, Indiana to Atlanta last year I was thrilled, but ever mindful it may not offer a ton for my Georgia Southern Eagles.
As a diehard college football fan I had to check the place out either way, and decided to send out this public service announcement for other G5 folks who might visit for an offseason oasis.
One Shot at a First Impression
If you're going, you may want to call ahead. The first time I drove downtown decked out in my team polo it was closed for a private event. I was dumbfounded. You might as well have told Ralphie that Santa ran out of Red Ryder BB guns.
I hit up Google once back home and, sure enough, the website said it was open with no mention of the event.
Lesson learned. The second attempt went without a hitch, the Hall was far from crowded and there was no wait for tickets.
I walked in the door.
The moment arrived.
What space would there be -- for the G5.
Well. First thing you see on the right is a mural of players, and the first of those is:
A Memphis Tiger. We do exist!
The second thing you'll notice once properly inside is the Hall's centerpiece -- a gigantic wall of helmets, nearly 800 in total.
Forget the G5, this thing has more equality than a first grade math problem. Each college football team all the way through Division III and the NAIA is represented, with Alabama's helmet the same size as about 400 other teams none of us could name.
I mentioned earlier the new Hall just opened up last year. It is definitely not your granddad's dust-filled hall of bronze busts. The first thing you do is register and tell the computer who your favorite school is. When you do, the corresponding helmet lights up and you feel all special inside.
The girl who helped me register even mentioned something about Sweetheart Circle. I felt right at home.
The place won't overwhelm you with its size. It's three floors stacked on top of each other and comes to the size of maybe a large library.
However, befitting our touchscreen age, just about every piece of it is interactive, meaning there's a whole lot to do per square foot.
There's an enormous touchscreen on the second floor and when you walk up it displays pictures specific to your team. You can touch the pics to blow them up, some actually contain videos. One showed highlights of Georgia Southern beating Florida, for example.
The third floor features a single room that replaces the enormous hall of busts. Big screens have a searchable database where you can look up your school, its Hall of Fame members, etc.
I looked up Tracy Ham, GSU one and only hall of famer, and moved on.
Soapbox alert! It's an absolute crime Erk Russell isn't in the hall. There's a technicality (one must serve as a head coach for 10 years, Erk was "only" the Eagles' coach for nine) keeping him out. For comparison, Jim Donnan is in the Hall. Donnan is most famous for getting swept out at UGA after three straight losses to Georgia Tech and, more recently, being found not guilty on charges of involvement in a Ponzi scheme.
If Donnan's in, there's absolutely no reason Erk shouldn't be.
Anyway, there are the usual items you'd expect like a replica Heisman and replica trophies from all the big bowl games. The biggest impression you'll walk away with though is the interactive elements. Seriously, everything is designed to be touched and moved. You can even film a segment on College Gameday.
A major feature is actually dedicated to the history of tailgating, along with exhibits to cheerleaders and band members.
There's an exhibit dedicated to alternate helmets, because 'Cruitin' y'all.
Once back on the first floor you'll find a mini football field where you can kick field goals, throw passes and get the kids worn out before the inevitable exit through a gift shop and ride home.
So, is it worth it for G5ers?
Hell yea! With all the customization you'll walk out feeling like the whole Hall is just for your team. And at $20 a head it's a cheap reprieve from offseason.
The folks who work there also aid the experience. I went alone and struck up conversations with several of them. When one traded trash talk with me about the 2016 Georgia Southern-Georgia Tech game I knew I had come to the right place.