Heinz History Center gives look at new pro football exhibit

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A piece of gridiron history that's been hanging in Franco Harris' closet for more than two decades will soon be on display at the Heinz History Center, along with more than 200 other artifacts from pro football history.

The former Steelers running back and four-time Super Bowl winner was at the Strip District museum this morning, along with Joe Horrigan, vice president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Andy Masich, president and CEO of the history center, to present his Hall of Fame jacket.

"This jacket has a lot of meaning to me," Mr. Harris said after he unveiled it. "To me it's the summation of everything that we achieved during our time."

The jacket, which Mr. Harris received when he was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990, will be part of "Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame," an exhibit opening at the history center Oct. 6.

The exhibit will travel around the country for the next five to 10 years, displaying artifacts from the Hall of Fame's collections in Canton, Ohio, and its first stop is in Pittsburgh, Mr. Horrigan said.

"It's really, really great that it starts here," Mr. Horrigan said, calling the city an appropriate kickoff point, because some people say pro football was born here.

And Mr. Horrigan brought with him the document that he said proves it.

Wearing blue gloves, Mr. Horrigan and Mr. Masich unveiled what Mr. Horrigan called the Pro Football Hall of Fame's "Hope Diamond." It's an accounting ledger sheet from the 1892 Allegheny Athletic Association, which indicates that a player was paid $500 to compete in a game, and Mr. Horrigan called it pro football's birth certificate.

Also unveiled today was a leather helmet worn by Knute Rockne in 1919, a No. 19 jersey worn by Johnny Unitas, two footballs thrown by Dan Marino when he set the record for career passing completions and passing yards, and Joe Greene's helmet from his 1981 season, all of which will be on display in the exhibit.

Sports fans, Mr. Masich said, "are among the more sentimental and history-minded people that you'll ever meet."

And although the exhibit pays tribute to all of pro football history, he said local sports fans will find a strong Steelers presence in the exhibit -- including a panel from the Three Rivers Stadium elevator Art Rooney Sr. was riding when Mr. Harris made his "Immaculate Reception" in 1972.

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This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To subscribe, go to http://www.post-gazette.com/trypittsburghpress/ Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707.


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