Earlier this afternoon, I finally spoke with Steve Hatchell -- president and CEO of the National Football Foundation, the parent organization of the College Football Hall of Fame -- concerning yesterday's press conference during which Mayor Tom Leppert, Roger Staubach, T. Boone Pickens and a host of other bold-faced names announced the city's efforts to lure the Hall from South Bend, Indiana, to downtown Dallas, near the site of the would-be convention center hotel. Good timing too, as today the South Bend Tribune makes it sound as though Hatchell, the former Big 12 Conference commissioner, has all but guaranteed the Hall will stay there.
Well, yes and no, Hatchell tells Unfair Park. "What I said was, we're happy in South Bend, and if somebody was to make a proposal, we'd sure take a look at it." Hatchell says he's known about the city's interest in the Hall for quite a while, after having discussed the idea with steakhouse owner Bob Sambol, with whom Hatchell says he's been friends "since my days as Orange Bowl executive director" in the late 1980s.
But he says he hears about some city wanting the College Football Hall of Fame every year or two, and doesn't take it seriously till there's a proposal in writing. Because, sure, while he says he "absolutely takes seriously" the "sincere" entreaties of the "nice, well-considered people" stepping forward on Dallas's behalf, "When people ask, 'Would you move?' we say, 'We're happy in South Bend and have a great building,' etc." And, he reminds concerning both Dallas and Arlington's interest in the venue, "The Dallas Morning News five years ago said we were going to [move to Arlington] when Jerry said he was going to build the
stadium there. Expressing interest and putting things out there are two different things."
Hatchell says he did warn Mayor Steve Luecke late last week that the Dallas proposal was coming. "I call him whenever somebody says, 'We're going to make a proposal,'" Hatchell says. "He's a very nice man, and he's somebody you would treat that way because he's a nice man." Unfair Park's left several messages for the mayor, and spoken with his assistant, but without any return calls thus far.
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Any cursory reading of South Bend newspaper and TV Web sites does seem to reveal one thing: Folks there -- at least, those inclined to leave comments -- don't want the College Hall of Fame, insisting it's nothing more than a poorly attended tax drain to the tune of $600,000 annually. (Sources indicate that the College Hall of Fame has two primary sources of revenue: hotel and motel tax, and contributions from the state of Indiana's professional sports development area fund.) Common are variations on comments like this one: "If Pickens, Staubach & Sanders want it...I'll help them PACK!"
As for how seriously the NFF takes the Dallas proposal, well, Hatchell says there's no timeline in place for the foundation to receive a proper proposal.
"All I can tell you is what was e-mailed to me," says Hatchell, who moved back to the Dallas-Fort Worth area two years ago to turn the Irving-based NFF. "They hope later this year we'll get a proposal. I don't know if it means in a month or end of the year. They sure seem to be well-organized and have some good things planned, but I don't have a proposal in front of me."
And until he does, well, you're all invited to South Bend in July when Troy Aikman's among those being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.