McGinn: Don't punish Canton for mistake

Bob McGinn
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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NFL Hall of fame President David Baker, talks to Brett Favre, Kevin Greene and Edward DeBartolo, Jr, after the NFL preseason game between the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts was canceled Sunday, August 7, 2016, in Canton, Ohio.

CANTON, Ohio – It was a black mark on the Pro Football Hall of Fame that will take months if not years for the organization to overcome.

A botched paint job in the end zones and midfield at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium led league and hall officials to cancel the exhibition game Sunday night between the Green Bay Packers and the Indianapolis Colts due to unsafe field conditions.

As embarrassing as it was, let’s stop the piling on, especially from Colts owner Jim Irsay.

In an interview with ESPN, Irsay showed no sympathy for Canton.

“Yes, we’re upset,” Irsay said. “We have to make it right for our fans and also get to the bottom of exactly who got this paint job done and why was there incompetence.

“This shouldn’t happen. It’s not difficult. Obviously, everyone out there says, ‘You’re a $12 billion league. How can you have a field not ready to go?’

“Well, the Hall of Fame is sort of separate and runs a little different from the league. We’ll have to get it right so it never happens again.”

With criticism like that, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some owners push to do away with the opening exhibition game. That would be an awful mistake by a league that makes too many of them as it is.

Don’t expect the game to go away, either. Canton is in the midst of a two-year, $500 million project that includes a new north grandstand, press box and field by next summer and an assisted living facility for former NFL players, luxury hotel, retail space and several new synthetic fields for youth and community usage.

All of that will be within a stone’s throw of the stadium, which was built in the late 1930s and has been the home field forever of the legendary football program at adjacent Canton McKinley High School.

At the same time, Irsay ought to look himself in the mirror before he suggests ending the game because of one mistake.

In 2014, Irsay was suspended for six games and fined $500,000 by the NFL after pleading guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol and possession of a controlled substance. At the time, columnist Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star reported that Irsay’s friends had been concerned for years about what they said was his ongoing drug problem.

No one has forgotten the decision by his father, Robert, in 1982 to bolt Baltimore under cover of darkness and relocate the Colts franchise in Indianapolis.

This game always should be played, especially given that by next year the stadium and field will be in mint condition.

What happened was an honest mistake made during a transitional year at Canton.

After the 2015 game, the FieldTurf surface was ripped out and replaced by the field (UBU Speed Series-S5-M) that had been played on for only one year (10 games) by the Saints at the Superdome in Louisiana last season. Benson, the Saints’ owner, has been a large financial benefactor of the Hall in recent years and facilitated Canton to get what should have been a more than serviceable field for this year.

“It was installed months ago as part of our construction project,” Joe Horrigan, the Hall’s long-time chief communications officer, said as he stood on the field Sunday night.

If Canton officials had just left well enough alone and forgot about painting the end zones and insignia at midfield, the field would have been just fine.

According to Horrigan, the end zone and midfield circle had been painted weeks ago. In fact, he said the flooring used to cover the field for the enshrinement ceremony Saturday night had been down for more than a week.

Officials in Canton deserve blame for securing a bad paint job. The league should be blamed for not having had its field and game management officials on site and examining the field Sunday morning after the flooring was removed.

“We tested the field when it got here,” Horrigan said. “It’s not the field, it was the paint. The paint congealed, and it made it very difficult. What they said is it would have been remediated but they just didn’t have enough time to do it.”

What happens next year when Canton initiates another paint job?

“It won’t be an issue going forward because our new field comes with it in and everything’s fixed,” Horrigan said. “There’s no paint. It’s bad luck on our part that we had to paint this year.”

Like Green Bay, Canton is the little guy still standing tall in an industry overflowing with brands, corporate sponsors and greed.

These are good people that work hard to put on a world-class event every year. The hundreds of volunteers that make Canton a wonderful stop on the NFL calendar deserve praise, not ridicule.

Shortly after the cancellation, Hall president David Baker told fans to visit its website Monday to get their money back.

“We’ve offered a full refund, and that’s not an easy thing to face,” Horrigan said. “We treat our fans as family and will refund them their ticket.

“We’re a non-profit educational institution; we’re not part of the NFL. A lot of people don’t realize that. This is important to our bottom line but we’ll recover from it, certainly.”

Let’s be real. It probably was a blessing for both teams not to play a fifth exhibition game. For the Packers, almost everything on offense would have been skewed because of what portended to be inferior quarterback play.

Besides, the Packers had scored a scant three points in their last three appearances in Canton, two of which ended early because of lightning (1980) and torrential rain and lightning (2003).

Back in ’03, quarterback Brett Favre said, “Hell, yeah, it was a good decision. I didn’t want to get struck by lightning.”

It was a good decision to cancel Sunday night. It also would be a very bad decision to discontinue the Hall of Fame Game in Canton.

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