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Op-Ed: The Hall of Fame Game: Everything it isn't cracked up to be

By Vincent Gerace     Aug 3, 2015 in Sports
The wait is over and football is on the horizon with fall weather to follow. Fans now look to the start of the NFL season. This comes in the way of the Hall of Fame Game, but is this game doing enough for what it represents?
August 9, 2015 will mark the first NFL game played in the new football season — the annual exhibition match known as the Hall of Fame Game. This game is widely anticipated by football fans as the beginning of a new year, and the opening kickoff of the contest is typically performed with the play by play announcer saying something to the effect of "Welcome back to football!" or "And the 2015 season is underway!" But, if you ask me the game's excitement ends there, having begun with the build up that is the enshrinement ceremony for the new Pro Football Hall of Fame.
It is not inconceivable for a game that is meant to pay tribute to the former greats now in the Hall of Fame, the birth place of professional football, and the start and promise of a new season to be more than just a fifth preseason game. Plain and simple, the Hall of Fame Game should be worth something, it should matter.
The Hall of Fame Game has taken place every season since 1962 sans the 1966 season as well as the 2011 season as a result of the all-too-recent lockout. It has typically pitted one AFC team against a foe from the opposing conference, with exceptions like the Tennessee Titans playing the Buffalo Bills in 2009 to honor the American Football League before the NFL-AFL Merger. The game has also done a good job embracing the future by having expansion teams compete such as the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Carolina Panthers squaring off in 1995 to welcome each of the them to the league in their first year, the same can be said for the reincarnated Cleveland Browns who beat the Dallas Cowboys in 1999, as well as the Houston Texans who were featured in their inaugural season, 2002, against the New York Giants.
However, for all the honoring of the past and future of the league, there seems like more could be done with this game in the present. All things considered for the players in the game, this is simply another meaningless match-up; but what if it wasn't? What if the game featured an award for the MVP? Perhaps a car to accompany a trophy, much like that given to the MVP of the Pro-Bowl, another exhibition game. I believe this would be a great incentive for the game as many players playing in this competition are soon to be cut in the next coming weeks. Why not give a player like that the opportunity to win such an award? Sure your Drew Brees and LeSean McCoy types will always have the chance at winning the game's MVP, but every preseason a newcomer plays well and maybe even has a breakout game — these players deserve recognition as well, even if it is only in the preseason, and only for one game.
In addition to that, why not give the entirety of each team incentive to play a little harder? This is more meant for the veterans in the game. As we all know some veterans, especially those considered "stars," aren't the most competitive come the pre-season. What if the Hall of Fame game featured some type of bonus for the players on the winning team, also similar to what goes on with the Pro-Bowl. This would give the seasoned players a bit more motivation to compete at a high level, at least for the game that brings us back to the game we love being fans of.
While we're at it, why not add a little pageantry to the game? Let's steal an idea from the NHL for this.
Every year the National Hockey League's Champion is handed over the Stanley Cup for one year. The trophy then has that team's name engraved on it and the same trophy is given to the NHL Champ the next season. For the Hall of Fame Game it could be a great thing to have a trophy given to the winner each year until the next Hall of Fame Game. The trophy would move from winner to winner yearly and have each team name and year they won it engraved on it, such as, "Minnesota Vikings - 2015" if this format were in place and they beat the Steelers in this year's game. Furthermore, that team's roster for the game would then be placed in the Hall of Fame.
All these incentives sound great, but still there is the matter of selecting the opponents. I am a big advocate for having the game feature teams from opposing conferences, but within that framework could a format for selecting teams be put into place? Perhaps the game could always feature the two teams that lost the in the Conference Championship round of the playoffs. Another avenue that might be worth traveling is having one team selected, as is done now with both teams, and the other team that which won the Hall of Fame Game the previous year giving them the chance to defend their "title." One could even see some quality match ups coming from a divisional set up. Each off season the divisions, spanning both conferences, could rotate: North, South, East, and West. One team from each conference representing that division would be selected. Using this year as an example, since the two teams selected both happen to be from the North Division of each respective conference, in 2016 the league could use the south divisions, which could result in a game between the Indianapolis Colts of the AFC and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the NFC. The following season could showcase the Miami Dolphins and the Philadelphia Eagles out of the east divisions and perhaps the Cardinals could meet the Raiders to represent the west divisions the following year. This format could create the match-ups for the next sixteen Hall of Fame Games, and in seventeen season the league could head back up north and start over, pitting teams against each other with the same format in place but choosing different opponents divisionally.
Plenty can be said about the Hall of Fame Game being just another pre-season game, but I think it is more, and I believe the fans deserve more out of it.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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