He was sitting in his office at the Canadian Football Hall of Fame the other day when the front door opened and a crowd startled trundling in. Close to 20 people in the group, he estimates.
Considering how rarely this happens at the less-than-bustling museum, the man in charge got a little excited.
“Oh,” Mark DeNobile quips about his immediate response. “I beat my (average of) 2.9 people per day.”
Alas, it wasn’t really to be. No sooner had they arrived than the visitors pulled out measuring tapes and notepads and started charting the dimensions of the place for the offices that would soon be built in there. Not fans, it turned out. City workers.
C’est la vie.
The fact that a crowd of any size would catch the executive director off guard pretty clearly explains why the place is closing. It costs money to run a facility like this. A lot more money to update it and make it an attraction. The way you make that cash to improve is by bringing in hordes of fans. But if it’s not modernized, who really wants to pay to see it?
Chicken, meet egg.
So on Saturday afternoon shortly after the Tiger-Cats kick off against Edmonton a few kilometres away at the shiny, new, multi-million-dollar Tim Hortons Field, DeNobile will get up from his desk, walk the few steps to the front door, and turn the lock for the last time.
It’ll likely be a bit emotional for him but don’t expect any tears.
“I’m really looking forward to the changes,” he says.
Next week, all the artifacts on display on the main floor — including the 278 busts of the inducted members — will go into temporary storage somewhere else in town. The items in the basement storage rooms will remain on site.
Then those changes he’s talking about will start. DeNobile has already received requests from CFL teams asking for travelling displays of team-specific memorabilia to show at their stadia. Plans are already in the works to package some stuff up and send it on loan. That’ll take the hall to the people rather than waiting any longer for the people to come to the hall, which is a fantastic idea. Long-overdue, too.
A larger collection will be put together for the Grey Cup in Winnipeg.
“We just got the word we’re going,” he says.
That display will almost certainly include the ball then-Bombers’ quarterback Matt Dunigan used to pass for a record 713 yards in a game back in 1994.
Why does that matter? Well, it illustrates pretty clearly why these changes could be very positive. That historic ball, for example, has been sitting in the hall’s basement for 20 years. Tucked away and carefully preserved, but out of sight nonetheless.
“It hasn’t seen the light of day since that day,” DeNobile says.
Now it will. Now all kinds of things like this will get showings across the country where they can be appreciated and where fans can be prompted to relive so many great memories by seeing precious pieces of meaningful games and tangible evidence of wonderful moments.
On top of everything else, planning will now get started in earnest about how to build the facility at the north end of Tim Hortons Field — under the scoreboard — at which the busts will all eventually find a home. Plans are for it to be open even on non-game days so anyone can visit, any time.
After being handcuffed by finances for so long, DeNobile desperately wants it to be done right. He wants all of itto be done right.
In the meantime, he doesn’t expect a last-minute surge of guests on Saturday. A few Edmonton Eskimo players might drop by in the morning on the way to the park since they’re in town. A few misty fans with childhood memories of the place might pop in. That’s it.
That’s kind of sad. The hall has been on the same site since 1968. It’s a landmark, even if it’s largely ignored and way behind the times. Its closing really is the end of an era and marks the closing of a chapter in this city’s history.
So as he locks the door for the final time and flicks off the lights, will The Last Post be playing while teams of cheerleaders do their thing, city councillors lower the flag, and balloons and a flock of doves are released?
“No, it’ll be very quiet,” DeNobile says. “Game starts at 4, we close at 4:30.”