Heroes in Waco
It’s been almost a decade since I visited the splendid Texas Sports Hall of Fame in Waco. Too long. I was in town to see a Baylor basketball game at the university’s Ferrell Center on a recent Monday evening, so I decided to spend the day reacquainting myself with some of the city’s many tourist attractions, including this remarkable tribute to honored sports royalty. But I never made it out of the Hall of Fame. Four hours here flew by like four minutes. I spent an entire afternoon reveling in the interactive displays, memorabilia, keepsakes, photos, paintings, illustrations, timelines, press clippings and other exhibits at this Lone Star State sporting compendium.
Granted, I’m kind of a sports geek. But even if you’re not, I’ll bet there’s something at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame to captivate your curiosity, whether it’s the javelin or golf bag of arguably the greatest athlete ever, Babe Didrikson Zaharias; rare posters of legendary boxer Jack Johnson; or memorabilia relating to other colossal sports heroes who either came from Texas, or reached their highest level of achievement here.
What particularly impressed me? Was it the prestigious 1957 Walter Camp Trophy won by Texas A&M’s John David Crow? Former UH All-American and Basketball Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes’ NBA game jersey? An HBO video of George Foreman’s stunning heavyweight-title-fight-knockout win against Michael Moorer in 1994, whence “Big George” reclaimed his crown to become the oldest heavyweight boxing champ in history, at age 45? Those exhibits all got my immediate and undivided attention.
Then, there are the three Super Bowl Champion’s trophy replicas from the powerhouse Dallas Cowboys teams of the ’90s. I was transfixed by the 1938 Heisman Trophy of TCU Horned Frog Davey O’Brien. A bronze football from UT’s 2005 National Championship brings back memories of the Longhorns’ thrilling season and climactic win over USC at the Rose Bowl, while NFL legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Elvin Bethea’s gigantic pair of shoulder pads serves to remind just how big some gridiron gladiators really are.
The wall-size print of Michael Johnson winning 400-meter gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics majestically captures that athletic pinnacle. I enjoyed the exhibit on soccer star Mia Hamm, which not only gives evidence of this sport’s explosive growth over the past decade, but also documents the rise in female athletic participation throughout the world. The Texas High School Football Hall of Fame here provides an essential overview of this statewide phenomenon/tradition.
There’s so much more to tell you about: Buttons to push for hearing various Texas college fight songs; tributes to such golfing greats as Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Ben Crenshaw, Lee Trevino, and Judy Rankin impress with how influential Texas has been in links history. And, informative displays on auto racing’s A.J. Foyt, Carroll Shelby, Jim Hall, Johnny Rutherford, and the Labonte brothers, Terry and Bobby, personalize the world of driving fast. The Hall’s exhaustive number of exhibits offers a tangible glimpse of supreme athletic success.
The breadth of Texas contributions to the sports world simply overwhelms. If I returned to the Hall tomorrow, I would very likely compile an entirely different catalog of lasting impressions. If you live in Texas, and think of yourself as a sports aficianado, you’ve just have to go.
The exciting news is that the Hall of Fame is about to expand to twice its current size. It will have a Southwest Conference exhibit space on every former member, as well as more room to display its ever-growing permanent collection. Construction is underway, with completion scheduled for 2010.
From the February 2009 issue.
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