Professional Football Names First Inductees to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Seventeen professional football greats, including players, coaches, and administrators, were selected as the first inductees to the newly created Pro Football Hall of Fame, solidifying the place of professional football in American sports history and setting the standard for all future candidates and inductees to the hall.

Summary of Event

On the day before the National Football League National Football League (NFL) championship game in 1962, fourteen people gathered in New York City to vote on the inaugural class for the Pro Football Hall of Fame (PFHOF). The announcement of the inductees came on January 29, 1963, by Hall of Fame director Dick McCann in Canton, Ohio. The event marked culmination of a long struggle to immortalize the greats of a blossoming U.S. sport: football. By choosing the seventeen-member class, the dream of a professional football hall of fame became a reality. The Hall of Fame building would open to the public in September, completing the establishment of the hall. Football;professional Pro Football Hall of Fame [kw]Professional Football Names First Inductees to the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Jan. 29, 1963) [kw]Football Names First Inductees to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Professional (Jan. 29, 1963) [kw]Hall of Fame, Professional Football Names First Inductees to the Pro Football (Jan. 29, 1963) Football;professional Pro Football Hall of Fame [g]North America;Jan. 29, 1963: Professional Football Names First Inductees to the Pro Football Hall of Fame[07520] [g]United States;Jan. 29, 1963: Professional Football Names First Inductees to the Pro Football Hall of Fame[07520] [c]Sports;Jan. 29, 1963: Professional Football Names First Inductees to the Pro Football Hall of Fame[07520] [c]Organizations and institutions;Jan. 29, 1963: Professional Football Names First Inductees to the Pro Football Hall of Fame[07520] McCann, Dick Rozelle, Pete Baugh, Sammy Bell, Bert Carr, Joseph F. Clark, Dutch Grange, Red Halas, George Hein, Mel Henry, Pete Hubbard, Cal Hutson, Don Lambeau, Curly Mara, Tim Marshall, George Preston McNally, John Nagurski, Bronko Nevers, Ernie Thorpe, Jim

The first seventeen members of the PFHOF were Sammy Baugh, Bert Bell, Joseph F. Carr, Dutch Clark, Red Grange, George Halas, Mel Hein, Pete Henry, Cal Hubbard, Don Hutson, Curly Lambeau, Tim Mara, George Preston Marshall, John McNally, Bronko Nagurski, Ernie Nevers, and Jim Thorpe (Wa-tho-huck). The members of the selection committee represented each of fourteen cities with an NFL team, including two for New York. Twelve of the fourteen were sportswriters for their city, and two members were retired NFL players. The first seventeen inductees were chosen anonymously among a pool of eighty players. All eighty players were chosen to be candidates based on certain specifications established prior to the event. It took the selection committee four hours to whittle the choices to seventeen.

The requirements for being elected to the Hall of Fame were set forth by the hall’s steering committee. If a candidate had been a player, he had to have been retired for three years before reaching eligibility. Coaches and administrators were eligible at any time in their career. Each candidate had to have greatly impacted the game, either on the field or in the administration of a team or a league. The selections were not limited to the NFL; candidates could also include players from rival leagues such as the American Football League American Football League . The initial eighty candidates were selected by the selection committee. Each member was then allowed to suggest twenty players and ten nonplayers.

The Hall of Fame steering committee was established in 1959 after interest in building a hall skyrocketed with the popularity of the game. In 1947, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, had been selected by the NFL as host city for the site, but town leaders did not act on the proposal. By the late 1950’s, citizens from Detroit, Los Angeles, and Green Bay, Wisconsin, were all vying for the hall. Canton was a latecomer to the race. Town representatives gave a masterful presentation to the steering committee on January 15, 1961, which helped seal the deal for the city. NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle liked Canton as a site for many reasons. First, Canton was home to the Canton Bulldogs, an original NFL team. Second, the NFL was formed in Canton on September 17, 1920 (as the American Professional Football Association). Canton’s rich football heritage was one selling point for the steering committee. Another strong point was the amount of private donations from Canton citizens and businesses for the site, showing clear support for the Hall of Fame. Also, a $100,000 donation by the Timken Company had helped NFL leadership take notice of Canton.

A spot was chosen for the hall, and a $450,000 building plan for the hall was set into motion. The Washington Redskins’ manager Dick McCann took over as the director of the project on April 4, 1962. On August 11, Commissioner Rozelle broke ground at a site the city had set aside through a ninety-nine-year lease. At the same time the New York Giants and St. Louis Cardinals played the first-ever Hall of Fame Game in Canton to raise money for the hall. Inductees Bell, Carr, Henry, Mara, and Thorpe were already deceased by 1963, but the twelve living inductees were on hand for enshrinement when the hall officially opened on September 7, 1963.

The inductees had significant careers. Baugh played for the Washington Redskins (1937-1952) and is credited with making the forward pass a staple of football strategy. Bell, owner of the Philadelphia Eagles and then the Pittsburgh Steelers, was the NFL commissioner from 1946 to 1959. He is credited with cracking down on gambling and pioneering television contracts for the league. Carr was the NFL president between 1921 and 1939 and is credited with standardizing player contracts and cracking down on ineligible collegiate players. Clark, who played for the Portsmouth Spartans and the Detroit Lions, was considered one of the best leaders on the field.

Grange was most famous for the years he played for the Chicago Bears. In 1925 he was one of the most well-known college names to become professional. He brought credibility, prestige, and fame to the NFL. Halas, who was associated with the Chicago Bears from the team’s beginning, coached the team for forty seasons and won six championships. He is credited with perfecting the T formation and for organization. Hein was the team captain of the New York Giants and a star at the positions of center and linebacker. Henry was one of the biggest names when the NFL was formed in 1920. Playing originally for the Bulldogs, Henry was renowned for his kicking abilities.

Hubbard, the only person enshrined in both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Baseball Hall of Fame, was well known for his defensive skills in football. Hutson was a great receiver for the Green Bay Packers. Lambeau was the player-coach and founder of the Packers. His coaching philosophy was considered one before its time. Mara, owner of the New York Giants, helped publicize the NFL and overcame attempts by rival leagues to steal his team’s spotlight in the New York City market.

Marshall was a pioneer in promoting his Redskins. He also moved them from Boston to Washington, D.C. McNally was an excellent offensive and defensive player who helped lead the Packers to championships. Nagurski was known for his running ability, and he played for the Chicago Bears. Nevers was also known for his running ability. He played for the Chicago Cardinals and the Duluth Eskimos. Thorpe was perhaps the most famous of all the inductees in his class. He played the majority of his career for the Bulldogs and was considered the ultimate football player and overall athlete. He won two Olympic gold medals, in the pentathlon and decathlon, and also played professional baseball.


The seventeen elite football players, coaches, and administrators who were the charter Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees became the standard by which hall candidates are judged. Their selection came at a point in sports history when professional football was growing in popularity and began to rival professional baseball. A permanent shrine to football history and an educational and archival institution as well, the Hall of Fame has validated professional football as an American pastime. Football;professional Pro Football Hall of Fame

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brantingham, Barney. Pro Football Hall of Fame: The Story Behind the Dream. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Sequoia Communications, 1988. A history of the Hall of Fame that also provides some details about the hall’s collections and archives.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dillion, Dennis. “What’s the Deal with . . . : Voting for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.” Sporting News 230 (February 3, 2006): 10-11. A good article that describes the Hall of Fame’s induction criteria and gives a brief history of past inductions.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pro Football Hall of Fame. http://www.profootballhof .com. The Pro Football Hall of Fame Web site offers complete statistics on Hall of Fame members and also short biographies. Also has information on the hall archives, a crucial source for studying football and its history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rathet, Mike, and Don R. Smith. Their Deeds and Dogged Faith. New York: Blasam Press, 1984. Lists members of the Hall of Fame, with short biographies.

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