The unofficial kickoff to the NFL season got off to a false start Sunday when the Hall of Fame Game was canceled due to poor field conditions and nervousness over players’ safety.
The Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts were sent packing before the teams could even take the field in Canton, Ohio. At issue was paint on the midfield logo and in the end zones that hardened and raised anxieties that players might slip and suffer injuries.
The league and the NFL Players Association issued a joint statement Sunday expressing regret over the cancellation.
“Due to safety concerns with the condition of the playing surface in Canton, tonight’s game between the Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers has been cancelled. We are very disappointed for our fans, but player safety is our primary concern, and as a result, we could not play an NFL game on this field tonight.”
David Baker, president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, reportedly said fans who bought tickets to the game would get a full refund, which The Associated Press said “will cost the hall several million dollars.”
In an interview with the NFL Network, Baker described the paint on the field at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium as “kind of congealing and rubberized, which meant players might slip on it.” He also said the grounds crew had tried to fix the issue:
“The folks with the field tried to remediate that by dropping some other pellets but after talking to the coaches and staff for both the Packers and the Colts, there was a concern they might be able to remediate it but they would have to do something underneath the surface.”
As the AP points out, Sunday’s game wasn’t the first NFL exhibition game to be called off.
“This was not the first cancellation of an NFL exhibition game — the Hall of Game contest was not played in 2011 because of the lockout — but it was the most high-profile preseason match to be called off.
“In 2001, a new artificial surface at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium was deemed too dangerous for the Eagles to play the Ravens.”
The issue of potential player injury linked to slipping on field paint is also something the NFL has experience with. SI.com reminds readers of what happened to a Steelers player just last year:
“The turf at Tom Benson Stadium in Canton has been criticized in the past, with former Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham suffering what would be a career-ending ACL injury in last year’s Hall of Fame game. Suisham led the charge this offseason on this issue, which helped result in the creation of a joint committee between the NFL and NFLPA to monitor field conditions, including at non-traditional venues like Canton.”
The Hall of Fame Game is traditionally played the day after the induction ceremony for the hall’s latest class of players. This year’s class included members who were part of the franchises scheduled to play Sunday. Among the eight inductees: Brett Favre, who spent 16 years with the Green Bay Packers; Tony Dungy, who was the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl when his Colts defeated the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI; and Marvin Harrison, who played on that Super Bowl-winning team and is considered one of the best receivers in NFL history.