More than 20,000 people filled the stadium Thursday for the first public event held there since construction of the south stands stopped this week.
CANTON The toilets flushed. The beer flowed. The elevators shuttled people from floor to floor. And the new Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium hosted Thursday night's Hall of Fame Game.
More than 20,000 people filled the stadium Thursday for the first public event held there since construction of the south stands stopped this week. On Saturday, the stadium will host the enshrinement, and Toby Keith and Kid Rock both will headline Sunday's Concert for Legends using the permanent stage at the 50-yard line.
"There's so much more that's going to happen, and if we can do this, we can do that," Pro Football Hall of Fame President David Baker said Thursday, gesturing toward the spot near the stadium where ground has broken for a four-star hotel.
Thursday also marked the first time the Hall of Fame Game has been played in what is now Benson Stadium, following last year's cancellation.
In 2016, construction of the 6,000-seat north stands of the stadium, the stage and the underground green rooms finished in time for enshrinement week. The partially rebuilt stadium was showcased during the Tim McGraw Concert for Legends and the enshrinement, but the game wasn't played because of safety concerns related to the paint on the field.
The Hall's Chief Administrative Officer Steve Strawbridge said this year, there's no paint on the turf and that the field passed the NFL's inspection.
The game between the Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys kicked off without incident.
Meanwhile, fans filled the 12,835 seats in the south stands. Companies hosted private parties in the terraces in the west end zone.More than 150 reporters camped out in the writing press box, their laptops set up on the granite countertops lining windows that face the field. Enshrinees and their families gathered for the game on the stage that's built into the north stands — the same spot where they'll unveil their bronze busts Saturday during the enshrinement.
HKS Architects, which designed the 20,000 fixed-seat stadium, pulled the seats in as close as possible.
"When you come here, you feel like you're connected on a much stronger level," principal Mark Williams said.
For Baker, the view of the Hall from the south stands is his favorite part of the new stadium. For years, he said, every time there's a broadcast, people will see the rotunda and know it's Canton.
"That's what I love the most," he said.
Some work will continue on the remaining temporary elements of the stadium after enshrinement week ends: Construction of the east end zone is scheduled to begin sometime this month or next, and the permanent scoreboard will be built into the nearby Center for Excellence also planned for Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village. The construction won't disturb or affect events at the stadium during the fall.
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