Fans can huddle in South Bend's new football museum


It doesn't take a marketing whiz to realize that the College Football Hall of Fame belongs in South Bend the way Frederick's Museum belongs in Hollywood.

Where else would one pay homage to the game than in the land of Knute Rockne? But the College Football Hall of Fame was mistakenly located outside of Cincinnati -- hardly synonymous with college gridiron.

So it came as no surprise when the hall shut down in 1992 due to poor attendance. Now, those who are passionate about football and faithfully tend its flame get another chance to do it right when the new Hall of Fame opens Aug. 25 in South Bend's Century Center Complex.

The $14 million facility will have not only a new address but a also whole new approach. The advance buzz is that this will become one of the country's premier sports shrines, on the order of baseball's museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.

"Every day will feel like a Saturday afternoon in October, right down to the roar of the crowd," said Bernie Kish, the new director.

The hall (111 S. St. Joseph St., ([219] 235-9999) will strive to strike a balance between nostalgia and state-of-the-art technology. The centerpiece is the 360-degree Stadium Theater, where visitors will be enveloped by projection that puts them right in the middle of a huddle, so they can experience the strategy and the emotion firsthand.

Next stop is the Training Center, which will offer eight interactive tests in which visitors can compare their skills with those of college athletes. Doesn't the idea of Mom hitting the tackling dummy just scream "photo opportunity"?

And if you're the kind of fan who loves statistics, this is your kind of place. Just punch the name of your favorite player into the computer to access all his numbers, accompanied by career highlights on a video screen.

The last stop is the Locker Room, where visitors will get a glimpse of how such coaching giants as Rockne, Bo Schembechler and Bear Bryant motivated their teams.

Mr. Kish, who was the director of ticket operations for the University of Kansas and one of the founders of the National Football Foundation, was a natural to oversee the new Hall. A native of Western Pennsylvania, he grew up in the football-mad area that spawned two Bears coaches: Mike Ditka and Dave Wannstedt.

"It's very ethnic, which is one of the reasons why I'm so excited to be in South Bend," he said. "When I arrived, I saw a sign that said 'Fresh pierogis here,' and I knew it was my kind of town."

That sentiment is shared by tens of thousands of Notre Dame football fans across the country, who rank the Fighting Irish right up there with God and Country.

During the off-season, South Bend's location off Interstate Highway 80-90 -- traveled by some 24 million cars annually -- should be an asset. So should the cost of admission: adults, $6; children, $3; seniors, $5.

"You don't need a game," Mr. Kish said. "Just pull off the road and stop by."

Actually, that's true of South Bend in general. The combination of low prices and proximity to Chicago (90 miles away) make it worth a detour for travelers heading to the Windy City.

Notre Dame -- the second most popular tourist attraction in the state, behind the Indianapolis Speedway -- has more to offer than football. The Snite Museum of Art, for example, owns more than 17,000 works of art, from primitives to impressionist. The museum -- (219) 631-5466 -- in the middle of campus, gets extra points for being user-friendly: At the entrance of each gallery, cards are provided with an explanation of each painting in the room.

History buffs are well served here, too. The Northern Indiana Center for History, 808 W. Washington St., is really three museums in one. Copshalom is a 38-room mansion once owned by the late Joseph Doty Oliver, a leading farm implement manufacturer. The 1895 home -- filled with original furnishings, // porcelains, glass and silver -- opened to the public in 1991. The 3 acres of landscaped gardens are especially lovely in the summer. Call (219) 235-9664.

At the other end of the spectrum is the Worker's Home Museum, a restored 1870s home that celebrates the immigrants who settled in the area. Physically positioned between the two is the Center for History, which opened last November and tells the story of the industrial heritage of St. Joseph County. The abundance of hands-on exhibits makes the educational aspect relatively painless. (Adults, $12; children, $6.50. Family packages available.) Call (219) 235-9664.

A different type of family-friendly activity is the East Race Waterway. Set in the heart of downtown, the waterway is the first artificial whitewater course in North America and one of only six in the world. It features a number of events such as Olympic regional trials, but it's also ideal for inner-tubing and rafting, without the interminable lines of water parks. Open June through August; fees vary. Call (219) 233-6121.

Lodging and restaurants

The South Bend Marriott, 123 N. St. Joseph St., is the largest motel in the area and was treated to a complete renovation two years ago. Amenities include a large indoor pool and Jacuzzi, a natural draw for families; (219) 234-2000.

If it's a more intimate affair, try the Jamison Inn, just on the edge of campus; (219) 277-9682. The Victorian-style rooms have 1990s conveniences, such as refrigerators stocked with soda. Or opt for one of the bed-and-breakfasts in South Bend's historic district on West Washington Street. The Queen Anne, the Book and the Oliver Inn all offer charm at affordable prices.

Also on Washington Street is Tippecanoe Place, the original home of automobile mogul Clement Studebaker and now one of its better-known restaurants. With 40 rooms and 20 fireplaces, the decor is impressive. The kitchen is too, provided you stick to Midwest basics such as prime rib; (219) 234-9077.

While no one would confuse the dining scene with Chicago -- or even Indianapolis -- South Bend has expanded its repertoire beyond meat and potatoes. The Beiger Mansion Inn, 317 Lincolnway East, for example, is not your typical lunch stop. Try the endlessly creative sandwiches and salads, accompanied by fresh-baked bread or muffins ($5-$10). Afterward, browse the gourmet food shop and craft gallery. Open for lunch Tuesday through Friday only; (219) 256-0365.

The cuisine at the Carriage House, 24460 Adams Road, is as serious as you'll find anywhere. Don't miss the roast duck with cranberries. Located in an old church, the Carriage House has fine dining without pretentiousness. Reservations are highly recommended; (219) 272-9220.

LaSalle Grill, 115 W. Colfax Ave., also will appeal to the savvy diner. Chef Michael Dunn, whose previous credits include the Mansion at Turtle Creek in Dallas, is known for hearty fare such as roasted sweet corn chowder and veal T-bone. Or stop by for a nightcap, such as cappuccino spiked with Frangelico. More serious drinkers, take note: Bourbon is the house spirit, with more than 20 brands on the back bar and a wine list that has earned raves from the Wine Spectator magazine; (219) 288-1155.

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