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The End Zone
Wendy Bowman | Photo: Patrick Heagney | May 27, 2014
The forthcoming College Football Hall of Fame is set to send up the sport like no place else on Earth. And there’s no one better to helm the project than John Stephenson Jr.
Like a lot of guys, John Stephenson Jr. loves football. In particular? Those Bulldogs from The University of Georgia (where he earned business and law degrees). A talented high-school athlete, Stephenson had actually been recruited to play college baseball and football, but the president and CEO of downtown Atlanta’s new College Football Hall of Fame admits he was never interested in a sports-industry career. It just kind of happened.
Stephenson joined Troutman Sanders LLP as a corporate attorney in 2000, representing hospitality, sports and entertainment clients. He became a partner in 2007 and was asked to help with the efforts to move the Hall of Fame from Indiana to Atlanta in 2009. A couple of years later, he was named interim president and CEO, becoming the official top dog in March 2013. His role: overseeing the $66.5 million nonprofit project and securing more than $55 million in private sponsorships and funds.
Fast-forward to present day. Stephenson is busy prepping for the opening of the 94,256-square-foot attraction in late August, just steps from the Georgia World Congress Center, where it will stand proudly with the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, National Center for Civil & Human Rights and the Children’s Museum. What will sports nuts experience within its hallowed halls? An interactive wall of 750-plus football helmets, a 45-yard-long football field on which guests can kick field goals and throw passes, and a new Radio Frequency Identification technology linking them to their favorite football teams.
“It’s an attraction in every sense of the word,” says Stephenson. “It will be a place where you will get all of the history and reverence of Hall of Famers, but also serve as a fun place to celebrate the sport.” In other words, a veritable playground for the art of pigskin.