Santa Clara Fine Art Museum Goes Full Football for Super Bowl

The Triton Museum of Art is hosting the NFL’s exhibit Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

A Santa Clara art museum known for showcasing fine art — is now stuffed to the gills with all things football -- just in time for the Super Bowl.

The Triton Museum of Art is hosting the NFL’s exhibit Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Instead of the museum’s usual paintings, drawings and sculptures — the galleries are now filled with leather helmets, shoulder pads and player jerseys from throughout NFL history.

“It starts with the early history of the game,” said Triton executive director Jill Meyers. “Some of the great players, great teams.”

Meyers normally tackles topics of Picasso and Monet — but for the football exhibit she’s had to acquaint herself with the works of Lombardi and Manning. She breezed through the exhibits where visitors were throwing footballs at a target and some donned football helmets to listen to recorded communications between coaches and quarterbacks. In other words, not your typical art museum activities.

“We had to do a little studying,” Meyers laughed. “Our focus is on art but fortunately we’re quick learners.”

The crash course in football including learning about artifacts from the early days of football; the first official player contract for $500; noggin rattling leather helmets possibly cut from the same pig as the footballs — jerseys from everyone from Tony Dorsett to Steve Young. In one gallery an Oakland Raider player locker sat just a locker away from the 49ers, which seemed a bit tidier than most lockers not located in an art museum.

Another exhibit focused on the breaking of racial barriers in the NFL which paved the way for the first African-American players. It included a jersey of Doug Williams - the first African American quarterback to start an NFL game.

In the main showcase room, triumphant music bellowed over a video loop of Super Bowl Highlights — with player jerseys and artifacts centered around an authentic replica of the Lombardi Trophy.

“Kind of feel proud of the fact that they’re going to play football here in Santa Clara for the Super Bowl,” said Santa Clara native Joe Cachopo. Next to him fellow native Mal Roman glanced around the museum which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.

“This is an art museum here?” Roman asked with surprise. “Right here in this building?”

Meyers said the Super Bowl exhibit seemed to draw a lot of new visitors who might’ve more intimidated by art than the apparel of athletes who are paid to pummel one another.

“We usually have about 50 people come through on a weekday,” Meyers said. “And we’ve seen 500 people come through on a week day.”

Unlike the rest of the Super Bowl hoopla which will clear out as soon as the game’s over, the NFL exhibit will remain up in the Triton until April 3rd — long after Super Bowl 50 is inked into the books.

Inside a room of interactive exhibits Greg Comick practiced his four-step drop before firing a football at a target ala Manning in his prime. He pointed across the room to an instant replay machine where visitors could actually get under the hood like a real NFL ref. Nearby a field goal kicking simulator allowed people to see how close they could actually get to the uprights.

“That’s good stuff,” Comick said heaving another pass through the gallery. “This is art too.”

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