For 42 years Joe Horrigan has had his dream job.
Ever since the June morning in 1977 when he first walked into the Pro Football Hall of Fame to work as the Hall’s curator, the Hall was where he wanted to be. Come June 1 he’ll walk through those doors for the last time as the Hall’s executive director, content that it is now time for someone else to serve as the guardian at the gate.
The Hall’s 48 voters were alerted to this 24 hours ago, but it wasn’t supposed to go public until an article appeared in USA Today later this week. But, like most things these days, news travels fast ... and so do leaks.
In this case the news dripped across town to where Joe Scalzo, a reporter at the Canton Repository, learned of it and broke the story. Joe Horrigan, who for most of his life has helped others make news, was now the news himself after having announced at a meeting of the Hall’s staff that he would be retiring.
“There was not one event or reason,’’ Horrigan told Scalzo. “It was just time, you know. That’s the beauty of retiring from someplace you love. I’m not leaving angry. I’m not leaving happy because I’m leaving. I’m just looking at it as, ‘I’ve completed this chapter, I’m pleased with it and it’s time to move to another one.’
“Everyone comes to this point where you have to make this decision. You’re just happy if you can make it on your own.”
Hall-of-Fame President and CEO David Baker, told the Hall’s voters it was “with mixed emotions that I inform you that Joe Horrigan will be retiring from the Pro Football Hall of Fame on June 1 after 42 GREAT years of service!’’ He is right, both about his emotions and Horrigan’s year of loyal service.
With newspapering being dating back to his father in Buffalo, Horrigan had agreed to make his retirement public through a Buffalo connection, USA Today writer and Buffalo native Erik Brady. The connection ran deeper than just the accident of their hometowns. Like many things with Joe, that choice came with an eye toward history, both personal and professional.
Brady wrote his first column about Joe. Now he was bringing things full circle, like any good historian tries to do. The last piece of Brady’s career would profile the man who was the subject of his first.
Well, that didn’t quite work out as planned … but Joe Horrigan certainly did. While nearly all of the hundreds of people who have had the honor of being Hall-of-Fame voters had their disagreements with Horrigan from time to time, no one ever thought his heart wasn’t in the right place. And that place was in Canton and in the Hall of Busts, the room where the greatest figures in pro football history are perpetually honored.
No one knows more about the nearly 100-year history of the National Football League and of the game of football itself. You want arcane knowledge of football’s rough-and-tumble early days, call Joe.
In late August, Horrigan will release his new book on the NFL’s first 100 years entitled “NFL Century: The Rise of America’s Greatest Sports League.” He will also continue to host the Hall’s weekly radio show on SiriusXM and work on special projects such as the Black College Hall of Fame Classic, which is now hosted in Canton -- meaning though he is retired he’s not necessarily leaving.
Maybe one day Joe Horrigan’s bust will join all the greats of the game forever enshrined in Canton because he has been a magnificent contributor to pro football for nearly all of his adult life. But if that day never comes it won’t matter … because his heart will always be there, long after his feet have taken him away.