Museum President All About Football
While hundreds of thousands enjoy visiting the College Football Hall of Fame, its President and CEO John W. Stephenson Jr. goes to his own sports venue when he wants to relax and get his sports fix. “I go to Dick’s Sporting Goods,” he says. “There’s always something fun to get there.”
Fun is important to Stephenson. He describes the Hall of Fame as a special place. “ It’s such an over-the-top, unique experience,” he says. “It’s unlike anything you have seen before. It’s not your traditional busts, artifacts and plaques hall of fame. It’s a celebration of college football and it’s designed to be engaging and fun.”
Located downtown near the Omni MARTA station, the Hall of Fame opened a year ago to rave reviews and Stephenson understands the reason. “It’s a celebration of college football and it’s designed to be engaging and fun. Even if you are not a college football fan, I guarantee you will be entertained for a good two hours while you’re in the building because of all the cool things you can see and do and kids love it, too. Honestly, it’s hard to describe because there’s nothing to compare it to. You will just have to trust me and go check it out yourself.”
Stephenson, who earned both his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Georgia, grew up in the Sandy Springs area and calls himself a big UGA fan but not a fanatic. “I don’t really follow off-season stuff like recruiting,” he says. “But I love to watch or attend games on fall Saturdays. One of the cool things about this job is getting to meet and getting to know many in the college football world outside of UGA — even Georgia Tech!”
Speaking of Georgia Tech, Stephenson says he loves a “house divided,” such as a Georgia Tech/UGA or University of South Carolina/Clemson union. “Honestly, I think the “house divided” couples enjoy a common appreciation for college football generally and get to share that with each other as part of their lives … except maybe that one Saturday a year!”
Stephenson now lives between Brookhaven and Chastain. “It’s easy to get anywhere and we love the public parks with playgrounds, which are great for your kids.” Stephenson says that his family, which consists of wife, Megan, and children May and Jack, is often at PDK airport where the kids can play on the playground and watch planes take off and land. “Then we head over to get a good burger at Downwind.”
Stephenson and his family are active in their church and the children’s school and they always support various local nonprofits that have an impact on the city and state. “I play golf when I can and we enjoy the Northside Youth Organization at Chastain Park. I grew up paying baseball, football and basketball out there so now that our kids are starting to get involved with NYO, it’s fun to watch.”
Even though his schedule is jam packed, he has his favorite places around town including going to Houston’s for a nice meal with his wife, to Taqueria del Sol or Taxco for family night out and Sugar Shack for a quiet cup of coffee.
Stephenson certainly didn’t have his eyes set on leading the Hall of Fame. He was a partner at Troutman Sanders with a number of clients in the hospitality, sports and entertainment industry. He was retained by project organizers in 2009 to asset with efforts to move the Hall to Atlanta. “I loved my co-workers and clients, but when I got the call, it was a great opportunity for a new challenge and to grow professionally. In addition to that, what a great honor to be a part of bringing a fantastic new asset to our city and state.”
He truly is excited about the College Football Hall of Fame. “” he says. “It’s a nonprofit establishment built to be an asset for our city and state.”
He believes the hall is another point of distinction that separates Atlanta from other cities. “Sometimes we Atlantans are behind the curve at experiencing and appreciating all that our city has to offer,” he says. “My kids like to run around the 45-yard-long indoor football field as well as two of our inter-actives: virtual face painting and the 52-foot-long touchscreen media wall.
“I’d like for folks to make the trip downtown, experience the Hall and then be advocates for it. I really would like to see our metro Atlanta residents get excited about what we’ve built downtown and to be proud of it.”