Archive for Tuesday, October 31, 1995

S WELL AT THE COLLEGE HALL

October 31, 1995

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— Some people in South Bend obviously don't know Bernie Kish was once director of ticket operations at Kansas. Not many, though.

"After the Colorado game," Kish said the other day, "I must have had 15 phone calls from people congratulating me."

For more than six months now, the 56-year-old Kish has been executive director of the new $15 million College Football Hall of Fame that opened in downtown South Bend on Aug. 25.

A retired Army colonel, Kish worked for 2 1/2 years selling Kansas football tickets when Kansas football tickets weren't easy to peddle. And now with the Jayhawks riding a magic carpet, Kish by necessity can enjoy the ride only in absentia.

How much of a Kansas football fan is Kish?

Naturally, he watched the Kansas-Oklahoma football game on ESPN two Saturdays ago, but he also arose early in the morning on the following Tuesday to watch it on replay. That's how big a fan he still is.

"That was unbelievable. We got down 14-0 and I said, 'We came back against Colorado. We can come back against these guys.'"

Yet as strong as the pull of Kansas football is on Kish, blood is thicker than Haqua and his youngest daughter Katy was a senior member of Lawrence High's state championship volleyball team.

"That's been the most difficult thing, missing her games," Kish said. "A couple of weeks ago I went to West Point to present a collage of Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis, and I went to that instead of to a tournament she was in."

When Kish moved to South Bend last April, he and his wife Judy decided to let Katy finish her last year at Lawrence High. When Katy graduates, Judy will join her husband in South Bend. In the meantime, Kish has found temporary digs.

"There's a man on the board who has two houses, one here and one in Florida," Kish said. "He's in Florida now, so I'm house-sitting for him."

That's a break because, as Kish says: "Our phone bills are pretty high, and I'm giving a lot of money to Delta Airlines. I've been back seven or eight times."

Like last weekend, when he returned to watch his daughter play in the Class 6A state volleyball tournament in Topeka. And he'll return again, he hopes, in a couple of weeks.

"I'm going to try hard to come to the Nebraska game," Kish said about the Jayhawks' Nov. 11 meeting with the Cornhuskers. "I've had it on my schedule since August, and I'm determined to do it."

He's also determined, of course, to turn the College Football Hall of Fame into a shrine that rivals baseball's Cooperstown and pro football's Canton. So far the reviews have been positive.

"It's been wonderful," Kish said. "There was a guy here from Yale the other day and he said, 'I've been to Cooperstown and I've been to Canton, and this is head and shoulders above them.'"

Nevertheless, the College Football Hall of Fame was a flop at its old site in Kings Island, Ohio, and it is Kish's job to make sure the world knows it has been reborn a few miles south of the Notre Dame campus in downtown South Bend.

"I average two speeches a week," Kish said. "And I have literally been on radio shows from coast to coast -- Las Vegas, Portland, Knoxville, Detroit. The highlight was the Pete Rose Show with Pete himself."

Kish spoke at the College Football Coaches convention in Dallas last June and he was on hand for the College Sports Information Directors session in Denver a month later. He hits grass roots stops, too. One day last week, for example, he talked to a service club in nearby Elkhart in the morning and to a South Bend church group that night.

It's not a tough sell.

In truth, they could probably call it the College Football Hall of Fun, because of the facility's liberal use of interactive video, its awe-inspiring 360-degree film theater and its impressive array of 729 clay tablets featuring the faces of every man inducted into the shrine.

"The artist spent a couple of years doing them," Kish said, adding with a smile: "He said he was tired of guy's faces. He said he wants to do the exotic dancers hall of fame next."

Yes, those tablets cost a lot of money. So did the wraparound theater, the touch-screen videos, the talking statues and the 43-foot high Pursuit of a Dream sculpture, among other things. Broken down, the building cost $7 1/2 million and the contents another $ 7 1/2 million.

None of the memorabilia cost a penny, however. Red Grange's jersey was donated and so was Grantland Rice's typewriter and countless other items. Kish will take more, too.

"We may do what the hockey hall of fame did and go on a nationwide memorabilia search," he said. "We're looking at corporate sponsors to do that because there are a lot of people trying to sell memorabilia, and we don't buy."

Meanwhile, Kish will continue selling the College Football Hall of Fame to anybody who'll listen. Sure, he misses his daughter, his wife and, of course, Kansas football, but he loves his new job.

"It's exceeded my expectations," he said. "I knew I'd like it, but this is wonderful."

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