Enjoy this week's installment of my series on the trophies found in college football. If you need an explanation of the series you can read the introduction. Note: This is published here late in the weekend, because I wrote it for another forum not knowing SMQ was active again. Now that I know this community is open once more, I will be sharing this series of FanPosts in this space.
The Blue Ribbon Trophy of the Week
|Above: A photo of the most West Virginian trophy ever. Taken from GoHerd.com|
Friends of Coal Bowl Trophy- Marshall Thundering Herd vs. West Virginia Mountaineers- 9/1/2012
To start the season, I want to focus on a trophy that may enjoy it's final Saturday in the sun for quite some time this week. West Virginia has two teams that compete in FBS-level football, so it would seem natural for the two to play every year. Yet this Saturday marks only the twelfth time the two have met. It will also be the last time the two teams play for the foreseeable future. So to commemorate the occasion I would like to share a little information about the Friends of Coal Bowl Trophy.
The trophy was conceived as part of package to fire up a rivalry between the Marshall and WVU. The arrangements for the series had to be negotiated by West Virginia's governor at the time (college football being one of the most pressing issues facing the chief executive of any state). A series of games was scheduled to begin in 2006, and a suitable prize had to be made. For a game between West Virginia schools, the trophy had to cram as much West Virginia stuff into one physical object as the laws of physics would allow. You start with a carbon base from Clarksburg, WV. Then you add a face plate made in Charleston, WV which has been engraved at Alum Creek, WV. After that go to Williamstown, WV, so a glass blower can shape you an ornamental trophy shaped like a football. Next dig up some coal from the state's largest coal seam in Scarbro, WV. Take that to Amsted, WV to liquefy it. Finally you pour the coal inside the glass football to create a trophy that's so Appalachian it should be the subject of a Loretta Lynn song,
All of that seems like the sort of thing that should inspire a wave of provincial pride that draws all West Virginians together. However, the Friends of Coal Bowl has drawn controversy from multiple quarters. Some want to see this trophy retired because it has never changed hands. In fact Marshall has never defeated West Virginia on the gridiron. In 1997 the Thundering Herd even had Randy Moss and still couldn't win -actually after Super Bowl XLII that's not so surprising. So it can hardly seem like a rivalry if the WVU janitor never has to unlock the trophy chest. Even if Mountaineers were forced to surrender the hardware, some still feel the whole thing is too contrived to last. A rivalry has to evolve as the natural product of repeated contests and steadily increasing animosity between the two organizations.
Setting aside questions about a competitive mismatch, political controversy has tainted the Friends of Coal Bowl. (You have no idea how many times I've tried to type either "cowl" or "boal" while writing up this blog post.) Critics have found it distasteful that an openly political organization like Friends of Coal was awarded naming rights to the game, without so much as a competitive bidding process. Though I cannot come up with any institution that would want to be associated with a sporting event in West Virginia more than the coal industry, with the possible exception of John Denver's estate. This has led others to use the game and its associated trophy as examples of some sort of corrupt political process. It gives the impression that this trophy game exists solely to allow various power brokers to curry favor with each other. In response, I say that there are lots of unsavory things power brokers do to curry favor. At least this time the rest of us got a football game and a unique trophy out of it.
Spoils of the Game- Week 1
This is where we take a look at all the prizes at stake in this weeks games.
|Above: The winning team in the Rocky Mountain Showdown gets to hoist the Centennial Cup, from ColoState.edu|
Centennial Cup- Colorado University Buffaloes vs. Colorado State Rams- 9/1/2012
No collegiate sporting event in the state of Colorado draws more fans than the battle between the Rams and the Buffaloes for the Centennial Cup. The trophy owes its name to the nickname for the state of Colorado, The Centennial State. That nickname arose because President Ulysses Grant thought a good way to mark the USA's 100th birthday was to admit Colorado to the Union. (Perhaps I should note that Grant was a notorious drunk, remembered not for being president, but for an uncomfortable Palm Sunday he spent with Robert E. Lee.) I cannot determine when the trophy was introduced to the rivalry. Some sources insist that every game between the team has been for the cup going back to 1893. If you believe that, then you probably think this is an authentic portrait of Benjamin Disraeli.
|Above: The ornate Governor's Cup that Kentucky and Louisville play for, pic from CardinalSportsZone.com|
Governor's Cup- Kentucky Wildcats vs. Louisville Cardinals- 9/2/2012
Since 1994, these two schools have exchanged their version of Governor's Cup (for there are others) to signify football dominance in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The trophy itself looks pretty and it seems to have the desired effect of incentivising a strong performance from both teams. In the last 12 years Kentucky has only one 4 times in their first game at an opponent's stadium, all of them were at Louisville. Similarly those were the only 4 home openers the Cardinals have lost in the last 14 years, but they have won two of the last three games played at Louisville. (All of this is starting to sound like I'm promoting a gambling tout's hotline, so I'll move on.) My main issue is that the Governor's Cup doesn't seem especially prized by other school. Both of these universities make basketball their number one athletic priority. When the Wildcats and the Cardinals met in the 2012 Final Four, it was said to "transcend imagination". I would guess that that sort of hyperbole will never be deployed to describe a game for the Governor's Cup.
For Those Who Do Not Bowl
Each week I will use this space to highlight one trophy contested between teams from the less covered divisions and subdivisions of college football.
|Above: The bronzed cleats of Myron Claxton, photo from OxyAthletics.com|
Myron Claxton's Shoes - Occidental Tigers vs. Whittier Poets- 11/3/2012
The hardware that appear farther up in this post have prestige and fame, but they cannot match the pure whimsy of a keepsake like Myron Claxton's Shoes. The story of this pair of bronzed sneakers dates back to 1939. Even then these two Southern California schools had a pretty good rivalry. After six straight Poet victories, the animosity had reached a level that members of the Occidental football team attempted to sabotage Whittier's All-American tackle by stealing his football cleats on the night before the game. Undeterred, Claxton took the field wearing his work boots. The Poets thumped the Tigers 36-0 and after the game Myron Claxton reclaimed his shoes from the Occidental sideline. Claxton would be selected in the next NFL draft, last overall pick a.k.a. Mr. Irrelevant, but still he was drafted. When the two schools met in 1946, a Whittier fraternity had bronzed the booties and placed them up to be claimed as booty by the winning team. The Tigers won that game and the boots have been handed back and forth ever since.
There is one more aspect of this game that interests me. In 1939, the man who would become the most famous Whittier alumnus, President Richard Milhous Nixon, was living in the area practicing law professionally. It is very possible that he attended the game to cheer on his Poets. However I somehow doubt this. If he had seen Claxton triumph over the Tigers' prank, surely he would have learned the dirty tricks do not pay.
Please return to this space each week during this college football season for more information and lore about college football's many trophies.