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.
(First let me apologize for posting this entry so late. You can rest assured that the quality was worth the wait. Also, take note that I have been disciplined for this lapse in professional conduct. Matt has docked me one week's pay and forced me to watch his DVD of A Nut for Passing: The Dustin Almond Story. That should be enough to make sure I don't turn in my work after deadline anymore.)
For your edification, I decided to use the trophies in the spotlight to answer some of the biggest question the common fan may have about the nature of these odd little relics of gridiron glory. So I will relate each subject of this post to a WIITBAFAQ (What I Imagine To Be A Frequently Asked Question).
The Blue Ribbon Trophy of the Week
Megaphone Trophy- Michigan State Spartans vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish- 9/15/2012
WIITBAFAQ: Do the players and coaches actually care about these trophies?
Generally, yes the participants in the game do care about the goodies they get if they win. There's an inset in the picture above that nicely displays the jubilation football players express when they get to hoist a hard-won prize. Having said that, I would be remiss not to note that every team and every set of fans can have widely differing levels of excitement for any given trophy for which the team competes.
The Megaphone Trophy on the line this Saturday nicely demonstrates the disparity that can arise between to parties that share a common trophy. Notre Dame plays for more trophies than any other college football team, so you can't expect them to be highly passionate about all of them. It is somewhat plausible that veteran players would be surprised to see a gaudy conical item carried into the locker room.Witness the reaction by the players at the 15m 55s point in this video. This surfeit of spoils seems to have created a kind of "trophy-fatigue" amongst the Irish faithful. A typical comment from a popular Notre Dame fan blog calls for a major rollback of hardware in the ND football season, including the Megaphone. In 1997 the Irish forgot to bring the trophy to the game, so after the Spartans one the MSU athletic director had to drive to South Bend to pick up their rightful prize.
Contrast this with Michigan State which shares in a few trophies and seems to enjoy having them on hand for celebrations if nothing else. (I refer you again to the picture above.) I asked Chris Vannini, from The Only Colors, to assess the feelings among Spartans about the Megaphone. He confirmed that for the players and coaches any win against Notre Dame is a big deal. The fans may not get as much out of seeing the Megaphone paraded around the stadium after a victory as they do when other trophies make the trip, but Vannini thinks "it's a fun trophy to see in the case at the football building". So the Megaphone may not mean a whole lot to your average Spartan. Still, based on Vannini's insights, the folks at MSU seem to care about winning the Megaphone at least as much as Jabba the Hutt cared about capturing Han Solo frozen in carbonite. That certainly would rank several rungs above the level of concern seen from ND. Though the definitive flashpoint where Megaphone-mania peaked actually came in 2005.
The 2005 match-up between MSU and ND combined a number of highly colorful elements that briefly brought a surprising amount of national attention to an upturned bullhorn covered in paint. The game itself certainly caused a good deal of excitement on its own merits. The Irish were undefeated and highly ranked coming into the game, but the Spartans defeated them in an overtime thriller. Then the trophy became a factor. Notre Dame did not have the Megaphone on hand to pass over to the triumphant Spartans in accordance with Notre Dame's policy, or lack thereof, on handling trophies. Inflamed by this perceived insult John L. Smith the MSU coach -not exactly a stable fellow to begin with- made a series of gruff remarks. The Spartan players decided in lieu of using the absent trophy as an awkwardly designed free weight, they would plant their flag in ND's stadium. In turn the Notre Dame coach, Charlie Weis -not exactly an ingratiating fellow to begin with, basically declared war on Michigan State. As a result the passions on both sides reached all time highs for a few years.
Things have quieted down since both schools have replaced their respective coaches. Weis went from leading the most prestigious college football program in the world (Yeah, you heard me Calcutta Tech!) to coaching the Kansas University football team that depends on the Kansas University basketball team for funding. Well at least expectations are low -though so are the results. Mr. L. Smith's career path has taken some odd turns -much like his thinking seems to- and he's become the head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks. Though he likely won't keep that job for long. You can be sure that whoever is involved at ND or MSU there will people who will care about the Megaphone everywhere from South Bend to East Lansing.
Spoils of the Game- Week 3
This is where we take a look at all the prizes at stake in this week's games.
Above Left: A photo of victorious Miners lifting the Brass Spittoon by Bob Corral for The Prospector
Above Right: A photo of a triumphant Aggie holding the Silver Spade by Brax for VPC
The Brass Spittoon and the Silver Spade- New Mexico State Aggies vs. UTEP Miners- 9/15/2012
WIITBAFAQ: Where do these trophies come from?
Every trophy has its own back story. Though there are some recurring patterns. I can assure you that pretty much anything can become a treasured relic of football regardless of providence. One game this week features two trophies that nicely illustrate this axiom. The Brass Spittoon is a fairly conventional trophy by college football standards (even if it does inspire an unsavory mental image). Actually I should call it the Mayor's Cup because it originated with the mayors of Las Cruces, NM and El Paso, TX deciding to offer up a new prize in 1982. This is a common story. Some big-wigs decide to juice the excitement surrounding a given game by offering up a tchotchke to be exchanged between the schools depending on the outcome. The Silver Spade has a far more interesting -albeit incomplete- story. In 1947 someone went exploring an abandoned mine in the Organ Mountains which border El Paso and Las Cruces. (Some research on my part shows that this was apparently a not uncommon pastime in the region at that time.) In that mine they found a disused shovel left by an unknown prospector. Somehow -I cannot determine how- this shovel became a traveling trophy between NMSU and UTEP. At some point the shovel was lost. The Aggies' Media Guide makes the tantalizing declaration that "the whereabouts of the original spade are a mystery." Then in 1955 the student government of UTEP decided to replace the spade with the current model. This Silver Spade has the game scores etched into it, and is presumably prettier than something found in an abandoned mine. I had so many questions about the Silver Spade. Who found the original? Why was it used as a football trophy? What happened to it? Unfortunately after e-mailing with Jeff Darby, a senior associate athletic director at UTEP, I had to concede that the answers to those questions are likely lost to history. But that just because we don't know much about it doesn't mean the Silver Spade can't be a fun trophy.
|Above: Tom Tontala took this handsome pic of The Bell for SportsPageMagazine.com|
The Bell- Marshall Thundering Herd vs. Ohio Bobcats- 9/15/2012
WIITBAFAQ: What determines if any given game involves a trophy?
You just need two things: a trophy and a game. No really that's all it takes. You don't need to consult some NCAA Committee on Trophy Oversight. No one has to apply for a special permit. It doesn't even require any additional money beyond the price of a trophy, so you can cancel the bake sale. If someone with some connection to at least one of the schools involved wants to put a prize on the line, then you are halfway to the start of a new tradition. In the case of the 'Cats and the Herd, the two schools had played many times dating back to 1905 before there was a keepsake involved. When both teams wound up in the Mid-American Conference in 1997, the schools decided to add some spice to the game in the form of a traveling trophy. A couple of representatives of Marshall and Ohio met in an Athens, OH restaurant to brainstorm. When they realized that the two schools sit on or near opposite sides of the Ohio River, they decided to use a replica of the kind of bells riverboats used to send signals. The trickier part of the equation for the Thunderin' and the Bob's has always been scheduling the game. Thought the schools are only 80 miles apart, they have typically faced each other in intermittent stretches. After Marshall left the MAC in 2004, the two teams didn't face-off until 2009, and that was only because they coincidentally played in a bowl game. The old Bell trophy must have been an after thought, because as best as I can tell Marshall didn't even bring it to the game. (Who do they think they are, Notre Dame?) That renewed the rivalry though, so we now are in the midst of a six season stretch of Battles for the Bell. I am sure there will be more games to come after that. Eventually.
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: A photo Darrell Rebouche had taken of him and his wife taken next to Chief Caddo. I thank him for its use.|
Chief Caddo- Northwestern State Demons vs. Stephen F. Austin State Lumberjacks- 11/17/2012
WIITBAFAQ: Which trophy is the most outrageous?
Over the course of this series you will certainly see a wide range of bizarre trophies. Really the question of which one stands out as the weirdest comes down to a matter of personal taste. So I will answer this question by presenting you with the item that is the most trophy -by which I mean largest- that definitely has caused some outrage.
The largest prize in all of college football stands at 7 feet 6 inches, weighs about 330 pounds and looks like a gigantic cigar store Indian. The statue travels between Nacogdoches, TX -home of Stephen F. Austin State (no relation to Steve Austin)- and Natchitoches, LA- home of Northwestern State (no relation to Northwestern University). It originated in 1960 when the schools agreed to create a highly un-PC statue to mark their rivalry. Like most controversial representations of Native Americans, it began with good intentions. The schools wanted to pay tribute to the legend of a leader of the Caddo Nation who split control of his people between his sons. According to the legend one of the sons founded Natchitoches and the other Nacogdoches. That is why the two cities can trace their names to the Caddo language. SFASU lost the game the year the statue was planned so they supplied the wood, a 2,000 pound log from a black gum tree. The log was carved down to its current shape over 230 workhours by a man named Harold Green. Ever since then the massive racial stereotype has been a revered symbol of gridiron victory.
In recent years many universities have stopped using nicknames, mascots and other items that made offensive use of Native American imagery. Even beloved football trophies are not immune to this purge. While Texas and Louisiana may not have a reputation for very progressive attitudes, eventually even they had to address the 300 pound injun in the room. The Texas Board of Regents -which has authority over public universities SFASU- called the continued use of Chief Caddo into question. This fired up passions on all sides among Lumberjacks and Demons alike. Eventually the Board quietly put the effort to abandon the trophy to rest. Still, I would suggest you take any opportunity you can to see Chief Caddo now. I doubt he'll be around forever.
Please return to this space each week during this college football season for more information and lore about college football's many trophies.