12 Unusual College Football Trophies
As the college football season kicks off, teams are ready to vie for the two national championship trophies. But that's not the only hardware that will change hands this season, since many intercollegiate rivalries have their own special trophies. Some are pretty standard silver cups or plaques, while others are a bit more esoteric. Here are a few of our favorites.
1. Illibuck—Illinois vs. Ohio State
When Illinois and Ohio State met during the 1925 season, they had a new prize in their sights: a live turtle named Illy Illibuck. Why a turtle? Turtles have long life expectancies, and the students wanted to honor the long life of the rivalry. Unfortunately, this particular turtle didn't live so long; it died in 1927. At that point, a wooden turtle took its place, and it's been exchanged ever since.
2. Case Western Reserve vs. College of Wooster—The Baird Brothers Trophy
It's not just big football powerhouses that exchange weird trophies; little schools can get in on the act, too. Take, for instance, the Baird Brothers Trophy. In 1984 Case Western Reserve econ professor Bob Baird worked with his brother Bob, an econ prof at the College of Wooster, to come up with prize for the winner of their two schools' meetings. They came up with a truly original idea: the Baird Brothers trophy is a golden fish stringer. The winner of each game gets to keep the stringer for a year and add a brass fish that symbolizes how the game was played. According to Case Western's website, aggressive fish such as pike represent blowout wins, while smaller swimmers like bluegill represent tightly contested wins. Case has won the stringer 13 times to Wooster's six. [Image courtesy of Case Western Reserve.]
3. Colorado State vs. Wyoming—The Bronze Boot
Colorado State and Wyoming have a particularly fierce rivalry where players give it their all in an effort to win a boot. Yes, a boot. In 1968 the ROTC detachments at the two schools started sponsoring a trophy for the two rivals; they chose a bronzed combat boot. Colorado State grad Captain Jeff Romero originally wore the boot in Vietnam. The two teams have both won the Bronze Boot twenty times. The ROTC detachments of these schools didn't just come up with the trophy, though; they plan an integral role in each game of the rivalry. Every year the two groups join together in a relay to run the game ball from the visiting school's campus to the home stadium.
4. UC Davis vs. Sacramento State—The Causeway Carriage
Another small-school rivalry has a huge trophy. The Causeway Classic is the annual clash between UC Davis and Cal State, Sacramento, so named because the Yolo Causeway connects the two schools. In 1960, Sacramento State alum Jeri Striezik donated a Victorian carriage for use as a trophy in the series. If a team lost, it had to pay the freight to get the coach to the winner's campus, where it would be used for events like homecoming parades. The carriage missed a few years of the rivalry, but it made a triumphant return for the 2003 Causeway Classic.
5. Notre Dame vs. USC—Jeweled Shillelagh
Notre Dame-USC is one of college football's classic rivalries, and the Jeweled Shillelagh goes to the winner of the annual tilt. The name is pretty apt; the trophy is a classic cudgel made of Irish wood that's been covered with the jeweled logo of the winning team each year. The Notre Dame Alumni Club of Los Angeles introduced the shillelagh in 1952, but that club ran out of room for more logos in 1989. It's now retired and sits on display at Notre Dame while a larger replacement shillelagh changes hands each year. Since the medallions date back to the beginning of the rivalry in 1926, emerald shamrocks outnumber ruby Trojan heads 42 to 32.
6. Wisconsin vs. Minnesota—Paul Bunyan's Axe
Wisconsin-Minnesota is the oldest rivalry in the NCAA's Division I Football Bowl Subdivision; it stretches all the way back to 1890. The two teams have met 117 times, and since 1948 have duked it out for Paul Bunyan's Axe, which is a pretty neat trophy. However, the giant axe is no match for the more bizarre trophy it replaced, the Slab of Bacon. The Slab of Bacon was just a piece of walnut wood topped with a football that featured carvings of the games' scores. From 1930 to 1942, the Slab of Bacon traveled to the winner's campus, but after the Gophers won in 1943, coach George Hauser refused the trophy. (This sort of killjoy behavior would be tolerable from, say, Knute Rockne, but Hauser's career record was only 15-11-1.) The Slab of Bacon was misplaced, and the schools thought it had been lost forever. In 1994, though, Wisconsin's athletic department found it in a closet during a renovation, and now it's proudly on display in their offices.
7. Minnesota vs. Michigan—The Little Brown Jug
Something about Minnesota just invites odd trophies. The Little Brown Jug, which goes to the winner of the Minnesota-Michigan game, dates all the way back to 1903. When Michigan coach Fielding Yost took his squad to Minnesota that year, he was worried that the Minnesota fans might resort to any sort of chicanery they needed to pull out a win, including tampering with the Wolverines' drinking water. The coaching staff dispatched student manager Thomas B. Roberts to buy a vessel for clean water, and Roberts returned with a five-gallon jug he'd purchased for 30 cents. When Gopher fans stormed the field at the end of the tie game (the first game Michigan hadn't won during Yost's entire tenure as coach), the Wolverines left the jug behind. When a janitor brought the jug to the to the Gophers' coaching staff, they wrote the score of the game on the side. Although Yost asked the Gophers to return his jug, they quipped that he'd have to win it back, and a traveling trophy was born.
8. Minnesota vs. Iowa—Floyd of Rosedale
In 1935, Minnesota Governor Floyd B. Olson made a little wager with Iowa Governor Clyde Herring. The previous year's contest between the Hawkeyes and Gophers had been a bit contentious as Minnesota players gunned for Iowa's African-American running back Ozzie Simmons. So the two governors thought a bet might alleviate the simmering tensions. Olson sent Herring a telegram proposing that the winning team's governor would get a prize hog from the loser's state. Herring happily accepted, and the two men started making jokes about their bet to lighten the mood. (Not everyone saw the fun, though; activists in Iowa tried to get Herring in trouble for breaking gambling laws. For his part, Herring gamely retorted that it wasn't gambling if Minnesota had no chance of winning.)
Minnesota won the game 13-7, and the following week, Herring showed up at the Minnesota Capitol building with a live hog in tow. The pig was named Floyd of Rosedale after Minnesota's governor and the Iowa town where it was born. Sculptor Charles Brioscho made a trophy in Floyd's likeness, and it's still passed between the two teams.
9. Iowa State vs. Missouri—The Telephone Trophy
This trophy, which is a half-red, half-yellow rotary phone on a wooden base, commemorates an incident that occurred before the 1959 game between Iowa State and Missouri. Somehow the wires of the telephones that connected the coaches' boxes to the field became crossed. As a result, each set of coaches knew exactly what the other staff was saying during preparations for the grudge match. Although technicians fixed the problem before the game started, the two coaching staffs were still flummoxed by the situation and remained very suspicious that their plans were leaking out. To commemorate the episode, the Northwestern Bell Telephone Company of Ames, Iowa, created the trophy, which has become a key part of the Big 12 rivalry.
10. Purdue vs. Illinois—The Purdue Cannon
In 1905, a group of Purdue students took a cannon with them to Champaign for a game against Illinois. Their plan was to fire the cannon after the Boilermakers won. (Say what you will about today's college students being out of control, but their hijinks rarely involve artillery.) Purdue won the game, but Illinois fans intercepted the cannon at its hiding place and confiscated it. In 1943 the cannon started being passed back and forth as a traveling trophy for the Big Ten rivalry.
11. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute vs. Union College—Dutchman's Shoes
When Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Union College square off, they're not just angling for supremacy among small New York schools; they're also gunning for a pair of clogs. Since 1950, the RPI's Engineers and Union's Dutchmen have competed for the Dutchman's Shoes, a pair of clogs mounted on a wooden base. Each school has its color and initial painted on one of the two shoes.
12. Texas vs. Oklahoma—The Golden Hat
The Red River Shootout, the meeting between Texas and Oklahoma, is always a highlight of the year's slate of college games. The two teams vie for the Golden Hat, a gold replica of a ten-gallon cowboy hat that the Texas State Fair donated—a token of gratitude for the two teams agreeing play in Dallas during the fair each year starting in 1929. The trophy was originally known as the Bronze Hat but received a refurbishing in the 1970s that made it look golden.