Philip Pritchard, the Keeper of the Stanley Cup

Hockey Hall of Fame
Hockey Hall of Fame

When most people go to the airport, they make sure they have two hours to get through security and to the gate. But when Philip Pritchard needs to fly somewhere, he makes sure he gets to the airport even earlier than that, because everyone wants a picture with his very special cargo.

Pritchard is one of the Keepers of the Stanley Cup (he's got the Twitter handle to prove it), traveling with it to appearances and, in the summer, to the homes of hockey players whose team has taken the sport's top prize. "Craig Campbell [and I] walk the Cup out on the red carpet the night it is presented," Pritchard says. "During the summer, myself, Mike Bolt, Howie Borrow and Walter Neubrand travel with the Cup around the world."

When he’s not squiring the Cup around, Pritchard is the Vice President and Curator of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. We called him at his office to find out what it’s like to be Keeper of the Cup.

How did the Cup tradition get started?   

Lord Stanley of Preston donated the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup to amateur hockey in Canada in 1892; the first winners were in 1893. The tradition of the Cup going player to player evolved over a number of years, and in 1995, the New Jersey Devils were the first team that had every player on the team get a chance to take the cup home for a day.

Upper Deck released a limited run of cards of the guys who are considered Keepers of the Cup.

Where is the Cup when it’s not traveling around?

It’s on display in the [Hockey Hall of Fame] museum. It’s probably less [often at the museum] because besides the summer, when the guys get it, the National Hockey League and the Hall of Fame do a lot of promotions and charity work for different charities and promoting the game of hockey and minor sport across Canada and North America—so it’s on the road quite a lot.

[When the Cup is on the road,] we have a double that’s on display. The staff will say this is a duplicate; the real one is in LA today or wherever we happen to be. We didn’t have a duplicate up until 1993. Probably the first 100 years of the Stanley Cup, there was only one. The real one is the one that travels all the time. When you see it out there on the road, that’s the real Stanley Cup.

How do you decide where the Cup will appear? Can just anyone book it?

The Hockey Hall of Fame works closely with the NHL on appearances. We get over 1000 requests a year from teams, leagues, charities … where possible, we try and assist when we can, especially with promoting the game and raising money for charities. Anyone can put in a request, except for corporations or businesses that are not partners.

How do you travel with it?

[Before 9/11], we used to have that opportunity to carry it on. I prefer that the airline take it from us and put it in a special spot underneath the plane—it’s called special services, and violins and bikes go there as well. But in Europe, the airlines will let us bring it on still. It gets its own seat—but the problem is that the flight attendants aren’t very happy because people keep getting up to get photos with it. It’s much better for the airplane [crew] if it goes underneath. When we check it in, they know we’re coming. We’ve already arranged it with the airline and security at the airport. One person from the airline is dedicated to taking and putting it on the plane and then meeting us and saying it’s on the plane, when you get off come to special services, or this guy will meet you.

It is a VIP luggage section, so we get treated very well there. We always get there half an hour sooner than we should be because everyone wants photos.

I can’t even imagine getting through security with it.

[The TSA] scans it, obviously, but then once you open it up, suddenly the person has gone from being a TSA security guy to a hockey fan who wants to get a photo of it. It’s great—it’s promoting the game and everything, but at the end of it all, to me, it’s the greatest trophy in all of sports and to be there half an hour early, to make some guy’s day, it’s pretty cool.

How do you pack the Cup for traveling? Do you have a special case for it?

Yeah, we do. We have a special case that’s very similar to a musician’s case. It’s all form fitted. If you open the case and the Cup’s not in it, it actually looks like the Stanley Cup in there. It’s all secure in that way. And then we can go to the airlines, the police, security, and it’s always in good hands.

Cup keepers Walt Neubrand, Howie Borrow, Phil Pritchard and Mike Bolt.

What's the most insane Cup-related travel story you have?

Flying from Paris to Stockholm once, [the airline] wouldn't allow it on the flight because of its size. It took a lot of talks with managers and then we lifted the Cup out of the case and placed it on the table, and two people from Minnesota—tourists—just happened to be walking by and started freaking out and getting photos. Then I think the airline realized the importance of it. France is traditionally not a hockey country, however one player on a team that won the Cup was from France.

Do the players get the Cup before or after their names are chiseled on it?

They get it before, actually. It takes about 10 days. What we do is, we try, when they go back to training camp, to get the Cup engraved so when it comes back into the town for their home opener celebration week, their names are on it. And that’s a special party itself, when they actually see their names on it for the first time.

Can you tell me a little bit about how the process works when it’s going around to players? Are you really there with them and the Cup at all times?

When a team wins the Cup, they get 100 days with it—from when they win until their home opener, which is October sometime. During those 100 days, the players, the coach and staff, the owners, the scouts, they all get that opportunity with it. We work closely with the team and the NHL to set up a schedule that is basically done geographically around the world. Looking at the Rangers' and Kings’ rosters, both teams—they have guys in Canada and the U.S. The Rangers have Czechs, Norway. The Kings have Russians, Slavs. Whoever wins this year, it will be a world tour. And someone is with it all the time.

It sounds like that would be so awkward, to show up at a stranger's house and have to spend all day there. What's it like for you?

The first 20 minutes is kind of socially awkward. We show up and everybody is so excited and they’re getting their photos and they’ve got their family members there and then all of a sudden it’s “Oh yeah, Phil’s here.” Once that happens, they make you feel like you’re family for the day. It’s unbelievable. The whole [hockey] team is a family, but then you go to their real families, and you become part of that family for the day. Then you move on to the next family. And so on.

Are they grilling you about the Cup’s history, or are they mostly just enjoying their time with it?

It’s both. Obviously, they love their time with it, and the players thank you. After a while, they want to start knowing about the history. I remember when the [Los Angeles] Kings won, we were finishing off Dustin Brown's day, and he said, “If I ever get the opportunity to win again, I wanna have all the Cup keepers over at my house and we’ll have a big bonfire and we’ll just trade hockey stories. That’s all I want to do.”

All the guys, they have so much respect for what the Cup is and what it represents, and when they’re coming back to their small town, wherever that may be—Canada, U.S., Slovenia, Russia, wherever—they are understanding that they are part of a Stanley Cup winning team. They are part of the National Hockey League and they have a great honor and a great privilege to take the Cup home to say thank you to all of those people who helped them along the way.

I think they would understand as much anyone that a team is more than who’s on the ice. It’s their moms and dads and sisters and grandparents and favorite shop in town. On their day, we see them all. “Oh, we gotta go here. This is where I used to eat pizza. This guy is great!” It’s an emotional roller coaster for the day. Unfortunately, in some cases, when some people bring it home, their loved ones have passed away and they go to a cemetery and they sit there. It’s very powerful, very emotional for them. They've achieved their highest goal, but they’ve lost someone along the way.

What’s the weirdest thing you have seen done with the Cup?

We’ve had christenings out of the Cup. It’s been mountain climbing, it’s been fishing in canoes, it’s been to sauna parties, it’s had specialty foods eaten out of it. In saying all that, when I break each one down and explain who it was and why, it all has to do with the guy and his culture and his upbringing.

Saunas are huge in Finland, so every time a Finnish guy wins, they end their day in a sauna. It’s just part of their culture. So Teemu Selänne [of the Anaheim Ducks], when he finished his day, we were in a sauna with all his buddies. And for Finns, that’s the greatest thing ever. When you’re out in British Columbia area, the Rocky Mountains are a big part of their world. They’ve grown up in the Rockies, so they want to kinda celebrate with the Rocky Mountains. [Scott] Niedermayer rented a helicopter and took it to the top of the Rocky Mountains. Tomáš Kopecký, his family is deep into the culture of Slovakia and they have this special soup that’s from their region—it translates to "inside of a cow’s stomach" soup. He ate the soup out of [the bowl of the Cup]. He said, “It was a big part of my upbringing and this is part of what I want to do.”

So all of these things, they sound weird, but when you explain it or they explain it to you, it’s very satisfying for them—it’s very respectful of their upbringing, culture, and traditions.

Pritchard (center) with Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (bottom) in Finland.

I’m amazed something like eating soup out of the Cup is allowed.

It is, and I go back to that word respect. [The players] would never do anything that would damage it. So when they’re eating the soup out of it, it’s kind of like in a Tupperware™ container, inside the bowl, so they’re not actually touching the Cup with their fork or scratching it or anything. They know they’ve become part of this fraternity of a Stanley Cup winner. They’re so proud and they’re not going to do anything to damage not only the Cup, but their name or the team or the league or the game of hockey itself. Every day, we clean it before we go out on the road so it looks spotless when we’re ready to go.

Is there anything that a player has wanted to do with the Cup that you've had to veto?

Most players are all respectful of what it is and what it represents. However, their buddies view it differently, and that’s when we have to step in.

I read that the Cup has a midnight curfew. Is that true?

In today’s world of social media—YouTube and Tumblr and Vine and all this—it’s probably the safest for the players, and the Cup itself, that we’re kind of out of the public eye and ready for the new day [by that point]. It’s actually a blessing in disguise for the guys because, though they love it when we show up in the morning at 8 or 8:30 a.m.—they are so thrilled—the whole day they're the focal point. The whole community is looking at them. They play a team sport and they are used to team things. So by midnight, when we’re saying our goodbyes, they are physically and mentally exhausted. They love seeing the Cup and love hanging out with it, but at the end of the day, they kind of are thankful for their time alone again.

You mentioned that you clean the Cup every day. How do you clean it? 

During the season, and during the summer because we’re day to day, we typically use a soft shampoo and warm water to get the fingerprints off it. We use the cheap hotel shampoo because it’s mainly water and detergents. But it’s great for the Cup because it gets the fingerprints off. We couldn’t use silver cleaner every day. It would probably take away the engraving on it. Twice a year, that gets done professionally, but when we’re on the road, it’s basically just hotel shampoo and warm water and a soft cloth.

Are you wearing the white gloves just so you don’t get fingerprints on the Cup? And then when you’re not in public, maybe you can handle it without the gloves?

It’s funny, in a way, because we work in a museum here. At an art gallery or a rock museum, they all wear white gloves because basically you don’t want to get the oils on your fingertips on the artifacts. We started wearing the white gloves about 20 years ago now, kind of out of respect, and it’s just become a status thing. Basically any curatorial staff in any museum anywhere wears white gloves.

We have hundreds of pairs here at the museum. But people freak out when they see the guy put white gloves on. It’s very bizarre because people want to get pictures with the Cup and they want us to have the white gloves on.

Craig Cambell (left) and Pritchard with the Cup.

How many pairs of gloves do you have?

You should be asking my wife on this one because I’ve kept every pair at home. I don’t know why I started—maybe because I work in a museum and you just kinda collect things—but now I can’t stop. I have no room for my socks. Every time we’re out on the road, I have at least half a dozen pairs with me.

Are they made of something special?

They’re just cotton archival gloves. But people want to buy them off of me. It’s crazy.

They’ve touched the Cup! I totally get it. Have any Cup-related mishaps happened on your watch?

I guess when you and I are 121 years old, we'll have some dings and dents on us. The same thing happens to the Stanley Cup—unfortunately, sometimes things happen.

How do you keep the Cup safe during public appearances?

We are usually within 10 to 15 feet of the Cup at all times. When it's on display, we have extra security and stations for crowd control.

You obviously spend a lot of time with the Cup, and I’m sure you spend a lot of time just looking at it. Do you have a favorite fact about the Cup or a favorite detail about it?

People come up and say “Where does this thing say ‘Stanley Cup?’” It doesn’t, because that’s not its name. It’s the Dominion Hockey Challenge Bowl. It was donated by Lord Stanley of Preston, so it has just become the Stanley Cup. It's a nickname.

The bowl itself holds 14 twelve-ounce bottles of beer. The players say “Can I drink out of it?” I say sure. “Well I’m gonna pour some beers in it.” “Well you need 14 of 'em.” And they go to drink out of it and it comes out like Niagara Falls.

The most amazing thing of all is when the guys win it and they fill it up with champagne, and when the first guy drinks out of it, and he gets to the bottom of the bowl and he sees the names in the inside of the bowl—I think that’s when reality sets in for the guy—that “Holy crap. My name is going on this and here’s a guy from 1907 on there already.” That’s what really brings it all into reality and perspective for these guys when they see the names of the Montreal Wanderers on the inside of the bowl.

Do you have a personal favorite thing you've done with the Cup?

I think it's great when the winners bring it home to their old coaches and teachers and knock on their door with the Cup and say, "Hi, do you remember me? I would like to say thanks for your help and get a photo please.” It is so special and means so much.

There’s no other trophy like the Stanley Cup, period—and especially in that each team member gets to have a day with this very special object that has its very own chaperone. Have you ever heard from other officials from the NFL or the NBA saying, “This is insane, you guys are crazy”?

First of all, [other sports leagues] make a new trophy every year. The Pittsburgh Steelers win the Super Bowl, and the next year, Tiffany’s is making a new Super Bowl [trophy] that a new team is winning. So it’s a totally different tradition than in hockey. However, when some NBA and some NFL players have seen the Cup, they literally freaked out. “Look at our Super Bowl [trophy]—you can’t even drink out of it. It’s just there! It’s just a football.”

I’m not taking away from any other sport, [but] hockey has done this great tradition. You get it for a day and that’s it. I think more than anything, hockey has this team atmosphere—that it’s not about you, it’s about the team. I think the whole team getting it, I think that’s the whole story right there.

Mike Bolt (left) and Pritchard with the Cup.

What's the biggest challenge of being a Cup keeper?

All of us wish that we had won it, but that didn’t work out. I guess this is the next best thing to it. In saying that, at the end of one Stanley Cup party, the winner goes to bed while we go on to the next party, so sleep and time management are very important. However, the most important thing is making sure the winner enjoys his time with the Cup.

All images courtesy of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

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Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

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From Ear to Eternity: When Mike Tyson Bit Evander Holyfield

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Focus On Sport/Getty Images

As the 16,000 spectators began filing out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, following a night of fights on June 28, 1997, MGM employee Mitch Libonati noticed something strange on the floor of the boxing ring. He later described it as being roughly the size of a fingernail, with the texture of a piece of hot dog or sausage.

It was no concession stand remnant. It was a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Wrapping the morsel of flesh in a latex glove, Libonati hurried backstage, where Holyfield was conferring with officials and doctors after his opponent, Mike Tyson, had been disqualified for biting him on the left ear. In all the commotion, Libonati wasn't allowed inside the room. But Michael Grant, one of Holyfield’s training partners, accepted the ear fragment on Holyfield’s behalf.

Libonati’s discovery was the climax to one of boxing’s most controversial and bizarre evenings, one in which "Iron" Mike Tyson—the most famous fighter of his era—meted out a savage reprimand for what he perceived was dirty fighting on the part of Holyfield. The ear-biting far exceeded the brutal underpinnings of boxing and added to Tyson's reputation as a frenzied combatant both in and out of the ring.

 

Mike Tyson’s collision with Evander Holyfield had started when the two were just teenagers. On the amateur circuit, they had sparred together—not quite knowing the heights each would achieve, but understanding the other would be a formidable obstacle if they were to ever meet as professionals.

Evander Holyfield (L) had success against Mike Tyson (R) early on.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Tyson was a prodigy, having won the heavyweight championship of the world in 1986 at the age of 19 and dominating the division up until an upset loss to James “Buster” Douglas in Tokyo, Japan, in 1990. Holyfield was the lighter fighter at cruiserweight (190 pounds), moving up to the heavyweight division in 1988 and gaining respect for his trilogy with Riddick Bowe.

Long before that fateful night in 1997, Tyson's personal life had started to overshadow his accomplishments inside the ring: An allegedly abusive marriage to actress Robin Givens darkened his image in the media and ended in a very public divorce after just one year. In 1992, a rape conviction sidelined the fighter for more than three years while he served out his prison sentence.

When Tyson returned to the ring, he rattled off a string of wins against fighters not quite at his level, including Peter McNeeley, Buster Mathis Jr., Frank Bruno, and Bruce Seldon. Holyfield had stepped away from competition in 1994, but as Tyson knocked off inferior opponents, talk of a bout with Holyfield intensified. Finally, the two met in Las Vegas on November 9, 1996, with Tyson a 17-1 favorite over the semi-retired Holyfield.

Holyfield would prove his doubters wrong. Through 11 rounds of action, he outmaneuvered and outclassed Tyson by negating his opponent's power with movement and volume. Holyfield also landed headbutts that were declared unintentional, but to Tyson seemed deliberate. Before the fight could see a 12th round, Holyfield knocked Tyson down and earned a technical knockout victory.

 

While it was an undoubtedly disappointing moment for Tyson, an upset in boxing virtually guarantees a lucrative rematch deal. Both men agreed to meet a second time, with Holyfield earning $35 million and Tyson getting $30 million. Tyson’s camp, however, insisted that the referee from the first bout, Mitch Halpern, not be booked for the second, because Tyson felt he failed to call the illegal headbutts. The Nevada State Athletic Commission didn’t want to be seen capitulating to Tyson’s demands, but Halpern stepped aside voluntarily. So referee Mills Lane took his place.

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) first met as amateurs.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Before a huge crowd full of A-list celebrities like Sylvester Stallone and a then-record 1.99 million households that had purchased the event on pay-per-view, Tyson and Holyfield met for a second time at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on June 28, 1997. While Holyfield took the first round, Tyson appeared fit and adaptive, and came out blazing in round two. Then, just as Tyson had feared, Holyfield’s headbutt struck him again.

The clash of heads opened a cut over Tyson’s right eye, which threatened to obscure his vision as the fight went on. It also opened a reservoir of frustration in the fighter that would manifest in a spectacularly violent way.

Coming out for the third round, Tyson had forgotten his mouthpiece and had to go back and retrieve it—a foreshadowing of things to come. His aggression was working against Holyfield, but with 40 seconds left in the round, the two clinched up. Tyson moved his mouth so it was near Holyfield’s right ear. With his mouthpiece still in place, he clamped down on the ear, ripped the top off, and spat it along with his mouthguard onto the canvas.

Holyfield jumped up in the air in shock and pain. Referee Mills Lane was initially confused by what had happened until Holyfield’s trainers, Don Turner and Tommy Brooks, yelled out what Tyson had done. Lane called for a doctor then told Marc Ratner, the executive director of the athletic commission, that he was going to end the fight. Ratner asked if he was sure. Seeing Holyfield was bleeding from his ear but otherwise ready to fight, Lane waved the two men back into competition.

Incredibly, Tyson bit Holyfield a second time, this time on the left ear, before the round ended. This time, Lane was aware of what was happening and had seen enough. Before the start of the fourth round, he disqualified Tyson.

 

That was far from the end of it. Realizing he had lost the fight, Tyson grew incensed, shoving Holyfield from behind and pawing at the security guards who had stormed the ring in an attempt to restore order.

After the bout, Tyson didn’t appear to be overly contrite. He explained that he was frustrated at Holyfield headbutting him without being penalized, and said he had lost control.

An emotional Mike Tyson reacts to his disqualification loss to Evander Holyfield.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

“Listen,” Tyson said. “Holyfield is not the tough warrior everyone says he is. He got a nick on his ear and he quit.”

Tyson believed his retaliation was justified. “This is my career," he said. "I’ve got children to raise and this guy keeps butting me, trying to cut me and get me stopped on cuts. I’ve got to retaliate. What else could I do? He didn’t want to fight. I’m ready to fight right now. Regardless of what I did, he’s been butting me for two fights. I got one eye. He’s not impaired. He’s got ears. I’ve got to go home and my kids will be scared of me. Look at me, look at me, look at me!”

Two days later, Tyson issued a tempered apology in an effort to minimize the consequences, but it was too late. In addition to losing his boxing license in the state of Nevada, Tyson was fined 10 percent of his purse, or $3 million, which was thought to be the largest fine in sports at the time.

 

Tyson could never entirely shake the stigma of his actions. When a lucrative bout with Lennox Lewis was being planned in 2002, the fight ultimately ended up taking place in Memphis, Tennessee; Nevada refused to restore Tyson's license following a press conference brawl between the two men.

Tyson ultimately continued competing through 2005, when he lost his last bout to Kevin McBride. Holyfield retired in 2011. Earlier this year, the 54-year-old Tyson expressed a desire to return to the ring. The fighter once known as "The Baddest Man on the Planet" is scheduled to fight Roy Jones Jr. on November 28, 2020. Yet Holyfield, now 57 years old, remains a possible future opponent.

The two have occasionally interacted in public in interviews, with Tyson expressing remorse and Holyfield admitting he briefly thought about biting Tyson on his face right back. The pair even filmed a spot for Foot Locker in which Tyson “gave” Holyfield the missing piece of his ear.

In reality, Holyfield never did get his ear back. After Mitch Libonati handed it over to Michael Grant, the piece somehow fell out of the latex glove while being transported to the hospital.

Many fighters talk about leaving a little piece of themselves in the ring. It’s usually metaphorical. For Evander Holyfield, it was simply the truth.