Thursday, March 14, 2013

Can't Blog Now, Noveling.

I highly doubt there will be anyone eagerly awaiting any new posts in this space (especially given the pace I post at). Just in case though I want to let you know that I am taking some time to focus on a longer more substantial work. Also, I hope seeing this post anytime I try to blog in the near future will remind me I have bigger fish to fry. I do not wish to abandon this blog, but I do need to dedicate myself to other pursuits at this time.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The College Football Trophy Room: Week 4

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. Previous editions in the series are archived under the "trophy room" tag.

This week none of the games played in the NCAA's Footbal Bowl Subdivision involve a trophy. The only rivalry game of note, New Mexico Lobos vs. New Mexico St. Aggies, retired their trophy in 2000. Apparently the Lobos just decided the Maloof Trophy wasn't even exciting enough to merit opening their trophy case. So I will skip over any of those games and focus on something much more interesting.

The edition will take an extended journey into the many trophies that receive little attention in the popular press. Plenty of football games take place every week that won't make ESPN's highlight reel, and lots of those have stories and spoils just as fun as anything in the prestige conferences. I have prepared a special expanded version of  my regular feature "For Those Who Do Not Bowl". So please take this opportunity to learn about some of the most colorful and fascinating piece of hardware exchanged on a gridiron. You should note the dates of these games coming up on your calendar, because if you have any chance to check out these games in person, I think you will find them worthwhile. 

The Blue Ribbon Trophy of the Week
 
Goat Trophy
Above: A photo of the beleaguered looking Goat Trophy by Tom Dahlin from Carleton.edu

"GOATROPHY" - Carleton College Knights vs. Saint Olaf Oles- 10/20/2012
You may think that the glamor programs in college football have a monopoly on colorful traditions and entertaining history. If those small schools had anything interesting going on, you surely think you would here about it. Well allow me to demonstrate the falsehood in that axiom with the rivalry between Division III colleges, St. Olaf and Carleton, which has as rich a lore as any trophy game I've covered in this series.

You certainly can name plenty of instate rivalries in college football. Perhaps you can even think of some crosstown foes. Well, Carleton and St. Olaf don't just share the city of Northfield, MN, they are the only annual opponents to come from the same ZIP code. On top of that their rivalry has an amusing moniker, "The Cereal Bowl". Northfield contains a major plant for producing Malt-O-Meal cereals which fills ten percent of the cereal bowls in the U.S. For years the Malt-O-Meal brand has provided sponsorship support for the game, including samples of the sugary processed breakfast foods athletes need. The actual trophy dates back to 1931 when a local clothing store funded the creation of a goat themed prize to award to the game winner. That's what counted as major business support for a Division III school in the great depression. Now there's also a trophy called the Cereal Bowl that's awarded to the winner, but I don't find it interesting so I shan't mention it again. The schools already had a goat based trophy in basketball and the winner would say, "We got your goat" to the loser. Even if none of that tickled your fancy, I still haven't told you the best stuff.

The Goat Trophy has done something  no other trophy in NCAA football history has done, honored the victor of a game played on a 100 meter field. Back in 1977 the two schools in a fit of liberal arts enthusiasm backed a movement to convert the United States to the metric system. So they decided to use a field that measured 100 meters by 50 meters, and dub the game the "Liter Bowl" (for all you non-Canadians that's pronounced "leeter"). Surprisingly enough the fans got behind this idea -they had metric themed sign, t-shirts, and everything- and it drew national media attention. With a field that was 110% the size of a normal gridiron, the Oles and Knights had the opportunity to record some inflated stats, or at least be the American football players most prepared for the Canadian Football League.  However the NCAA didn't get behind the idea. As one official said, "none of us on the rules committee understands the metric system." So the only metric game in college football history resulted in St. Olaf winning 43-0 (or in metric, they won by 7.3 kilogoals over -17.8 points Celsius).

The greatest honor related to winning the Goat Trophy comes just after the game, but before the boozing. The victorious team walks to the center of Northfield where the Civil War Monument stands (Yes, both schools' football stadiums are with walking distance of this park. I tried to tell you this is a very intimate rivalry between almost literal neighbors.)  Hoisting the wooden caprine as proof of their triumph, the players turn the eagle statue at the top of the monument to face the campus of the winning team. We don't know the origins of this tradition, but it carries great meaning to anyone involved -that's actually pretty normal for traditions. Then the fans and players, still in their pads and jerseys, head to the bars. I did mention there was boozing.

The next time someone from a school with a famous football team tries to tell you about how special the tradition of football is for their fellow fans, try to remember how much tradition Carleton and St. Olaf squeezed into their trophy game. All you need for a great football tradition is people who care.

 Spoils of the Game-Obscure School Edition
This time we'll take a look at some of the prizes at stake in games played outside the FBS.

Above: The Massachusetts Maritime team celebrates winning The Scoop, pic from MMABucs.com.
The Scoop- Bridgewater State Bears vs. Massachusetts Maritime Buccaneers- 11/3/2012
Whenever a trophy captures a unique aspect of regional pride, my heart just melt. For the annual match-up between two teams from Massachusetts, someone "wicked smaht" decided to hand out a prize that represents New England provincialism so well it should come with maple syrup. The Bears and the Bucs had played a few times early in the history, but in 1979 they began meeting every year in an event dubbed the Cranberry Bowl. (You receive no bonus points for correctly guessing who sponsors that event.) Since cranberries hold the enviable post as Massachusetts official State Berry, it makes all the sense in the world that the game and trophy should both have a cranberry theme. Cranberries come from bogs, and for a long time they were a pain in the tuchus to harvest. To this end cranberries farmers have used variations on a scoop to collect the berries since as far back as the 1850's. Mechanical harvesters replaced hand scoops back in 1947, but they still make great decorative items. That may explain why a cranberry scoop makes such a great trophy ; it's local and it looks good.


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Above: In a photo from CalVulcans.com, representative of California and Indiana hold the Coal Miner's Pail and wonder why they're in Pennsylvania.
Coal Miner's Pail- California (PA) Vulcans vs. Indiana (PA) Crimson Hawks- 9/22/2012
Usually, I have to write about the less famous trophies well before the actual games, to spread the coverage out across the season. When I saw I had a chance to post about a game actually happening this weekend, I knew I had to do my best to be topical. (Though if I wind up posting this late, then I will sure be embarrassed.) The most interesting thing about this game is that it seems to turn all U.S. geography on its head. An innocent observer may find it puzzling that California and Indiana would have an annual rivalry to begin with, and she would be totally flabbergasted to learn that it was played in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The two schools warrant their names, because one is in the city/county of Indiana, PA, and the other is in the borough of California, PA -though why those locations have those names is a harder question to answer.

The annual game's status as the Coal Bowl, and Coal Miner's Pail trophy originated with a pair of brothers with ties to the two schools. Barry and Bob Lippencott graduated from IUP and CUP respectively and endowed each school with money for a football scholarship. Along with the cash came the gift of a shiny coal miner's pail and certain expectations (that's sort of how my dates describe a night out with me). The pail would serves as a prize for the winner of the year grudge match between the Vulcans and the Crimson Hawks to pay tribute to the Lippencott's many coal mining ancestors. Barry and Bob thought coal miners represented the sort of tough, hard working, and fearless attitude that all college graduates should have, or maybe just the football players. They weren't very clear. Still for the last four years the schools have traded the trophy as part of a budding Division II football tradition.

(As a disappointing postscript for any Star Trek fans out there, I should add that CUP's nickname refers to Vulcan like the god, not Vulcan like the alien.)
Please return to this space each week during this college football season for more information and lore about college football's many trophies.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The College Football Trophy Room: Week 3

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. Previous editions in the series are archived under the "trophy room" tag.
 
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
Above: Todd Rosenberg took this picture of an ornamental megaphone for the AP and SI.
 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.

http://www.utepprospector.com/polopoly_fs/1.2599593!/image/875408117.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_260/875408117.jpghttp://valleypublishinginc.biz/mesillavalleyliving/08/ph/12/m_0812_fbaggies_99_300.jpg
 Top Picture: A photo of victorious Miners lifting the Brass Spittoon by Bob Corral for The Prospector
Bottom Picture: 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.  


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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. 

Thursday, September 06, 2012

The College Football Trophy Room: Week 2

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. Previous editions in the series are archived under the "trophy room" tag.

The Blue Ribbon Trophy of the Week

Cy-Hawk Trophy- Iowa State Cyclones vs. University of Iowa Hawkeyes- 9/8/2012
The theme of this week's edition is that not every trophy up from grabs on the gridiron is a treasured piece of Americana. Despite what that woman with the stairway to heaven thinks, not everything that glitters is gold. In some way or another the prizes at stake this week seem a cut below the rest, with the possible exception of this week's spotlight piece, the Cy-Hawk Trophy!

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Above: A picture of Cy-Hawk Trophy Classic from TheGazette.com

No, not that one.

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Above: A photo from Schwinn Gunnamiss of . . . words just can't describe it.
 No, that's not it anymore either (thank heavens).

Above: The proposal for Cy-Hawk Trophy III designed by Rickabaugh Graphics
That's the one, or at least the design for it. The actual trophy hasn't been made available for photographs at the time of this writing.

The Cyclones and Hawkeyes will be playing for the third variation on the Cy-Hawk trophy in as many years for reasons that no one in the state of Iowa (let alone this blogger) can seem to fully understand. The original Cy-Hawk Trophy, seen at the top, dates back to 1977. Bob Uetz a school teacher from Ames, IA, helped create a sturdy and respectable trophy that served as corporeal bragging rights for decades. Then the sponsors got involved, and as usual, nothing good came of that. The classic hardware was retired to the Iowa Hall of Pride. The well-intentioned folks from the Iowa Corn Growers Association offered to design a new trophy. That seemed like a natural fit given the list of things outsiders associate with Iowa:
1. Corn
2. The Iowa Caucus (in Presidential Election years)
3. Wheat
4. Corn
5. Grant Wood
6-11. Corn
12. College Football
Except, it seems as though no one vetted the ICGA on their history designing things.
Iowa Corn Indy 250 qualifications explored and explained
Above: A photo by Edmund Jenks of the Iowa Corn version of a super-hero

The hardware that the Iowa Corn Growers thought best represented a fierce football rivalry that pits neighbors against each other was a metalic shrine showing a family kneeling around the alter of freshly harvested corn. The ensuing blowback of public criticism made the responsible parties quickly withdraw the 4-H inspired monstrosity and promise to allow the public a vote in the next trophy.  The new Cy-Hawk Trophy became the old trophy fast that last year, the game's organizers had to use a substitute to award to the winning team. That knickknack didn't even last until the end of the post-game celebration. Now we have a new chance for trophy redemption. Hopefully the item revealed on Saturday will inspire pride in Iowans of all persuasions and have a nice long shelf-life (at least until the sponsor changes).

Spoils of the Game- Week 2
This is where we take a look at all the prizes at stake in this week's games.

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Above: A pic, via trophyawards.com, of the less than sacred Paddlewheel Trophy
Paddlewheel Trophy- Cincinnati Bearcats vs. Pittsburgh Panthers- 9/6/2012
I tried to warn you at the offset that the keepsakes featured this week weren't exactly keepers. In the case of the Paddlewheel Trophy it seems as though nobody from Cincinnati or Pitt will be sad to see it go. When Cincy joined the Big East conference in 2005, they colluded with Pitt to juice up a rivalry between them. They called in "The River City Rivalry" which is good, because, as Matt Opper of Down the Drive put it Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are "two cities that share a river a little else". Unfortunately the prize offered to the victors failed to inspire much devotion. Now with Pitt leaving the Big East at the end of this season, the trophy may be mothballed for a long time after Thursday night. That's kind of shame because after seven straight Panther victories the two schools have played four very competitive games in the last 4 years and were just starting to build a real hatred for each other. In the end fans of UC and Pitt both dismiss the Paddlewheel. Matt Opper described it as "kind of an abomination". Anson Whaley, from Cardiac Hill, adds that it is "ridiculously large", because at about 4 feet tall and 95 pounds it's the size of most punters. So if the Paddlewheel Trophy goes into storage after Thursday, I guess you'll want a large and opaque box.

Above:A picture from PurdueSports.com of the mounted wooden club called the Shillelagh Trophy

Shillelagh Trophy- Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Purdue Boilermakers- 9/8/2012
For other football programs the Shillelagh Trophy might be a big deal, but among Notre Dame's many trophy games and all the high-profile prizes at stake in the B1G Ten it sort of gets lost. The trophy originated in 1957 because a merchant seaman who was a big Irish football fan (Is there any other kind of merchant seaman?) donated an authentic historic shillelagh from Ireland. That's the sort of folksy lore about a trophy I really enjoy. On the other hand, if I were a Boilermaker, I would be insulted that this prize didn't even represent Notre Dame's most prestigious shillelagh themed trophy. That position is filled by the Jeweled Shillelagh Notre Dame shares with the University of Southern California. At least it's the best trophy Notre Dame shares with another team from Indiana, so that's not nothing.

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.

Traveling Training Kit
Above: The Traveling Trainer's Kit from Minnesota's greatest Division II rivalry as pictured on MSUMavericks.com
The Trainer's Kit- Minnesota State- Mankato Mavericks vs. St. Cloud State Huskies- 9/15/2012
In the hearts and minds of college football fans any item can become a treasure. That's the only way you could transform an empty tackle box into a coveted prize, by baptizing it with school pride. Back in 1978 Minnesota State- Mankato (School slogan- "It's not that cold") and St. Cloud State (Effectively named for the patron saint of -I kid you not- nail makers) had not played a football game in 5 years. To celebrate the renewal of the rivalry, the athletic trainers from each school used a symbolic "trainer's kit" as the spoils of the game. Since then the Trainer's Kit has grown capital letters and become a cherished item. In a 2004 piece from ESPN.com, Jeff Merron quotes a Husky player, "We plan on bringing the Trainer's Kit home with us," he said. "We may have to put a new coat of varnish on her. She's looking a little rough." That's more care and attention than some football players show their mothers.

As an added bonus, I love that this is a trophy that has a practical application. Based on what I've read the Trainer's Kit has no contents, but I think it would be awesome if it carried a functional set of equipment for an athletic trainer. What's more, I think the fully stocked Trainer's Kit should be the only equipment allowed on the sidelines at the game. It would be even better if the previous year's winner was the only team allowed to access the kit for their trainer's supplies during the game. Actually, come to think of it, the NCAA may take issue with that last idea. Besides, even if the players' health depended on winning that kit, I don't think they could care about it anymore than they do now.

Please return to this space each week during this college football season for more information and lore about college football's many trophies. 

Saturday, September 01, 2012

The College Football Trophy Room: Week 1


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. Previous editions in the series are archived under the "trophy room" tag.

The Blue Ribbon Trophy of the Week


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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 week's games.
http://events.colostate.edu/export/728131857Centennial-cup.jpg
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.

http://cardinalsportszone.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/governors-cup.jpg
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.  

Monday, August 27, 2012

The College Football Trophy Room: Introduction

Above:The Crystal Football awarded to the champion of the coaches' poll may be the most famous prize in college football, but it is far from the only trophy in the game.
So many things make college football special that, if I tried to write a list, carpal tunnel would set in before I could get half-way through. Yet somewhere near the top of my list -written well before pain crippled my pudgy, little hands- would be the unique wonder of trophy games. In no other sport I can name are teams awarded an hallowed artifact based on the outcome of an individual regular season game.

Trophies could be awarded for any number of reasons, to mark long standing rivalries, to signify respect between two schools, to reflect the pagentry surrounding a game, to boost the enthusiasm among the fans, or just because a bunch of drunken college kids thought it would be fun back in 1933. As varied as the reasons to have a trophy can be, the forms these trophies come in are even more diverse. On top of the many cups, bowls, and standard trophies, college football teams compete for buckets, skillets, rags, axes, jugs, shoes, golden hats and wooden turtles.

The raw number of prizes won and lost in a season will likely surprise/horrify the casual fan. So far my research has discovered more than 150 trophies still actively awarded to various game-winners.  Included in that number are six different Governor's Cups, five different Victory Bells, and one Governor's Victory Bell. If someone were so inclined, we could assemble a very impressive trophy case with all the baubles and tchotchkes at stake over the course of a season. In a sense that is what I intend to do over the coming weeks.

This entry launches my new blog series focusing on the wide array of trophy games to be played over this college football season. Each week I will explore different aspects of the games that decided who receive these prizes, the teams that will compete for them and the physical objects of reverence themselves. The goal will be to highlight a key trophy up for grabs during the coming weekend and take note of all the games being played for spoils in the FBS. (Completely tangential aside: FBS stands for "Football Bowl Subdivision"  to differentiate the high-profile portion of NCAA Division I schools that play in bowls from those that play in a championship playoff or FCS. Well now that the playoff proponents have won their much desired 4-team playoff for FBS starting in 2014, won't that make the current monikers obsolete. Maybe we'll go back to I-A and I-AA. Though I would like to hear some alternative suggestions.) In addition to the top-level rivalry games many of you already have heard of, I will feature some of the trophies that the less famous schools play for. Trust me there are some really interesting items up for grabs in Divisions II and III. So please check this space regularly during the college football season. I hope to get you all so excited for these trophy games that you start clearing some space on your mantle.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Ain't No Cure for the Summertime (Bite-Sized) Reviews

Once upon a time, I would use the powerful platform I have as a virtually unread blogger to shape the public discourse about the popular motion pictures of the day. My pronouncements on photoplays were brief but poignant insights. I eschewed lengthy recapitulations of plots and recommendations of which movies were worth seeing. Instead I offered punchy observations and analysis to help my readers spark conversations. I called these Bite-Sized Movie Reviews (though I've been inconsistent on using the hyphen). Then for a prolonged period I disappointed my audience by failing to deliver these movie morsels. Well, rejoice fair reader, because at long last I have a collection of thoughts on a few of this summer's blockbusters and some underexposed cinematic gems. Hopefully, you will learn a great deal from my musings and be inspired to share some witty thoughts of your own.

Marvel's: The Avengers-

  • Let me start with the awkward title. While the group of superheroes known as the Avengers is a well-established brand (at least among U.S. comic book nerds), they aren't the only franchise marketed under the title "The Avengers". So Marvel probably wanted to distinguish a movie they hoped would succeed from an earlier film of the same title that bombed painfully. (When you click on that last link be sure to compare the film's gross to it's production budget.) In fact the earlier Avengers movie went over so poorly it almost pulled a triple-homicide on the careers of Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman and even Sean Connery.  Additionally, I suspect the leaders of Marvel's still nascent movie studio were concerned about audiences recognizing how they had interconnected multiple movies. To the average movie-goer there might be no clear connection between The Avengers and Thor or Iron Man or The Incredible Hulk except for the shared Marvel brand. So to maximize their potential audience, Marvel's marketeers didn't want anyone to misunderstand what was going on here. It worked too. As the first über-sequel -following up on multiple films that were only partly connected- The Avengers has earned more than any of the previous Marvel movies; putting aside the Iron Man movies it has grossed more than all of the lead-ins combined.
  • I knew I had no reason to see the movie Battleship (Yes, this is still about The Avengers. Just hang on a second.) as soon as I learned that at no point during the movie does anyone say, "You sunk my battleship." That is the one vital line any script for that movie HAD to contain. The fact that the filmmakers didn't realize they had to include it -even if only ironically- was all I needed to know to not want to watch that movie. The fact that it also appeared to be the cinematic equivalent of a septic tank overflowing was just affirmation. I tell you this to help explain why I felt a little disappointed when a friend noted that no one says "Avengers assemble!" in The Avengers. I wouldn't have said I was a stickler for catchphrases before this summer, but apparently I am.
  • On the topic of the film's commercial success, you may have heard a certain amount of cheering erupt from some of the geekier corners of Internet as The Avengers broke all kinds of box-office records. That was the sound of millions (or, more likely, thousands) of fans rejoicing that geek idol Joss Whedon finally had a profitable project he could point to as validation for all of his creative brilliance. His career began as an unheralded writer for sitcoms like Roseanne, while making uncredited contributions to screenplays for various hit movies. Life in Hollywood wasn't a bowl full of cherries though. On many films he found himself pushed out of the creative process and frustrated by the decisions of others. Once he became so infuriated with his supposed collaborators that he dented a bathroom stall venting his anger. Mr. Whedon first achieved a cult-like popularity when he adapted his creation Buffy the Vampire Slayer from a disappointing movie into a much beloved TV series. Since Buffy and its spin-off Angel became minor television successes, Joss launched multiple projects. Some of which were cancelled before their time in spite of critical acclaim. Nothing he's done has ever crossed over into mainstream success despite many people taking a strong rooting interest in his career. At long last as the writer and director of The Avengers, he has proven that his work can connect to a large audience. Hopefully this will clear his path to bigger and better things. For now though, Mr. Whedon can take a much deserved bow.
  • Throughout Joss Whedon's career he has been known for a few trademarks in his work: witty writing, clever plot twist, a deft sense for sincere emotion, and frequently casting the same actors. After watching The Avengers with your typical star-studded Hollywood cast, I wondered what it might look like if you recast the movie with a cadre of actors more familiar to the Joss Whedon oeuvre. The following is a breakdown of who I would have liked to see in an alternate universe version of The Avengers.I invite you to look up any of the actor with which you are unfamiliar. I'll even provide the links. They are all delightfully talented, even in things not involving Joss Whedon.
    Role                            Movie Cast                           Whedon Cast
    Iron Man                    Robert Downey Jr.                Alan Tudyk
    Captain America     Chris Evans                              Nathan Fillion
    Thor                             Chris Hemsworth                   Adam Baldwin
    Hulk                              Mark Ruffalo                           Sean Maher
    Black Widow              Scarlett Johansson              Christian Hendricks
    Hawkeye                    Jeremy Renner                      David Boreanaz
    Loki                              Tom Hiddleston                Jonathan M. Woodward
    Phil Coulson              Clark Gregg                            Tahmoh Penikett
    Maria Hill                   Cobie Smulders                     Felicia Day
    Prof. Selvig                Stellan Skarsgård                  Olivia Williams
    Nick Fury                   Samuel L. Jackson               Chiwetel Ejiofor
    Pepper Potts             Gwyneth Paltrow                  Amy Acker
    Jarvis (voice)            Paul Bettany                        Anthony Stewart Head
    The Other                   Alexis Denisof                        Alexis Denisof 
    (OK, that last one didn't need to be changed)
    Council Chairman   Powers Boothe                       Harry Lennix
    *spoilers* Thanos   Damion Poitier                      Brian Thompson

The Cabin in the Woods-

  • I've included this in my bite-sized reviews, mostly because I wanted to point out another movie Joss Whedon had a major role in making that didn't do to well at the box office. I don't understand how a horror movie that humorously deconstructed the genre couldn't earn at least as much money as Scream. As someone who hasn't enjoyed the Saw-ification of horror movies in recent years, I thought this film provided plenty of clever touches that horror fans and non-fans could enjoy. The fact that this film couldn't find a larger audience nicely exemplifies the snake-bitten nature of Joss Whedon's pre-Avengers career.
  • Even without Whedon's involvement, I still would have been attracted to this movie if only for Bradley Whitford's presence. I can't quite explain it, but I find that man irresistibly charming in pretty much everything I see him in, especially when he's doing comedy. I like him so much, that part way through Kate & Leopold, I was actively rooting for Meg Ryan to abandon Hugh Jackman and go for Whitford's character instead.
  • You may not find Cabin in the Woods at the cinemas anymore, but I think you might enjoy it even more on home video. The filmmakers seem to have made more of an effort to cram this movie with Easter eggs than any other movie I've seen. Off the top of my head I can think of four points in the movie when I wished I could have paused to take in all the little details that were captured in frame. That doesn't even count Anna Hutchison's final scene.
Moonrise Kingdom-

  • Having watch and thoroughly enjoyed many of Wes Anderson's films, I think I may have noticed his most distinguishing trait as a filmmaker. He loves to use obfuscation, usually followed by an ironic revelation. We get a lot of that in this picture so it stood out enough to catch my attention. You have a shot of a scout that seems veritably Norman Rockwell until the camper turns his head to reveal a bandaged eye. At one point we are given a clear accounting of the simple supplies in a primitive campsite, only to have a large box of tinned food suddenly revealed. Anderson uses music and distance to prevent the audience from hearing certain pieces of dialogue. He writes dialogue that dances around the subject -in Moonrise Kingdom there is an important sublot involving Bruce Willis's character that is never explicitly stated but very clearly implied. Wes Anderson subtly challenges his audiences with this tactics. He asks them not just to watch and listen, but to consider what they cannot see or hear.
  • Another persistent quirk in the films of Wes Anderson is his particularly mannered style of dialogue (one of many, along with panning through buildings like they were dollhouses, strangely retro art direction, and soundtracks that play like concept albums). Every character speaks in a idiosyncratic style where all of the emotions ring true even thought the actual words never sound like anything you'd hear in quotidian language. Somehow the affected cadences and precious witticisms seem to sound equally likely no matter which character says them. Anderson writes with the same voice regardless of age, sex, race, or class. With such a distinctive authorial voice every type of person is placed on a level field with no one presented as inferior or excluded. This creates a beautiful sort of equality between all of Anderson's characters where everyone is on equal terms. If writers want to avoid accusations of sexism, racism, or similar prejudices, I recommend using Wes Anderson as inspiration.
  • This film presents the central characters as a pair of troubled and misunderstood preteens running away from home and struggling to understand the approach of adulthood. However if you are a cynical sort (Guilty!), you could also interpret this as a pair of developing psychopaths on the verge of breaking loose from all societal restraints. My knowledge on this subject is largely based on watching reruns of Criminal Minds, but as I understand it there are a few key warning signs for dangerous behavior and between the two leads we see all of them. You witness abuse/mistreatment of animals, fire starting, bed wetting, violent outbursts, and a complete inability to emotional relate to peers. I don't really think the kids are evil. I just worry you could watch this movie as a prequel to Bonnie and Clyde.

Prometheus-

  • When you talk anyone who hasn't seen this movie they deserve to know first and foremost that Prometheus is much more of a horror story than a science-fiction tale. The central mystery of possible extraterrestrial interference in the early development of humanity gets sidetracked by prolonged sequences of monsters threatening people with gruesome deaths. I can even point to a couple of scenes where the logic of events (and possibly physics as well) get tossed aside to justify some additional action beats in the plot. It does succeed in frightening the audience to a disturbing degree, After my own father saw it he said he almost regretted having watched it he found it so disturbing.
  • The promotional hype for this movie focused mostly on the director Ridley Scott. That's understandable since he was returning to the Alien franchise. However I felt most aware of  another creator's influence while watching the movie: the co-writer, Damon Lindelof. You may know him from his brilliant/confusing work on Lost (link leads to cussing). I couldn't help but noticed some important themes Prometheus shared in common with Lost. There are small things like folks troubled with daddy issues, or women struggling as their infertility suddenly leads to a life threatening pregnancy. Even the storytelling structure feels very similar to Lost.  We get puzzling glimpses into the underlying mythology of the universe and are left with numerous unanswered questions at the end of tale. I didn't mind that stuff when I watched Lost, so it doesn't bother me in Prometheus. Though I am well aware that there are loads of people who find that sort of thing pretty upsetting.

The Hunger Games-

  • This was also a movie I watched.

Snow White and the Huntsman-

  • One of the more interesting pieces of film criticism I have ever read was actually written by a sports writer. Bill Simmons once wrote a column about the movie Two for the Money in which he made clear that he enjoyed the film without ever crossing the line to endorsing it to his audience. My favorite part came when he tried to write a one sentence review that couldn't be used for blurbs in commercials and ended up writing, " Not only is "Two For The Money" surprisingly un-gawd-awful, I found myself feeling the opposite of mildly unentertained for a prolonged period of time that nearly coincided with the end of the movie."  Basically this parallels my feelings about Snow White. I had worried it would turn out to be a dud that spent loads of money instead of coming up with any good ideas. In the end though, I was surprised by how much I didn't dislike it. It may not have been brilliant, but it worked as a simple summertime entertainment. The script was pretty dull, though thankfully not completely formulaic and predictable. While I generally enjoyed the look and feel of the film a few scenes toward the end were weakened by an effort to squeeze in a few more special effects. I actually would recommend others to see it, if they can tolerate fantasy films. It just goes to show you that sometimes low expectations can be the best thing about a movie.
  • I was intrigued with the prospect of this movie based on the strong visuals I saw in the advertisements.  Then I learned that the director Rupert Sanders had made a short film based on an excellent comic book, and my interest level went up several notches. When I watched the video online, (Heads-Up: It contains adult-type content.) I admired how well Mr. Sanders had captured the mood and visual style of the comic. That's when I knew that I would be seeing Snow White and the Huntsman at some point, if only on video a few years from now.. It delivered a lot of what I expected, gorgeous costumes, sets, and visual effects, and something I hadn't anticipated, straight-forward, unobtrusive directing. Rupert Sanders made his influence felt in his short film by making some eye-catching choices. In the feature he mostly stood back and let the film play out in a clean and simple manner. He didn't include a lot of attention grabbing shots or force in any flashy camerawork or editing for the purposes of showing off. What impressed me most about his directing style was that I almost never thought about it during the course of the film. Controlling your creative urges to deliver a clean and competent product marks a true professional, and I expect Mr. Sanders to do very well in the future. 

Those are all the words I feel like making you read this time. Though if you feel inspired to write any of your own, I would be glad to read them. Consider it my way of paying you back for my prolonged absence.