You can’t create tradition. But try telling that to the ever-changing world of college football, where conference realignment has given the landscape all the stability of the staircases at Hogwarts. (Please drop me off in the Room of Requirement; I have a list.)
It’s bad enough that conferences are changing the old ways of our people. Getting used to Nebraska as a Big Ten team is one thing; marketing the Cornhuskers as part of the conference’s lore by inventing trophies and rivalries is another.
There are some great trophies out there, but their retro cool is genuine, not new-wave hype. Wisconsin and Minnesota play for Paul Bunyan’s axe. That’s not to be confused with the Paul Bunyan Trophy for the Michigan-Michigan State winner. The Little Brown Jug goes to the Michigan-Minnesota winner. The lucky winner of the Louisville-Cincinnati game gets the Keg of Nails.
Florida Atlantic and Florida International play for the Don Shula Award. That would be much cooler if they played for Don Shula. He could spare a Saturday afternoon. Think of the postgame celebration in which he body-surfed the student section of the winning school. Now that would be a tradition.
Even before expansion, the Big Ten seems to have led the nation in trophies awarded, cool ones such as the Old Brass Spittoon (Indiana-MSU) and the Old Oaken Bucket (Purdue-Indiana). Then Penn State came along, and they added the Land Grant Trophy for the Penn State-Michigan State game. Weak. Maybe they could call it the Old Land Grant Trophy? Or if they are serious about honoring their land grant status, call it the Old Box of Dirt.
Then came more expansion, leading the Biggie Big Ten to amaze us with their division names, the Legends and Leaders. Could a league get more pretentious? Yes. Yes, it could. We give you the Heroes Game between Nebraska and Iowa. (Why? To boldly create a rivalry where none previously existed. Well, to be fair, the teams have played 41 times . . . since 1891.) The winner will be given the Heroes Game Trophy, whose creation goes all the way back to . . . 2011. Gosh, it just makes history come alive, doesn’t it?
Hy-Vee is sponsoring the Heroes Game Trophy — because even heroes need canned goods. The winner of the game will get to choose how to take the trophy home: paper or plastic.
Believe it or not, the Heroes Game Trophy is the fourth piece of hardware the Hawkeyes play for every year. The others are the Heartland (vs. Wisconsin), Floyd of Rosedale (Minnesota) and the Cy-Hawk.
Ah, the Cy-Hawk, given to the winner of the Iowa-Iowa State game. Its history and tradition goes all the way back to 1977 (making it the Rosetta Stone compared with the Heroes Game Trophy). But then the Iowa Corn Growers Association got involved. The old trophy was retired, but when the new trophy was unveiled in August at the Iowa State Fair, it was almost universally mocked. The trophy depicted a farm family kneeling around what appears to be a bushel of corn.
Yes, nothing says football like . . . corn.
Those crafty Corn Growers, their ears (heh heh) to the ground for bad publicity, announced almost immediately that the trophy would be redesigned. In the meantime, a temporary trophy was provided for last Saturday’s game, won by Iowa State in three overtimes. When the Cyclones and their fans passed it around in their postgame revelry, it broke in half.
Now Floyd of Rosedale, that’s a traditional trophy, in that it was first awarded in 1935 — as a live pig from Rosedale Farms in Iowa — and it was created as a way to defuse racial tension from the Hawkeyes’ 1934 meeting with Minnesota. When Floyd died of cholera, a brass statue of him was sculpted — and the rest is history.
Yes, history. You can’t invent traditions and rivalries; you have to let them happen naturally, over time. After all, Floyd was once a living, breathing thing — not a canned ham from Hy-Vee.