In an era when everyone has some kind of award on the shelf, the mantle, or in the attic, what is a trophy really worth? In college football, quite a bit.
Besides the typical spoils of war, the ancient world was light on trophies. The shimmering, naked Olympians of Greece got a measly crown of weeds to show for their Herculean efforts, and later on, presumably when this was deemed too paltry, a bottle of olive oil. The Romans, pragmatic as they were, simply gave winners money. This likely pleased the victors and infuriated Coliseum-adjacent pawnbrokers.
Today, perhaps nowhere are trophies more lusted after, more bizarre, and more beloved than in college football. In the early 20th century, rivalry trophies began popping up all over the country. There’s the Gold Boot and the Bronze Boot, the Wagon Wheel and the Old Wagon Wheel. The Victory Bell, Victory Cannon, and the Victory Barrel. The Okefenokee Oar and the Seminole War Canoe. The Old Brass Spittoon and the Old Oak Bucket. Teams vie for both Paul Bunyan’s Trophy and his Axe. Babe, however, is still safe. There’s the Iron Skillet, the Jeweled Shillelagh, and the Little Brown Jug. Carleton and Macalester duke it out for the ominously named Book of Knowledge.
The Horns, with their share of rivalries and star players, have earned no shortage of cups and statues over the last century. UT, despite recent evidence to the contrary, is very familiar with such prizes. First and foremost, there is the Golden Hat. Once known as the Bronze Hat—because it was, at the time, bronze—it is the ultimate and unassailable symbol of how much OU sucks or whether our horns are turned downward. The winner of the Texas-Texas Tech game earns the Chancellor’s Spurs, which were invented as the traveling trophy between the two after Tech got around to creating a chancellor position in 1996. They are, literally, a set of spurs. They are made of gold and silver, they are very pretty, and about as many people have heard of them as can name what exactly a chancellor does. And there’s the matter of the 117-year rivalry with that East Texas school. There was a trophy for that match-up, at least briefly. It was a glass outline of the state of Texas. The most lasting symbol of that rivalry, however, may be the Horns’ winning record of 76-37-5.
The brightest stars of the Texas constellation have also been heaped-upon by the litany of awards for individual achievement. Derrick Johnson and Brian Orakpo earned the leatherheaded bronze statuette of Bronko Nagurski as the nation’s top defensive player in 2004 and 2008, respectively. The Outland award, a crude lineman blasting up from a three-point stance, has been given to three Longhorns deemed the best interior lineman in the game. The figure of Jim Thorpe, ball under his left arm, helmet in his right hand, was nabbed back-to-back in 2005 and 2006 by Michael Huff and Aaron Ross. College football’s most iconic trophy, the Heisman—do I really need to describe it?—first came to Austin in 1977 with Earl Campbell and returned in 1998 with Ricky Williams. Williams also collected the Doak Walker award for best running back in ’97 and ’98, the copper-green, arms akimbo Maxwell award in ’98, as well as the tangled scrum of knicker-wearing boys known as the Walter Camp award. Colt McCoy took the Walter Camp in ’08 and ’09 and the Maxwell in ’09, in addition the Davey O’Brien trophy for best quarterback. The O’Brien cuts quite a figure, with the model QB lifting his left leg high in the air like he’s trying to toss a 95 mile-an-hour fastball. Vince Young earned the O’Brien in 2005 along with the Maxwell. And back when it was reserved for the best player in the Southwest, rather than the best QB, the O’Brien also went to Campbell.
Then, of course, there are actual bowl game trophies, which tend to be cold and soulless, befitting of games that are largely invented and uniformly named after things like Taxslayer.com, the San Diego County Credit Union, and Beef O’Brady’s. Many are actual bowls, which may indicate that the designers were not aware that a “bowl” game takes its name from the shape of a football stadium and not the shape of its trophy. The college football championship trophy is, and I promise this is real, nothing more than a 3-D rendering of the College Football Playoff logo unceremoniously glued to a base. That may seem fine until you remember the gleaming black base and life-sized Waterford Crystal football—the Coaches’ Trophy—that previously signified the nation’s top team. Perhaps the $30,000 ball was just too precious. In 2012, an Alabama player’s father bumped into the Tide’s trophy, chipping at least a few hundred bucks off of it.
The Horns are no stranger to these awards, either. To wit, the picture beside the definition of the phrase “bowl game” in the encyclopedia—OK, the Wikipedia—is of Texas’ triumph over USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl.
Noteable Texas Trophies
1929: Nearly three decades into the cross-state rivalry, the Texas State Fair donates a trophy to the Texas-OU game: the Golden Hat.
1943: In their first bowl appearance, Dana X. Bible’s squad bests the much-ballyhooed Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the Cotton Bowl Classic to claim what would later be dubbed the Field Scovell Trophy.
1960: The Horns battle Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide to a 3-3 tie, meaning no team takes home the silver bowl encrusted with gold stars and, unsurprisingly, bluebonnets.
1977: Earl Campbell is awarded the iconic Heisman Trophy. Texas will again bring it to Austin when Ricky Williams is named the nation’s most outstanding player in 1998.
1996: The Longhorns defeat Texas Tech during the Big XII’s inaugural season to claim the Chancellor’s Spurs for the first time.
2005: Mack Brown raises the Leishman Trophy as Texas defeats Michigan by a scant point in the Rose Bowl.
2006: Texas returns to Pasadena, this time for a championship. Vince Young kisses the crystal football Coaches’ Trophy.
Photos courtesy of UT Athletics.
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