November 17, 2004

Not Much History For the Trustee Cup

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Even though the conference practically invented the game of football, the Ivy League is behind the times. Sure, John Heisman, Pop Warner 1894, and Walter Camp all played a role in developing the game from its infancy, but today’s Ivy teams can’t match the pageantry of their D-1A cousins. Why? Because we don’t have rivalry trophies.

This past weekend, Minnesota battled Iowa for something more valuable than a win. Yes, they were playing for a pig. More precisely, they were playing for the Floyd of Rosedale, a trophy that dates back to 1935. Sixty-nine years ago, Floyd Olsen, the governor of Minnesota, issued the following challenge to Iowa governor Clyde Herring: “I will bet you a Minnesota prize hog against an Iowa prize hog that Minnesota wins.”

Minnesota won the game, and Gov. Herring delivered a pig from the Rosedale Farms in Iowa, and the tradition was born. There are similar stories from across the nation. There’s the Old Oaken Bucket (Indiana-Purdue), Paul Bunyan’s Axe (Wisconsin-Minnesota), the Keg of Nails (Cincinnati-Louisville), and the list goes on.

Now, some rivalries transcend a trophy. While the winner of the Cal-Stanford game (The Big Game) is awarded the Stanford Axe, the Cal-Stanford rivalry will now always be defined by one particular play.

Alright here we go with the kick-off. Harmon will probably try to squib it and he does. Ball comes loose and the Bears have to get out of bounds. Rogers along the sideline, another one … they’re still in deep trouble at midfield, they tried to do a couple of … the ball is still loose as they get it to Rogers. They get it back to the 30, they’re down to the 20 … Oh, the band is out on the field!! He’s gonna go into the end zone!!!

That, of course, was the Joe Starkey’s famous call of the 1982 edition of the Big Game, when Cal beat Stanford on one of the most incredible plays in college football history.

Mysteriously absent, though, is a trophy exchanged by any of the Ivy League schools. “But wait! Isn’t the winner of the Penn-Cornell game – which, if I’m not mistaken, is this weekend – awarded the Trustees Cup?”

Why yes, informed reader, that is true, but you are probably one of the few people who know about the Cup. However, this can hardly be considered a rivalry trophy. Penn is Cornell’s most-frequently played football opponent, dating back to the teams’ first meeting in 1893.

Since then, the schools have faced each other 110 times, making the Cornell-Penn series one of the most prolific rivalries in all of college football. With all this tradition, you would think that some sort of rivalry trophy would have emerged along the way.

Enter the Trustees Cup. This trophy was first awarded to the winner of the Cornell-Penn game way back in … 1995! Isn’t that a century too late to be coming up with a rivalry trophy?

Also, why is it called the Trustees Cup? Did the Cornell and Penn trustees used to bet on the game in the early 1990s? No. From the Cornell game notes this week, we learn that, “many names were suggested for the award, but ‘Trustees’ Cup’ was ultimately selected because it denotes the high level of support and recognition afforded this rivalry.”

That’s a pretty lame explanation for the name selection. There has to be something in the annals of this rivalry that would make a better name than Trustees Cup. I challenge the creators of the Trustees Cup to go back over the long and storied history of these two programs and find a better name and trophy for this rivalry.

So, we’ve got a trophy no one knows about AND a rivalry no one knows about. Can you recall a Cornell-Penn game from years past that is extremely memorable? Probably not, and that’s the problem. Students won’t get excited for a rivalry game if they don’t know anything about the rivalry. Cornell has one of the oldest football programs in the country, and yet we are ignorant of our storied tradition.

How do we fix this? Well, for starters, we can show up for the game this Saturday en masse. After being picked in the preseason to finish last, Cornell can clinch second place in the league with a win. No Ivy League team has ever rebounded from an 0-7 campaign with a five-win season the following year, and only one other team has recorded a winning conference season after going 0-7. It’s all the more fitting that one of Cornell’s own, Jim Knowles ’87, has helped stage this remarkable turnaround.

What else can be done to restore the pageantry and excitement that defined our football team in the past? Maybe it’s time we borrowed some traditions from other schools; there’s a ton of things to pick from. How about the Midnight Yell Practice from Texas A&M? Or the placards from Cal? Or maybe we can come up with our own. The Lynah Faithful is known for their creativity, and we should be able to translate that over to the football games. The program has been rejuvenated this season; let’s make sure that Cornell football is in the business of creating champions for years to come.

Archived article by Jonathan Auerbach