Part of Big Ten Week.
If there's one thing the Big Ten loves, it's trophies. Really old trophies, specifically: Ancient, inscrutable artifacts like the buckets, jugs, turtles, battle axes and pigs that are literally meaningless outside of the context of decades of cross-border feuds. The conference is currently home to a dozen bizarre trophies between longstanding rivals, not including the long-lost likes of the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk and the immortal Slab of Bacon.
If there's another thing the Big Ten loves lately, it's generic ideals that represent what the conference likes to believe it stands for without getting all specific about it. Put them together, and what do you have? The league's newest "trophy game," between Iowa and the new kid on the block, Nebraska:
On Friday morning during the Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, Nebraska and Iowa jointly announced they'd annually play "The Heroes Game."
With that, the institutions plan to honor one citizen of Iowa and one citizen of Nebraska prior to each Heroes Game for their extraordinary act. The heroes will be nominated by friends, neighbors or co-workers and will be guests of the two teams at the game where they will be honored on-field during the games. Each will also have their name and hometown etched on the Heroes Game trophy.
"It will recognize some people that are probably ordinary," Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne said Friday during a news conference. "Not wealthy people, not politicians - which is probably a good thing."
(And Tom Osborne would know, amirite?)
The trophy itself was not unveiled this morning, and likely won't be until game day, on Nov. 25 in Lincoln. That will be the first meeting between the old "rivals" since a home-and-home between the Hawkeyes and 'Huskers in 1999 and 2000, itself a rare renewal of a series that had been an annual affair for most of the first half of the 20th Century. The first time Iowa and Nebraska met, in 1903, it wasn't entirely clear yet which team was supposed to be the "Cornhuskers."
The "Heroes Trophy" (sponsored by Midwestern supermarket chain Hy-Vee) adds not only to the glut of old curios, but also to the glut of new trophies the Big Ten plans to hand out at the end of the season for whatever superlative it could imagine. Of course, what makes the old curios so enduringly, endearingly great is precisely that they are a) Extremely old and b) Extremely weird, in the way that only time-worn, organic traditions can be. Whereas as the glut of new trophies is extremely new and bears the distinct whiff of the boardroom of a marketing firm.
No one ever focus-grouped Fielding Yost's Little Brown Jug as the symbol of Michigan's rivalry with Minnesota. He just left it on Minnesota's sideline, and for some reason, that meant war — war that endured far after anyone could bring themselves to remember or care where the jug came from in the first place. The Old Oaken Bucket never commanded a corporate sponsor. In the same way, the local "heroes" selected by the schools will be met with the politeness and respect they deserve. But over time, the real, enduring pull of the annual Iowa-Nebraska game will be forged by a twist, an outrage or a hero no one could have ever dreamed up on their own.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.