Despite its troubles, the Stanley Cup is far from the hardiest of sports trophies. For example, in 1955 trotting's Hambletonian bowl was swept to sea off Cape Cod in a hurricane. Several days later it washed ashore with the kelp in Fairhaven, Mass.
The earliest sports trophies of modern times were given to the winners of horse races. They were bells and porringers engraved with such verses as:
From Ashy Maske on St. Mark Day
The swiftest horse brought this away.
Some of these prizes, which date from Elizabethan times, are still awarded annually in England. But Britain's premier turf classic, the Epsom Derby, has no traditional trophy. Every year a new cup—and lately they have been of quite modern design—is handed out.
Perhaps the reason the Derby has no elaborately conceived prize is the rather casual way the race was founded. In 1778 Lord Derby held a party at his home, The Oaks, near Epsom and during the evening it was decided to run a race the following year on the local heath and name it after Derby's house. The 1779 Oaks was such a successful affair that another race was suggested for 1780. Lord Derby and his good friend, Sir Charles Bunbury, flipped a coin to decide which of them the new race would honor. Derby won—hence the Epsom Derby. If he had lost, a race known as the Epsom Bunbury would now be England's greatest stake. And they would be holding the Kentucky Bunbury each year at Churchill Downs.
The Kentucky Derby began as something of a pickup competition, too. Records of the first Derby in 1875 are skimpy, but newspaper accounts indicate that the winners of two other stakes at the Louisville meeting received handsome silverware, while the Derby winner did not. His owner took home nothing but the $2,850 purse. In fact, the Derby did not rate a trophy until 1921.
The extravagant Belmont Stakes trophy, with its edging of oak leaves and acorns, horse statues and tattoo of handiwork, was made by Tiffany at the turn of the century. A few years ago when Tiffany's president, Walter Hoving, was asked if the store would like to exhibit the trophy in one of its windows, he politely declined. "It's just too homely," he explained. This might apply to lots of Tiffany's period pieces for sport. On exhibit at Aqueduct racetrack is a trophy Tiffany made in 1902 showing a thoroughbred and Winged Victory sprinting wing and hoof toward a photo finish. Victory never looked so close to defeat.
Tiffany's modern line of trophies is simpler in concept. The store keeps stock items such as a silver baseball ($275), a silver spittoon ($250—"It's a very nice shape and has been used for a rodeo-riding prize," a salesman explains) and a regulation-size silver hockey puck ($300). But the most meaningful buy for the sports fan who spends Sundays—and Saturdays and Mondays—quarter-backing is the silver football. It sells for only $800 and is a duplicate of the one Tiffany uses each year in making up the Super Bowl trophy. The Super Bowl award is a straight-off-the-rack model, because by the time the AFL and NFL agreed to hold a championship playoff it was too late to make a more distinctive trophy from scratch. Tiffany took one of its silver footballs, mounted it in kickoff position on a sterling base and sent it over to Pete Rozelle with a bill for $2,000.
The selection of a new World Cup for soccer will hardly be so hasty. For 40 years, until Brazil retired it last June with its third win, the gold Jules Rimet trophy had been coveted by over 70 soccer-playing nations. The World Cup induced joy and frenzy in millions of fans and had a magic that no athletic award has ever matched. Just 12 inches tall and weighing only nine pounds, the cup was the work of a Parisian goldsmith named Abel Lafleure, who, it seems, was a fervent believer in the cause of Alfred Dreyfus. When Dreyfus was sentenced, Lafleure attempted suicide, leaping into the Seine. But the water cooled his ardor—it was late February—and he swam ashore to a less stimulating life that included a steady income from striking medals for the French soccer federation. In 1929 the president of the federation commissioned a trophy for a world soccer competition. Ever the idealist, Lafleure produced in pure gold a statue of Winged Victory holding aloft in a laurelbound vessel the fruits of success.
The goldsmith must have winced at the fanaticism his statue inspired. In 1938 Italy won the prize and Mussolini boasted that the trophy symbolized the victory of Fascism. Just where the World Cup spent the war years is a matter of considerable controversy. According to one story the statue was smuggled to The Netherlands and kept by a farmer under his bed. Another version places it in Switzerland. And still another, told in Italy, is that the trophy was hidden in a cupboard in a house near the Vatican. One morning in 1944 German SS officers are supposed to have arrived and demanded the cup. They were invited in, several bottles of Reno wine were opened and the Germans mellowed and dropped the subject.