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Stanley Cup has way more stories than other trophies

Friday, 01.30.2009 / 5:00 PM / Off the Wall

By Evan Weiner - NHL.com Correspondent

There will be a sports championship trophy presentation Sunday at the conclusion of Super Bowl XLIII, one where the NFL will be borrowing heavily from the NHL's Stanley Cup ceremony. The NFL, MLB and the NBA now make the championship trophy presentation on the gridiron, the diamond and the court. The NHL has been doing that for years, but the Vince Lombardi Trophy, the World Series trophy (Commissioner's Trophy) and the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy all lack the charm and charisma of the Stanley Cup.
 
All are good-looking trophies, but once a team wins the hardware, the trophy goes into retirement and a new one is created for the next championship series.
 
The Stanley Cup has tales that go on and on. The old mug was drop-kicked into the Rideau Canal and left stranded in the ice. It was left in a photographer's studio and used as a flower pot. The ownership of the New York Rangers burned Madison Square Garden's mortgage in the Cup's bowl. A Montreal Canadiens fan in 1961 tried to kidnap the Cup from a Chicago Stadium glass showcase because he wanted to return it to Montreal, where it belonged. In 1994, Eddie Olczyk took the Cup to Belmont Park race track, filled the bowl with oats and let Kentucky Derby winner Go for Gin eat out of it.
 
Stanley also has gone to war. In May 2007, the Cup went to Kandahar, Afghanistan, as a morale booster, and has visited wounded U.S. Marines at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
 
Stanley is a White House regular, having been the guest of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Stanley has been on the Tonight Show, the Late Show with David Letterman, Meet the Press, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and was the object of affection of the Denny Crane character in the Boston Legal television series, which was written by David E. Kelly, whose father coached the World Hockey Association's New England Whalers. It also has been in the Rose Bowl Parade.
 
For an old guy -- Stanley was created in 1893 -- he sure gets around. No wonder other leagues' trophies look up to Stanley for championship guidance.
 
No other trophy has such a rich history. There is a new O’Brien Trophy made annually. Since 2004 the trophy has been traveling, but there are no stories Larry could tell Stanley. Larry lives a mundane existence.
 
The Commissioner's Trophy has been around since 1967, but there are no stories the Commissioner could tell Stanley.
 
There have been 42 Vince Lombardi trophies handed out, although it was not until 1970 that the "World Championship Game Trophy" was renamed the Lombardi Trophy following the death of legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi.
 
There is only one tale that can match any of Stanley's sagas, and that came Vince's time. The "World Championship Game Trophy" that was given to the New York Jets following the team's Super Bowl III victory against the Baltimore Colts on Jan. 12, 1969 comes straight out of the Stanley Cup strange-but-true stories.
 
The Jets organization got the trophy in a postgame ceremony, but in all the excitement of winning, someone forgot to take the trophy back to New York. It sat in one of the locker rooms in the bowels of the Orange Bowl in Miami.
 
It was a story that could have been the equal of some of Stanley's best tales, but the NFL doesn't push the past history of the trophy.
 
"I am sure it was John Free's (responsibility)," laughed one-time Jets trainer Jeff Snedeker years later in discussing who was supposed to be in charge of making sure the trophy accompanied the team on the trip back to New York. Free's main job was making sure Jets quarterback Joe Namath got out of stadiums safely. No one was told to take the trophy and everyone seemed to follow orders. "He never did anything right."
 
Neither Snedeker nor Free even knew the trophy was gone, but someone discovered the trophy was missing when the team got home.
 
 
"I remember the guy that either went to get it or brought it with him, his name was Tiger Ferraro," said Snedeker. "I remember it was Tiger that brought it. I don't remember if they sent him back or he was still there or they went back to the Orange Bowl.
 
"They did forget the trophy."
 
Ferraro was sent back to Miami and retrieved the trophy, which was sitting all alone in the Orange Bowl. No one even bothered to move it after cleaning the locker room. Not even Stanley was left behind by a team in a dressing room and stayed overnight in a cold, damp locker room.
 
"Nobody expected us to win, so I guess they were not prepared to get the trophy," said Snedeker, who as trainer might have been responsible for making sure everything was taken out of the room in Miami. "In the euphoria that followed the trophy, it was probably the least of anybody's concern. Just that we got it, we didn't have it physically was probably immaterial."
 
The trophy eventually caught up with the Jets and was present during a New York City Hall celebration.
 
Actually there is a story Vince could tell that might make Stanley chuckle. After Baltimore Colts owner Jim Irsay moved his team to Indianapolis in the snow on the night of March 29, 1984, he had to return one of the franchise's most prized possessions -- the Lombardi Trophy from Super Bowl V. The trophy had to be returned after taking a trip on a moving van from Indianapolis to Baltimore because Vince was owned by the city of Baltimore.
 
The other leagues have watched NHL celebrations for a long time and have borrowed a lot of the tradition. There is only one Stanley, however, and while Vince is a great trophy, it's a piece of hardware destined for a glass case, unlike Stanley, who remains a megastar with a colorful past and a busy schedule.
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