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Lombardi is nice, but Stanley has real stories

by Evan Weiner
Sometime after 10 p.m. ET on Sunday, National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell will hand the Vince Lombardi Trophy to the winner of Super Bowl XLIV.

The Lombardi Trophy will be presented inside the arena, with the fans looking on. Sound familiar?

Yes, North America's three other major sports leagues have taken one of the NHL's best features, namely the on-ice presentation of the Stanley Cup and ensuing celebration.

The Lombardi Trophy is a nice hunk of hardware, but it doesn't have the colorful history of the Stanley Cup. There are 43 American Football League-National Football League trophies around, and 42 of them sit behind glass in various NFL team headquarters. Another is owned by the city of Baltimore as the result of an agreement between Baltimore officials and Indianapolis Colts management after Robert Irsay moved his Colts to Indianapolis on March 29, 1984. The Baltimore Colts won Super Bowl V in 1971.

Imagine for a second if Lord Stanley, Vince Lombardi and Larry O'Brien (NBA trophy) were at a table eating dinner along with the World Series Trophy and how the conversation would go.

Stanley would hold court, no doubt, as the tales of his life in silver would last well into the night. Stanley was a flower pot, was kicked into the Rideau Canal, kidnapped by Guy Lafleur, and went bar hopping in Edmonton.

Hall of Famer Clark Gillies let his dog eat out of the bowl; after all, as Gillies pointed out, he was a good dog. Red Kelly said his baby, Conn, did his business in the Cup back in 1962. Gordie Howe once said teammate Larry Hale thought the Cup was too nice and purposely dented it, just to give it a little character. The Cup has been repaired in auto body shops after a little too much partying.

And if Eddie Olczyk was at the table, he could tell Vince, Larry and the World Series Trophy about the time he took Stanley to Belmont Park, the thoroughbred racetrack in New York, to meet the 1994 Kentucky Derby winner Go for Gin while the horse was training at the track.

Olczyk's New York Rangers teammates were parading the Cup around town after winning in 1994 when Olczyk got an idea.

Why not take the Cup out to Belmont? Olczyk liked racing, so he could combine celebrating the Cup win and being at the track.

"Each guy got a day with the Stanley Cup," Olczyk said. "My day came and I got in on a Friday night and brought it out to the Meadowlands Racetrack for a nice evening, real quiet with a few friends, and the next day we had we had a nice charity day out at Belmont where we raised money for Ice Hockey in Harlem and the Backstretch Fund and I introduced the Stanley Cup to Go for Gin and the trainer Nick Zito.

"I got a lot of world-wide attention. That picture ended up being in the Japanese racing form, so it got a lot of headlines."

That picture was of Go for Gin looking like he was eating or drinking something from the bowl of the Cup, but Olczyk insisted that was not the case. It is an urban legend -- at least that's Olczyk's side of the story. Go for Gin never commented. Nor did Stanley.

"He actually stuck his head in," Olczyk said. "He never drank or ate anything out of it, contrary to other reports. It was a great day and I will always know in history that in that day Go for Gin was introduced to the Stanley Cup."

Olczyk admitted Stanley's meeting with the 1994 Kentucky Derby winner was not a random act. There was some strategy behind his decision to introduce Stanley to the champion horse.

"We were trying to think of a few good ideas as far publicly-wise," Olczyk said. "People got a chance to take a picture with the Cup and Nick Zito was kind enough to let us bring the Cup over to his barn. There were a lot of radio-TV people there and newspaper coverage. We thought it was the best thing -- Stanley Cup champion meets the Kentucky Derby champion. It kind of worked out real well."

Olczyk was a race horse owner and wanted to become the first Stanley Cup winner and Kentucky Derby owner in history. It hasn't happened yet, but if it did, he would like to reprise his picture, except it would be Olczyk and the Kentucky Derby Trophy, not a horse and Stanley.

"I would be very honored to hold one up (a Kentucky Derby trophy) for maybe a horse I owned one day. I would not mind taking a drink out of it (the Derby trophy) myself," he said with a laugh.

Olczyk's deed was one of the first times the Cup was used for a charitable purpose. People paid $5 a picture and he raised some money, although at the time he was criticized for his less-than-reverential attitude and respect for the Cup.

"For the positive things we did with it, I don't know what was so wrong with it," said Olczyk. "You have seen pictures in the past of players throwing it in their swimming pools, Clark Gillies' dog ate out of it. Because it was New York people built up a lot more. (Go for Gin) just stuck his head in it. I would never do anything to disgrace the trophy at all; if anything, we did a lot of good with it. We gave over $4,000 to Ice Hockey in Harlem and $4,000 to the Backstretch Fund. So we raised money and they had over 6,000 people extra at the racetrack."

Olczyk also pointed out that other sports have borrowed from the NHL with on-field trophy presentations, and with good reason. The Stanley Cup is communal -- even if the visiting team wins the Cup at an opponent's rink, fans stay around to see Stanley, and that has spread to other sports.

"We were trying to think of a few good ideas as far publicly-wise. People got a chance to take a picture with the Cup and Nick Zito was kind enough to let us bring the Cup over to his barn. There were a lot of radio-TV people there and newspaper coverage. We thought it was the best thing -- Stanley Cup champion meets the Kentucky Derby champion. It kind of worked out real well."
-- Eddie Olczyk

Stanley is the NHL's biggest star, and that's not a slight to Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux, or today's big names. Stanley is Stanley. People rush to see Stanley and embrace Stanley.

"I think that's great," he said of how other sports have incorporated the NHL Stanley Cup presentation. "I think that's something that people feel they are part of it and show the true feeling of it and how everybody is a part of it."

Major League Baseball has followed the NHL's lead and is touring the World Series Trophy. That trophy went to Asia last week; the NBA has sent out the O'Brien Trophy to various functions over the past few years. The Stanley Cup, though, is a megastar. Stanley is more than just a trophy; it's a guest on late night American TV talk shows, it has appeared in TV shows like "Boston Legal," and as a fundraiser.

Vince, Lawrence and the World Series Trophy are nice keepsakes, but they have a long way to go to catch up to Stanley, who for an old guy -- he'll be celebrating his 107th birthday -- keeps a busy schedule. Vince eventually will live in a trophy case in either Indianapolis or New Orleans, and it will be a nice, easy life. The World Series Trophy will end up in the Bronx, living a sedate life, once it returns from Asia.

Stanley? His travels will take him far and near throughout the year, and undoubtedly Stanley will have new tales to tell Vince, Larry and the World Series Trophy.

That's just the way Stanley lives.

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