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The Holy Grails

From the America's Cup to Olympic Medals, Sports Trophies Have Been Kissed, Caressed, Stolen, Smashed, Buried, But Above All, Coveted
Neil A. Grauer
From the Print Edition:
Laurence Fishburne, Jan/Feb 00

(continued from page 4)

In 1936, Downtown's athletic director, John W. Heisman (a former football player at Brown and Penn and a coach from 1892 to 1927) died, and the club decided to name the trophy in his memory.

Each honoree gets a replica of the 40-pound bronze trophy to take home, as does his school. Heismans are valued at $5,000, but as collectibles few have ever found their way onto the sports memorabilia market. A notable exception: O. J. Simpson's Heisman (University of Southern California, 1968) fetched $230,000 in February 1999 from an anonymous telephone bidder during a Los Angeles auction of his assets to cover the civil court judgment against him in the slayings of his former wife and her friend.

Unlike trophies that originally were created at the behest of private sportsmen or clubs, the first of the great corporate-affiliated sports prizes is linked to one of America's biggest industries: automobiles. Yet the founder of the Borg-Warner Trophy for the Indianapolis 500 never had a driver's license.

Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker also never held a pilot's license, but he was America's "Ace of Aces" in air combat during the First World War, winning a Congressional Medal of Honor for shooting down 22 German planes. In 1927, Rickenbacker became owner of the Indianapolis Speedway, home of the 500 since 1911. (Before the war, a teen-aged Rickenbacker was a record-setting, and very wealthy, race car driver.) He introduced the trophy in 1936, having induced the Chicago-based Borg-Warner Automotive to sponsor it, and paid the Chicago jewelry firm Spaulding & Co. $10,000 to make it--a stunning sum in the depths of the Great Depression.

The Art Deco-style, 4-foot, 3-inch-high trophy features the bas-relief likenesses of 70 drivers on an 18-inch marble base. In 1986, a new base was constructed to provide enough space to last until 2003.

The Borg-Warner is permanently displayed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum. In 1989, Borg-Warner began providing a 14-inch-high, 5-pound sterling silver replica--the "Baby Borg," currently valued at $25,000--to the winning driver. In 1998, the company established the Borg-Warner Automotive Award, another replica of the larger trophy, with a band of Art Deco racing cars accentuated in gold, that goes to the owner of the winning team.

Though silver or gold may be the material of choice for most of the world's great sports trophies, about three yards of wool and polyester (polyester!) constitute the essential ingredients of what is said to be perhaps "the most recognized garment...in all sports"--the Masters' green jacket.

Winners of the Masters tournament in Augusta, Georgia, receive a replica of the permanent Masters trophy--a miniature sterling silver version of the Augusta National course's clubhouse, first introduced in 1961. They also get an impressive gold medal. But the Masters' prize best known to the public is an elegantly simple, single-breasted, three-button, tropical-weight wool-and-polyester green blazer, said to be the color of a perfectly cut fairway at Augusta, home of the Masters since its inception in 1934.

The green jackets first appeared in 1937, when legendary golfer Bobby Jones and his associate Clifford Roberts, cofounders of the Masters, ordered a supply of them and urged club members to buy one and wear it during the tournament so that visitors thereby would be able to identify "a reliable source of information," Roberts wrote years later.

Initially, members didn't like wearing the conspicuous jackets, and the original coats were of heavy material that made them uncomfortably warm, Roberts recalled. "Within a few years, however, lighter weight made-to-measure green coats were available at the club's pro shop, and all members regularly wore them whenever they were at the club."


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