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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 5)

It is an unwritten rule that members' green jackets should be worn only at the club. The Masters champion alone is entitled to wear the green jacket elsewhere, and then just for the first year he holds the title. And he's never supposed to wear it in a commercial setting, such as an advertisement or appearance. After the champion's year expires, his jacket is stored in a special cedar closet in the clubhouse and worn by him at the annual Champions Dinner.

The first Masters winner to receive a green jacket--and honorary lifetime membership in the club--was Sam Snead, in 1949. Ironically, Jack Nicklaus, the only champion to win the Masters six times, is the only one not to have a green jacket from the club.

At the award presentation following the tournament, the previous year's champion helps the new winner into a "loaner" jacket from the club's cedar closet. A custom-tailored one is supposed to be provided later. When Nicklaus first won the Masters in 1963, he received the loaner from Arnold Palmer, but by some oversight, he never received his custom jacket. When he returned for the Champions Dinner in 1964, he was given another loaner, which he wore for 12 succeeding years. Finally, Nicklaus telephoned Hart, Schaffner & Marx, the clothing firm he represented, to have a coat custom-made. When he later told Jack Stephens, the Masters chairman, about his self-ordered jacket, the embarrassed Stephens quickly said he would have an official one made. Nicklaus declined, saying all the official jacket would do was rob him of a great anecdote.

(Another "garment trophy" of sorts has symbolized the pinnacle of boxing since 1921. That was the year the World Boxing Association first presented the eight-pound leather World Championship Belt to title bout winners. The buckle is made of 24-karat gold-plated pewter, 8 inches high by 10 1/2 inches wide, embedded with semiprecious stones. The champion keeps the belt for life.)

Although Major League Baseball's World Series goes back to 1903, the present World Series trophy dates only from 1967. Called the Commissioner's Trophy, it was created by L. G. Balfour Co. of Attleboro, Massachusetts (now known as Commemorative Brands Inc.). It measures 30 inches high, 30 inches around the ebony and lucite base, and weighs 30 pounds, with a pewter baseball in the center. The number of its gold-plated brass pennants has increased as the leagues have expanded, with the trophy now holding 30 pennants to represent the 14 American League and 16 National League teams. It is valued at $15,000, and each year's World Series winner keeps the trophy.

The National Football League's World Championship Game Trophy also debuted in 1967. Made of sterling silver by Tiffany, the trophy measures 22 inches high and weighs nearly 7 pounds, with a regulation-size football on top; the winning Super Bowl team keeps it. It was renamed the Vince Lombardi Super Bowl Trophy in 1970 following the death of the legendary Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins coach.

The first National Basketball Association championship game was played in 1947, but it was not until 1978 that the NBA produced the current trophy, taken home by the winner. Also made by Tiffany, the Walter A. Brown Trophy, named for a former Boston Celtics owner who was a pioneering league official, was renamed the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy in 1984 for the outgoing NBA commissioner. Made of sterling silver vermeil beneath 24-karat-gold overlay, the 14 1/2-pound trophy, valued at $13,500, stands 25 inches high with a 10-inch diameter basketball above a hoop.

Players and officials of the winning teams can order miniature copies of the baseball, football and basketball championship trophies for themselves. These reproductions are sometimes put up for sale on the sports memorabilia market.

Olympic medals also occasionally appear on the auction block. Although the modern Olympic Games began in 1896, it was not until 1904 that gold medals were awarded to the first-place winners, with silver and bronze medals going to second- and third-place finishers. Since that time, a variety of jewelry firms have created the Olympic medals. Tiffany, for example, designed the medals awarded at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York. The medals for the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta were designed by Malcolm Grear Designers and produced by Reed & Barton of Taunton, Massachusetts. (The Olympic gold medals actually are made of sterling silver but gilded with at least six grams of 22-karat gold.)

Championship rings for professional sports also are made by a variety of companies. The designs change with each year and team, but usually are made of gold inset with diamonds. In recent years, Commemorative Brands and Minneapolis-based Josten's have been the top manufacturers.

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