I was digging through some boxes in the basement the other day when I came across one of those containers my parents made sure to deliver once I got a house. You know the ones. It's filled with basically everything from my childhood that I thought about keeping because they had 'meaning' to me at one point or another. I have my athletic awards, honor roll certificates, drawings of frogs from third grade, and the like. Basically, it's a museum to myself and how awesome I perceived myself. Never mind that the entire thing was more of a reminder that achievements were easier as a child than as an adult, it was a nice little walk down memory lane and quite the ego boost.
Anyhow, one of the things that I still had was this ridiculous Spelling Bee trophy. I don't know what place I got, and I think it was definitely from a Spelling Bee that only invited the local Lutheran schools which meant I was already limiting the pool to which I would be compared, but I kept it all these years. The weirdest thing about that trophy is that of all the accomplishments I had as a child - including be a Math Competition champ because I was awesome at math... was - the Spelling Bee usually meant little to nothing to me. I distinctly remember purposefully misspelling words in the lead up to being chosen as the representative for our school because I really hated spelling. So why, after all these years, did I still have that trophy and why did it make me feel good looking back at it?
I'm pretty sure one of the reasons is because I still remember getting it. There's this moment where you are handed a trophy - even for like, third place - and you feel like you are king of the world. It's the reason that Summer Camp's thrive on team trophies, video games create virtual trophies, and trophy companies keep making money. No matter how dumb or contrived a prize may be, getting something you can hold on to and look at feels good. It doesn't have to make sense, but knowing you can put something on your desk, glass case, mantle, etc., feels good. The stupid Spelling Bee trophy felt good, and even though it didn't resonate with me as 'cool' (Note: I never was good at sports, so this was about all I got to feel cool about... I was also not cool.), it was still something that made me feel like a winner. I loved it.
Earlier today, Nebraska and Wisconsin announced a trophy game - the FREEEEEEEEDOM Trophy - and it's been panned as contrived and stupid. Those who are saying that aren't wrong, as it really is contrived and stupid. It's a boring trophy among the landscape of awesome trophies, and it may actually feel more sanitized and watered down than the Iowa-Nebraska Heroes trophy sponsored by... wait, the sponsor does not get my free plug even if they do make delicious Chinese food for cheap. What was I saying? Oh right, the Freedom Trophy is stupid.
That said, can I be honest for a second? I kind of like the idea of these trophies, contrived or not. You know, Nebraska came into this league looking for a fresh start. We had history on our side in the Big XII, and fans would be kidding themselves if they said they didn't actually hate a lot of our old conference mates, but getting up for division games just wasn't what we did. No offense to Iowa State, but even when the Fumblepocalypse happened, there was more annoyance than hate. I truly believe a lot of that was because we just didn't mark the occasion, and that lack of loyalty - forced or not - makes me wonder if part of the reason we could leave without too much thought was because we barely cared one way or another.
When the new divisions were created this last year, fans all over the Big Ten West were excited. The classic rivalries between Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin would be preserved, and the addition of someone that was all-too-easy to be hated - Nebraska, naturally - was the beginning of what would be fun Novembers for a while. Trophies would be on the line for almost every single game, except what do you do with Nebraska? Obviously they don't have the historic ties to this conference like everyone else, but in the new Big Ten, they were every bit a part of the building hate on the plains. With or without a trophy game, teams would mark their calendars to knock the new guy down a peg.
This is the reason I am coming out in support of the Freedom Trophy. I get the stupidity of it, and I kind of can understand where people are getting all uptight about it, but hating on the trophy misses the fact that this game is on the calendar for both teams. Really, the trophy doesn't necessarily matter. It could be like my silly little Spelling Bee trophy that literally has a bee on it with its stinger spelling out something stupid, or it could be a trophy with two stadiums and an American flag. The point isn't that the trophy is contrived, but that it's something we can get excited about winning.
The Big Ten West is everything we hoped it could be this year. Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin will decide who faces off in Indianapolis in a Round Robin series of games that started last week and goes until Thanksgiving Weekend. You couldn't have set that up better, and while fans will continually mock things because it's what we do, this isn't quite as awful as 'Leaders and Legends'. For a game that hopefully continues to be part of the Quadrangle of Hate, a game that should be one of the deciding factors in who goes to Indianapolis each year, and a game that each fanbase gets excited about, I'm just happy we have something to play for.
Later this week, we'll have more about the Nebraska-Wisconsin game, and probably the QoH Trophy presented in all its glory above, but I wanted to just throw that out there. As you see above, I like trophies and I'm glad my team is playing for them when it matters. Here's to hoping the games mean something year in and year out. The origins may be dumb, but meaningful moments will make them better. I'm okay with giving them a chance to make that happen.