Trophy History Page
Posted
4/4/09;
Updated
4/6/13

 








The stories behind NU's football rivalry trophies are not quite as well known as some of the other Big Ten trophies, such as the Little Brown Jug-- indeed, there are parts to these stories that are (for now) completely unknown.  But the history of these trophies is still worth noting, since it tells us something about the schools and fans that were involved.  As NU sets out to initiate a new rivalry trophy this fall, it is a good time to review, as much as is known, that history.

To date, NU has had football trophy series with two schools: Notre Dame and, much more famously, Illinois.




The Notre Dame Series



The Shillelagh
(1930 -  c.  mid 1970s)

NU Archives

According to media guides from the 1960s, "In 1930, William T. Cosgrove, president of the Irish Free State, presented a shillelagh to Coach Knute Rockne, famed coach of the University of Notre Dame football team.  Coach Rockne proposed that the Shillelagh become a trophy for the annual football game between Notre Dame and Northwestern and the suggestion was readily adopted by the officials of both schools.  The trophy was placed in competition for the first time in 1930 when the Irish defeated the Wildcats 14 to 0 in a game that decided the national championship.  Both teams came up to the game undefeated."

Notre Dame still has two other Shillelagh trophies with other schools, but the historic one that Knute Rockne began with Northwestern is the oldest (the Purdue Shillelagh began in 1957, and the USC Jeweled Shillelagh started in 1952) and when it was introduced it was among the most prestigious rivalry trophies in the nation.

At the time of the start of the NU-ND Shillelagh the two schools were beginning a true rivalry series: they had played historic games at the turn of the century and had re-ignited their series in the 1920s, but starting in 1930 the teams would play each other every year for nearly the next two decades.  From 1930 through 1948 Northwestern had a mostly winning football program, notching 80 victories to 69 losses.  Unfortunately, the series with the Irish wasn't so competitive: during that same time the Wildcats only beat the Irish twice and tied them once. 

However, when the series resumed in 1959 it was NU's turn to dominate, knocking off Notre Dame four straight times.  The dominance ended when Coach Parseghian moved from NU to Notre Dame, and NU dropped the rest of its games to the Irish.  This revived series with Notre Dame concluded in 1976.

As late as 1973 the Shillelagh was still an active trophy.  By the time NU stopped playing Notre Dame (in 1976), however, the trophy had faded from view.  Certainly by 1978 the trophy was no longer considered in contention, and NU had dropped it from its media guide.  Exactly when the trophy was last considered active is not clear.  It was likely in 1975 or 1976.

Unfortunately, no one thought to look for the trophy and revive it when NU and Notre Dame had their four-season return from 1992 through 1995.  If someone had paid attention to that detail, Northwestern would currently enjoy looking at Coach Rockne's gift from Ireland, behind glass in Evanston.




The Illinois Series


The Fire Bell
(1941 -  c. 1943)

Chicago Daily News

If the above image of the Northwestern - Illinois Fire Bell Trophy looks like a candid shot of the Loch Ness Monster, it's because getting a photo of this historic trophy is just about as rare.  The trophy began  in 1941, as described at the time by the Chicago Tribune:

A new football trophy will take its place alongside the famed little brown jug of the Minnesota-Michigan rivalry and the old oaken bucket, battled for each year by Purdue and Indiana, when Saturday's game is over.  The Wildcats and Illini will be battling for a 100 year old fire bell taken from the loft of a fire station in Oshkosh, Wis.  R.J. Erdlitz, father of Dick Erdlitz, Northwestern's senior quarter back, will present the trophy to [NU Athletic Director Tug] Wilson and Doug Mills, Illinois director of athletics, at a joint alumni luncheon of the two schools in the Bismark hotel at noon today.


The Associated Press story about the trophy on November 20, 1941 noted that the Fire Bell is "two feet in height and fastened to a wooden base. . . The scores of each game in the annual series will be inscribed on the bell and the trophy will be retained each year by the winning school."

Northwestern won the first of the Fire Bell Series, 27-0, and kept the Bell.  However, on November 7, 1942, Illinois returned to Dyche Stadium (for the fourth straight year in the series), and the Illini defeated NU, 14-7.  At the end of the season, at a luncheon with Chicago-area football fans, Tug Wilson formally handed over the Fire Bell to new Illinois head coach Ray Eliot.

What happened to the Bell from that moment on is a total mystery.  No further mention of the Bell is made by the Daily Northwestern, the Chicago Tribune, or any other known source.  Neither the Northwestern nor the University of Illinois archives has any record of the bell after 1942.  By 1945, NU and Illinois had moved on to a new trophy, so it is clear that the Fire Bell was gone by then.  It was likely gone by 1943, but that is not yet confirmed.

So what happened to the trophy?  Possibly it was stolen or simply lost.  Considering that it dropped from view as 1943 began, it is possible that the Bell was a sacrifice to a World War II metal drive.  The research continues.

UPDATE (April 2013):
Because the Bell was in the hands of the Illini when it vanished after December 1942, it made sense to focus further research on Illinois and its archives and newspaper articles.  The Daily Illini, the university's student newspaper, contains information that seems to add weight to the assumption that the schools only used the trophy in 1941 and 1942, and that it was terminated in early 1943.

In October 1943, before the Illini played Purdue (or Northwestern), the Daily Illini described the upcoming debut of the Purdue Cannon, the newest Illinois trophy.  The article mentions all of the other Big Ten trophies, but it gives no mention whatsoever of the Bell.  It is reasonable to assume that if the Bell were still in use in October 1943, the Daily Illini would have mentioned it in this article.

So, it is increasingly clear that the Bell dropped away at some point between late December 1942 and October 1943, and was nearly certainly not used for the 1943 NU - Illinois game.  The big question, however, remains: what happened?

In the initial article about the Fire Bell, I speculated that the trophy was possibly sacrificed in a scrap metal drive.  This seems a reasonable assumption: between late 1942 and late 1943 college campuses across the country were conducting massive scrap drives for the war effort.  Americans eyed any shred of metal that was not essential, looking for war material.  This was the fate of at least one university bell: Western Michigan's Victory Bell, rung during home football games, was donated to a metal drive in October 1942.  A bell like the NU - Illinois bell, made in the 1840s, would have been made with bell metal-- a bronze with a high copper content-- which would have been desirable.

It now appears likely that this was, indeed, the fate of the Fire Bell trophy.  Again, there is absolutely no mention in any source of the Bell trophy after December 1942.  However, the Daily Illini does mention other trophies at the school, and they wind up on the war's scrap heap.

On October 7, 1942, the newspaper reported that the Illinois salvage section of the War Production board recommended that the university's fraternities should donate all of their intramural trophies to the war effort.  The board's representative stated, "Every trophy... no matter how small, would be of great value... Our supply of tin is practically exhausted.  Those cups standing on fraternity trophy shelves contain a great deal of tin..."

And in February 1943, the university, in conjunction with the rest of Champaign-Urbana, conducted a massive metal drive and parade, hauling in old cars, other remaining trophies, and any piece of metal that was not necessary.  Although we may never know for sure what happened to the original Northwestern - Illinois trophy, it is now very likely-- given the atmosphere on the Illinois campus at the time and the fact that sports trophies had actually been targeted-- that the Bell was placed into the February 1943 scrap heap.




Sweet Sioux
(1945 - 2008)


The most well-known of NU's rivalry trophies, Sweet Sioux was an appropriate trophy for a 'Cat, since it had nine lives, or nearly as many forms...



NU Archives

Sweet Sioux Statue
(1945 - 1946)


The original Sweet Sioux originated in a contest between the NU and Illinois student newspapers, created by Daily Northwestern sports editor Tom Koch.  The papers launched a search for a wooden cigar store Indian to represent the (as yet unnamed) rivalry.  The NU chapter of Acacia found a statue, a cigar store antique carved in 1833, and the contest then shifted to find a suitable name for the trophy.

Unveiled the week before the 1945 NU-Illinois game, "Sweet Sioux" was the winning entry, submitted by Bob Mitchell.   It isn't known for certain, but the inspiration for the entry might have been a Warner Brothers cartoon from several years before, which had the same title.  On announcing the new trophy, the Daily proclaimed, "The name of this trophy will stand for collegiate football rivalry in this school for many years.  This is a significant moment in our school record."

The story of the change from Sweet Sioux the statue to Sweet Sioux the tomahawk has always been based on the assumption that the statue was stolen from its spot at NU in 1946.  The teams, the story goes, decided to replace the statue with a tomahawk in 1947 and, when the statue resurfaced some time later, the schools opted to keep the tomahawk because it was easier to transport.

However, the Daily Northwestern's coverage at the time adds some clarifying detail to the traditional legend.  If you look closely at the statue above, it appears that the figure is holding something.  In a somewhat tongue in cheek article published the week before the 1946 game with Illinois, the Daily noted that the statue's tomahawk was missing: "[students are] looking for a missing tomahawk which sometime in the distant past was broken from the Indian's hand.  With the Illinois game only a few days away, the athletic department was aghast when they realized the perpetual trophy between Northwestern and Illinois is not complete. . . They noticed that some object had apparently been broken off the end of the handle butt which the Indian holds in its right hand. . . The Indian had no tomahawk when it was purchased."



The statue's original tomahawk, recovered
Daily Northwestern photo, from NU Archives

Days after this "incident," members of Acacia tracked down the tomahawk and decided to reunite it with the statue in a ceremony at halftime.  By that point the schools were already starting to treat the tomahawk as the central object for the rivalry.  It was decided just before the 1946 game that, no matter who won, the statue would stay at NU for the next five years, and the statue's tomahawk would become the spoils of battle.  So, for 1947 the Tomahawk was to be the central object for the rivalry.

It was only after the 1946 game that the statue itself was stolen from its showcase at NU's Patton Gym.  By then, however, it had already been "semi-retired."   A Northwestern student located the statue in November 1949.

Acacia, the fraternity which had originally discovered Sweet Sioux, reclaimed the statue.  The statue remained in the fraternity house until a 1985 fire.  It is believed that the Sweet Sioux statue was a victim of that fire.



NU Archives

Sweet Sioux Tomahawk II
(1947 - c. 1970)

Strangely, the Tomahawk series did not use the very same tomahawk that belonged with the statue.*  Instead, the tomahawk shown above was used.  For the early years in the series, the scores were engraved directly on the polished plate attached to the blade. 

This trophy was used until the late sixties.  By 1972, it was no longer around (its disappearance possibly happened earlier, around 1970).  What happened to this version of the tomahawk?  Another rivalry trophy mystery...



NU Archives

Sweet Sioux Tomahawk III
(c. 1970 - 2008)

At some point between 1969 and 1972, the Sweet Sioux became a framed representation of a tomahawk, with the scores of the NU - Illinois series engraved on a plate, rather than on the tomahawk itself.  The tomahawk in the frame was new (clearly not the same as Tomahawk II).  The odd little trophy lasted longer than any other version.

By 2007, the NCAA had required that the University of Illinois eliminate all use of Native American icons and symbols.   That included the team's mascot, Chief Illiniwek.  In 2008 the NCAA expanded its decision to include the Sweet Sioux Trophy.  The schools announced the week before the 2008 NU-Illinois game that the Tomahawk would be retired after the game and, regardless who won, would rest at Northwestern for good.  NU won the final game of the series, 27-10.



Land of Lincoln Trophy
(2009 -   )

The trophy's debut at Northwestern, November 10, 2009.  Chicago Tribune photo


After Sweet Sioux was retired, NU and Illinois announced that the schools would hold a contest to determine a successor trophy.  Four finalist candidates were chosen for the contest (including The Graham-Grange Fire Bell, which was submitted by HailToPurple.com). The winning entry was the Land of Lincoln Trophy.

The winning entry described the Land of Lincoln Trophy as a representation of Lincoln's stove pipe hat, fixed to a wooden base.  The schools gave the concept to Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Dick Locher, who designed the trophy.  Locher, a well-known editorial cartoonist and Naperville resident, served for years as the artist of the Dick Tracy comics.

Since NU won the final battle for Sweet Sioux, the new trophy was delivered to Evanston, and NU will bring it with them to Champaign for the inaugural game on November 14.







*The original tomahawk might have been stolen in November 1946, along with the statue; if it was, it does not appear to have been returned with the statue:

Daily Northwestern photo, from NU Archives