Suggestion for a
Sweet Sioux Replacement

(Updates at bottom of page)

After the NCAA forced the University of Illinois to terminate the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk Trophy series with Northwestern, the two schools announced that the 2008 game would be the last of the series, and that the schools would soon initiate a search to produce a new trophy for the Wildcat - Illini series.

While I'm personally disappointed by the NCAA's decision, and I find it an overreaction, I respect the way Illinois and Northwestern have handled this situation.  I hope they find a new trophy that befits the schools and their traditions.

Here is a suggestion for a trophy to replace Sweet Sioux.  Presenting:

The Graham-Grange Trophy series would begin in 2009, but it would have a bedrock of tradition dating back decades.


The name of the suggested trophy is based on the names of the greatest players in the history of Northwestern and Illinois football.

In 2008 ESPN named Red Grange the greatest college football player of all time.  Grange, the Galloping Ghost, helped Illinois achieve an undefeated season in 1923.  In the 1924 debut of Illinois's Memorial Stadium against Michigan, Grange returned the opening kickoff 95 yards and eventually scored six touchdowns.  Grange was a three-time All-American, and Illinois retired his number the year he left.

Grange and Graham

Otto Graham's debut at Dyche Stadium was also a sensation.  Against Kansas State, Graham took the field and returned a K-State punt 94 yards for the score.  Over the course of the next three seasons, Graham would break every Big Ten passing record then being kept.  Graham won two football All-American titles, in addition to one in basketball.

It is my understanding that no current college football series in the nation has a trophy named in this fashion, so it will add a unique aspect to this tradition.


The trophy as proposed would be a medium-sized, hand-struck fire bell.  Why?  Well, it turns out that Northwestern and Illinois did not begin their trophy series in 1947, with the introduction of the Tomahawk, nor did the trophy series begin in 1945, with the original Sweet Sioux Statue.  The two teams' first attempt at a trophy series came in 1941, and it began with an antique fire bell. 

Before the November 22, 1941 meeting between NU and Illinois at Dyche Stadium, Northwestern announced that it would honor outgoing Illini Coach Bob Zuppke with a silver plaque.  Then, according to 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.

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.

That much of the Fire Bell's history is certain.  NU and Illinois split the first two contests.  I have not researched enough material to reveal what became of the original Bell, nor if the Bell was contested in the 1943 and 1944 games between NU and Illinois.  What is known is that by 1945 the Bell was gone, and NU and Illinois moved on to Sweet Sioux.

It is time to move back.  Northwestern and Illinois should again recognize the Fire Bell series from 1941 and should immediately begin a search for a new Bell for the series.  Once a new Bell is procured, the schools should engrave it with the names and likenesses of their two greatest players. 

Since Northwestern won the final Sweet Sioux game, NU should be in possession of the Bell before the 2009 game.  This is convenient, since Northwestern conducts its preseason practices in Kenosha.  Since the original Bell hailed from Wisconsin, it would be fitting to christen the Bell at the close of Camp Kenosha.

The current possessor of the Bell would maintain it on the team's sideline during the NU-Illinois game.  The only time the Bell would be struck would be immediately before the opening kickoff, and after every score by the possessing team.  Possession of the Bell would be relinquished to the winning team the moment the game ends.

The proposed Graham-Grange Trophy would be built on an existing historical basis, it would honor the best of both schools, and it would be free from any possible controversy.  Hopefully this proposal will interest both schools.

Updates to the Original Post

April 28, 2009:
NU and Illinois announced that the winning idea to replace the Sweet Sioux Trophy is the Land of Lincoln Trophy.  The Land of Lincoln Trophy was originally described as being Lincoln's hat.  The schools' statement, however, makes no mention of the form of the trophy.

Many thanks to those who supported the Graham-Grange Fire Bell!  The research, however, will continue to determine the fate of the original Bell...

April 14, 2009:
It now seems that the fate of the original 1941 Fire Bell might never be known.  The University of Illinois also has no record at all of what happened to the trophy after NU handed it over to the Illini in December 1942: "[U. of I. archivists] looked at over half a dozen possible sources at both our archives locations here on campus and not come across anything to explain why the trophy was no longer used or what happened to it."

April 5, 2009:
Some additional details have emerged about the original Fire Bell.  From an A.P. story, the LaCrosse, Wis. Tribune reported on November 20, 1941 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."

April 1, 2009:
ESPN's Adam Rittenberg has weighed in on the Sweet Sioux replacement vote, and has endorsed the Fire Bell!

March 31, 2009:
NU and the University of Illinois announced the four candidates for a replacement for the Sweet Sioux Trophy.  The Graham-Grange Fire Bell Trophy is one of the four, along with:
  • The President's Cup (described below) - Recognizing the four presidents associated with the state of Illinois ­ Lincoln, Grant, Reagan and Obama.
  • The Land of Lincoln Trophy ­- A replica of Lincoln's stove pipe hat mounted on a piece of White Oak (Illinois' state tree).
  • The Popcorn Bowl - Named after the Illinois state snack.

Fans can vote for their favorite candidate until April 15.  The schools will announce the replacement around April 25.

January 3, 2009:
There aren't yet very many alternative replacement ideas for Sweet Sioux showing up on the Internet (aside from a few sarcastic or tongue in cheek suggestions).  Perhaps the most serious replacement idea comes from Illini Internet Talk Radio Host Scott Gendell (Mr. G on Talking Illini).  His idea is the President's Cup Trophy.  Here, as I see them, are the pros and cons to this idea.

  • Fairly advanced, and attractive, design stage and a lot of high-end press.
  • Apparently has the endorsement of Illinois's chancellor.
  • Does not necessarily favor one school's tradition vs. the other.
  • While a nice tribute to the state of Illinois, no direct connection to either U of I or NU.
  • No roots in historical tradition for either team.
  • Political -- and therefore, potentially controversial -- basis could be an obstacle, especially since the design features a sitting president.

December 20, 2008: Still no conclusive information as to the fate of the original Fire Bell.  In every article I've uncovered so far about the 1943 and 1944 games between NU and Illinois, there is no mention whatsoever about the Bell (as opposed to both the 1941 and 1942 games; nearly every article at the time written about those games makes mention of the Bell).

During the leadup to the 1945 game, there is a lot of coverage for the new Sweet Sioux trophy, but no mention of the previous trophy, from just three (or fewer) years before. 

It certainly appears that the Bell was not in contention by '43, but the search continues...

December 12, 2008: Here is a picture of the Original NU - Illinois Fire Bell!

The photo above is from the Chicago Daily News, just before the November 1941 NU - Illinois game.  While the image is of very poor quality (coming from a paper printout of a microfilm copy), it does give a general idea of the size and features of the original Illinois - Northwestern Fire Bell.  The suggested Graham-Grange Trophy replacement bell would likely be at least twice the size of the old bell.

In the center of the image, holding the bell, is R.J. Erdlitz, the donor of the bell.  At the left is Doug Mills, the Illinois athletic director.  At right is Tug Wilson, NU's athletic director.  A couple of years later, Wilson would leave NU to become Big Ten commissioner.

November 25, 2008:
Pictured below is the program from the game that introduced the original NU-Illinois Fire Bell.  Ironically, the program features-- in addition to a Wildcat and an Illini-- a tomahawk.

1941: The final year for legendary Illinois Coach Bob Zuppke,
and the first year as a Wildcat player for Otto Graham.