What Dat? Dat is the Super Bowl trophy won by the New Orleans Saints last night. It started in 1966 on a cocktail napkin–a humble beginning for the Vince Lombardi Super Bowl Trophy, one of the world’s most prestigious sports awards. The scene was a luncheon attended by both Pete Rozelle, then-commissioner of the National Football League, and a vice president of a prominent Jeweler in New York, N.Y.
The jeweler sketched it extremely quickly. “And that sketch became an icon of modern-day sports–the symbol for what no one knew at the time would be one of today’s most popular sporting events.”
The first Super Bowl, called the AFL/NFL World Championship Game, was played in January following the 1966 football season. At that time, the game was a contest between the champions of the National Football League and the American Football League. Around the third championship game, the media started calling it the Super Bowl, a title coined by Lamar Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs and founder of the AFL. He thought of the name after seeing his daughter playing with a toy rubber ball called a superball.
After Super Bowl IV, the two leagues merged into one under the NFL name, with teams divided into two conferences: the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). The Super Bowl is now a match between the two conference champions.
Test of Time
The actual design of the Super Bowl trophy was nearly identical to the first sketch. And since the first one was made in 1966, that design hasn’t changed one iota. “That’s one of the secrets of the trophy’s success and durability”. “It’s always been the same, which makes it instantly recognizable.”
It was dubbed the Vince Lombardi Trophy in 1970, just before Super Bowl V. Lombardi–who died of cancer on Sept. 3, 1970, at the age of 57–was a well respected coach who had led the Green Bay Packers to victory in the first two Super Bowls.
The trophy is a perfect blend of modern and traditional. Made entirely of sterling silver, it depicts a regulation football atop what resembles an elongated kicking tee–a plinth with three tapered, concave sides. “It’s a traditional football, modernized by the sculpted triangular base”. At least 72 hours of labor are required each year to manufacture the trophy. “It’s done entirely by hand”. “It’s hand spun, hand assembled, hand hammered into the base, hand engraved and hand chased.”
Because the trophy uses a heavy gauge of silver that is difficult to bend and shape, the manufacturing process demands great expertise. First a spinner places onto a lathe a wooden chuck carved into the shape of half a football. A thick sheet of silver is placed on the chuck. With forming tools, it’s spun until it assumes the shape of the chuck. After both halves are formed, they are soldered together to form the ball. “They are joined so perfectly that there’s no evidence of a seam.” Then a silversmith hand chases the seams and laces onto the ball so that it resembles an actual football. The base is formed from sheet stock, which is hand hammered and soldered. The football is attached by a silver rod that comes up through the base and is secured by silver nuts and bolts. “It has to be sturdy enough to hold up under handling by those ‘little’ football players.” During the manufacturing process, the trophy must be annealed five or six times because the repeated hammering hardens the surface. The annealing loosens the bonding of the molecules in the silver, allowing it to be shaped.
After the trophy is complete, the NFL symbol and the Super Bowl number are hand engraved into a sheet stock of silver, which is applied to the base. When finished, the Lombardi stands 20-3/4 inches tall and weighs about seven pounds. And while it’s officially valued at $10,000 (1998), it’s a priceless symbol of hard-earned victory for the players and their fans. “The trophies are a great source of pride here,” says Ann Dabeck, administrative assistant for the Green Bay Packers, who won trophies from the first two Super Bowls, as well as the 1996 championship.
Taking It Home
Green Bay is one of only 12 teams in the NFL–out of a total of 30–that has earned the title of Super Bowl champion. Of those 12, eight are multiple winners. The Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers tie for the most wins with five apiece. Immediately following a Super Bowl victory, the NFL Commissioner presents the winning team with the trophy. Sometimes it is slightly damaged in the champagne celebration. “We always have an extra in case a catastrophe occurs, but so far nothing major has ever happened.” The trophy is then returned to the manufacturer for any repairs and the engraving of the team names and the final score onto the base. Then it goes back to the team for permanent possession.
The teams are free to display the trophies where they want, so they end up in a variety of places. Until recently, Green Bay’s trophy from Super Bowl I was on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Now the Hall of Fame has a copy of the trophy, while all three of the Packer’s awards are housed behind glass in the entrance of its administrative offices, next to its pro shop. The number of fans who come to see the trophies increased greatly after the team’s 1996 win, Dabeck says.
The Dallas Cowboys’ five Lombardis are on public display only once a year at the State Fair of Texas in Dallas. The rest of the year they are kept in the office of Jerry Jones, the team’s owner. The 49ers display their five awards in the lobby of the team’s administrative offices in Santa Clara, Calif. The team’s marketing department occasionally takes the trophies on “field trips” such as luncheons and other promotional events.
Only one championship team doesn’t have its original trophy. The Baltimore Colts (who moved to Indianapolis in 1984) had to order a copy of the Lombardi from Tiffany’s after Carroll Rosenbloom–who owned the team when it won Super Bowl V–took the trophy with him when he traded the Colts for the Los Angeles Rams. Although the Colts are now in Indianapolis, the team’s copy of the trophy is still on display in Baltimore.
In addition to the trophy, the individual players on the championship team receive custom-designed rings and a cash award, which currently is $48,000, says Pete Fierle, information services manager for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Each player on the losing team receives $29,000–quite a hike from Super Bowl I in which players from the victorious Green Bay Packers each got $15,000, while the losing Kansas City Chiefs received $7,000 apiece.
But for most players, the monetary awards that accompany a Super Bowl victory are secondary to the thrill of achieving the title of world champion. And after 32 years, the Vince Lombardi Trophy still stands as a sterling testimony to that accomplishment. “It’s a wonderful iconographic symbol of sports in modern times.”
© 1998, Awards and Recognition Association
A Lombardi Trophy fun fact from Steve Sabol, President of NFL films: Sabol’s memory from the first Super Bowl was that League officials wanted to take the winning trophy to New York to be engraved, but Vince Lombardi, the winning coach of the Green Bay Packers, insisted that he was taking it back to Green Bay to show his “stockholders”. Mr. Sabol said “after he showed it to the stockholders, the Packers sent the trophy to New York to be engraved, but sent it in a regular cardboard box, and it was destroyed.” The manufacturer of the trophy had to remake the first Super Bowl trophy ever won, and “the League was mad at the Packers”. A custom carrying and shipping case was designed and now in use to prevent this mishap from occuring in the future.