A Fan's Notes: Old Glory

Jun 12, 2015

“Take the crown”…“Win the cup”…“Raise the trophy.” Sometimes the sports fan’s ultimate dream—a championship—does come true. But old trophies can lose their shine, and even the thrill of victory has a statute of limitations, as Victor Wishna explains in “A Fan’s Notes.”

By now you’ve probably heard: The Chiefs won the Super Bowl!

They did. Of course, I mean Super Bowl IV. Sure, that was, like, XLV super bowls ago, but still you’ve likely seen the billboards around town, or the 50-foot banners hanging from Union Station. A new attraction called “Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame” is spending the summer there. And the marquee idol and centerpiece of the exhibition—its Hope Diamond, if you will—is the 22-inch trinket of sterling silver that the Kansas City Chiefs won in 1970. As Union Station President and CEO George Guastello put it, “When you go into that room and see the Lombardi Trophy…it’ll take your breath away.” There, it sits on an illuminated altar, protected by shatterproof acrylic, security cams, and what I imagine as a crisscrossing web of invisible laser beams.

In this everybody-wins age of kindergarten graduation ceremonies and participation medals, sports fans still know the difference between an empty accolade and a holy grail.

Trophies have come a long way from the laurel wreaths handed out at the first Olympic Games. They’ve gotten shinier, and more civilized—the word “trophy” itself derives from an Old French term meaning “a prize of war.” Today, trophies take all forms, many of them culinary—cups, plates, bowls, and, yes, the occasional chalice.

The Lombardi, a seven-pound statuette of a regulation NFL football, is among the most expensive. Produced by Tiffany & Co., it costs about $50,000—or roughly one day’s salary for Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith.

But that’s the whole, noble idea: it’s not about the money, because, with the exception of international soccer perhaps, money isn’t enough. You can’t walk into Tiffany’s, or anywhere else, and just buy a championship prize. It’s value lies not in what it’s worth, but what it signifies.

And therein rests the complicated tension between “Look what we did!” and “Well, what have you done for me lately?” Nostalgia is a powerful drug, but so is the withdrawal.

In the larger sports world, this is the peak of awards season, from the Triple Crown to the Stanley Cup, to the NBA Finals to the Women’s World Cup. Kansas City even got to welcome 13-year-old Vanya Shivashankar and her Scripps National Spelling Bee trophy back to town.

Otherwise, around here, it’s been slim pickings. Even though things are looking up, the New York Times was charitable enough this week to include Kansas City in its list of “The Most Cursed Sports Cities in America,” a reminder that when it comes to big-four championships, we’re still right up there with Cleveland and Buffalo and Oakland.

That’s the problem with glory—it always fades, unless it’s renewed. Without the adrenaline of the next victory, a trophy becomes a memento, which is halfway to a relic. Prizes like the Chiefs’ Lombardi are polished, handled with cloth gloves, and kept under glass because, otherwise, they might start to collect dust. And we don’t need any more signs of just how long it’s been.

That’s also why the Royals chose last October to trot out the ’85 World Series crown for a new exhibit at their own Hall of Fame at Kauffman Stadium. It’s a lot more fun to look at old trophies when you think you might just win another one. Because the shine of even the brightest diamond is no match for the glimmer of hope.