The Nickel Trophy

The college football rivalry that existed for decades between North Dakota State and North Dakota was perhaps one of the best in the nation. Each fall the football teams representing these two institutions would meet on the playing field, and the winner would have earned state wide bragging rights for the upcoming year. The game was, without a doubt, the largest sporting event to occur in North Dakota each year, and it provided football fans of all ages lots to talk about in the weeks leading up to the annual battle.

Any good rivalry has to have a traveling trophy that can be flaunted in the faces of the losers, and this rivalry was no different. A large, 75 pound piece of metal was fashioned into the likeness of a buffalo head nickel: One side had a buffalo profile, and the other, a Native American profile. The winning school would get to display the Nickel Trophy on their campus during the school year as a testament to their football superiority. On occasion, the Nickel Trophy would be stolen in the weeks leading up to the game, but always returned so that it could be paraded around the field before and after the game by the appropriate teams.

In 2003, North Dakota won the Nickel Trophy by defeating North Dakota State in an overtime thriller, 28-21 in Grand Forks. The next year North Dakota State moved to Division I, and that’s when things got ugly. The Bison had difficulty filling their schedule that year, and were desperate for some home games. A game with UND would have been warmly welcomed, but the Sioux suddenly wanted nothing to do with their decade’s old rival; not in football, and not in any other sport either. UND athletic director Rodger Thomas said he was satisfied with his football team’s status as a Division II National Champion contender, and he added that scheduling a mediocre Division I team like NDSU would hurt his team’s chances at achieving those goals. Yes, the rivalry was over!

Now, UND has moved to Division I and needs to schedule some quality opponents, and guess what, NDSU isn’t interested in helping out. The Bison, coming off an exciting National Championship chase of their own, only at the Division I level, are suddenly in high demand as an opponent, and their schedule is now full for the next two years. The two schools are currently competing in other sports, but in football, it seems, they are still light years apart.

So where does all this leave the Nickel Trophy? The recurring message I get from Sioux fans is that they are now the sole owner of the storied piece of metal. They claim NDSU broke the relationship by moving to Division I, therefore the Nickel Trophy will always be theirs. They also claim, to a person, that even if the two schools ever do meet again in football, the Nickel Trophy won’t be at stake. The Nickel Trophy is theirs, and they aren’t giving it up.

I don’t have as much daily contact with Bison fans, living in Grand Forks, but I get the feeling that they don’t really care about the Nickel Trophy. They still have bitter feelings about the way they were ostracized in 2004, and don’t want anything to do with Sioux football. The Nickel Trophy is a symbol to Bison fans of the relationship that they feel the Sioux broke by refusing to meet them on the football field in 2004. The Nickel Trophy is a relic from the past, and the Bison believe they have moved on to bigger and better places.

Speaking of relics, isn’t it time to donate the Nickel Trophy to the North Dakota Heritage Society? Maybe they will be able to display it in a place of honor in their museum? Having it sit in a vault someplace on the UND campus is a terrible waste of the artifact’s historic significance. I am herby starting a movement that I call “Free the Nickel!” Maybe I can enlist the help of Al Carlson in writing legislation to help my cause? Wait, strike that thought: I think I’m better off without his help! Feel free to send money to help me “Free the Nickel” from its Grand Forks prison!

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