SALT LAKE CITY — I wasn't in every post-game locker room or press conference for the past 37 years, but as far as I know, no college basketball coach in Utah — or elsewhere — has ever uttered the words "Old Oquirrh Bucket."
As in "We really need a win tonight because the Old Oquirrh Bucket is on the line."
I always figured winning was enough, and a copper bucket wasn't going to add incentive. But what do I know? My playing career ended before I started shaving.
The Deseret News reported this week that the symbol of instate hoop supremacy is being retired. After nearly four decades, the Bucket is following coaches like Frank Arnold, Jerry Pimm, Rod Tueller and Ron Abegglen into the sunset. Changes in the basketball landscape — primarily Utah going to the Pac-10 and BYU to the WCAC — have forced the Bucket into early retirement. It's now free to drive around in a big RV and dine on the Early Bird Special.
Henceforth, the Bucket will rest in the Utah Sports Hall of Fame trophy case, a symbol of an era when those sorts of things meant a lot. I never did figure out why people liked them. I doubt players from any of Utah's instate teams got together the night before a game and said, "We've got to win this one, guys. It's for the Bucket!"
I never even had anyone ask me: "Who do you think is going to win the Old Oquirrh Bucket this year?"
So who was the Bucket for?
I can only assume the Bucket was for the fans, but I never heard fans mention it, either, even when the media referenced it. I doubt anyone ever made a special trip to the trophy case at the Huntsman Center, the Spectrum, the Dee Center or the Marriott Center to look it over. I suspect it mostly stayed in whatever display case it happened to land, for a few years at a time, until somebody remembered to move it.
Utah isn't the only place with such traditions. There's the Apple Cup, symbol of football supremacy between Washington and Washington State, and the Little Brown Jug of Michigan-Minnesota fame. Utah also has a football version, called the Beehive Boot, which I can only assume will be retired for the same reason as the Bucket.
Mostly such things are the brainchild of sports publicity people at the schools, but over time, rivalries fade or die completely. In 2009, on a tip from a reader, I drove to an LDS Church summer camp in Eden, Utah to see a bell that commemorated the Utah-Denver football series, called the Trotsall Trophy. Those teams haven't met in football in 50 years. When they stopped playing, the bell stayed in the display case. But when the Ute athletic offices moved from the Einar Nielsen Field House house to the Huntsman Center, someone apparently took the trophy home. Eventually it ended up at the camp, where today it is used to call people to meals.
That doesn't bode well for the Old Oquirrh Bucket, which might someday become a planter in someone's yard.
Nowadays, there's a different rivalry tenor and it's more about (surprise!) corporate money than anything. Utah and BYU have been promoting the "Deseret First Duel" for several years, sponsored by the credit union. It tracks the success of Utah and BYU athletic programs against one another.
Coaches and players don't ever bring that up, either.
Still, that doesn't keep the schools from using the logo as a backdrop for press conferences.
I imagine things will be fine without the Bucket, and that the publicity people will privately be relieved. It's one less thing they have to do.
In one sense, the Bucket's retirement marks the passing of an era. If the teams seldom play, why have a trophy?
In another sense, it also illustrates a marketing sign of the times: It's only a reward if someone knows you won it.
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