SALT LAKE CITY — Four years ago I took a road trip at the behest of a reader. I didn’t have to catch a parking shuttle or go through a security check. Rather, I drove nonstop to Eden, Weber County, to find a trophy the reader said was there.
Sure enough, high in the hushed forest, at a vacant summer camp, was a freestanding bell with the faint inscription “Trotsall Trophy.” The bell was vandalized and weather-beaten.
At one time it was a symbol of football sovereignty between the University of Utah and Denver University. Now it’s the symbol of a dead rivalry. Denver doesn’t even play football. The bell is used to call campers to dinner.
That was when it occurred to me that while instate rivalry games may or may not survive the realignment era, rivalry trophies are definitely on the fade.
It’s likely that someday the Beehive Boot, “symbol of instate football supremacy” in Utah, will be someone’s hat rack. All it takes is a few years of inactivity and a prized symbol can become like a grade-school crush — you remember it, but it no longer matters.
Team media guides used to routinely include a section on the Boot, a century-old pioneer lace-up that was donated by a Cache Valley antique dealer. When media guides started getting smaller due to production costs, the Boot bios disappeared.
Now it’s just a press release footnote on instate game weeks.
The Beehive Boot started in 1971, when the public relations people at Utah’s four biggest colleges met at Fort Douglas Country Club and decided to declare an annual winner. That worked fairly well for several decades because Utah, BYU and Utah State played each other annually. Weber State was the wild card. Games against Weber counted on the overall tally until the early ‘80s, but since the Wildcats didn’t play the bigger schools as often — and have only one all-time win against their three instate opponents (USU in 1978) — they were just a variable.
BYU has won 22, Utah 12 and USU eight Beehive Boots. The Aggies went into this season having won two of the last three. But nowadays it’s getting complicated. With Utah and BYU about to take a two-year hiatus, and future games between Utah and USU in doubt (they have only 2015 scheduled), it could become hard to play enough instate games to declare a winner.
On years when there is a tie — such as last year — a media vote decides. USU was elected Boot winner all four times a vote was required.
Al Gore should be so lucky.
So Saturday’s Utah-Weber State game doesn’t mean much in terms of instate trophies. That’s too bad, because this year has more Beehive Boot-ability than ever. Utah and Utah State have already played one another and they also play BYU and Weber. Only one other time (1978) has two teams (Utah State, Utah) played three instate games.
Nevertheless, the Boot is probably due for retirement. It’s currently in the Laub Complex at USU. But getting the trophy to the winner each year is another matter, since there has never been a formal exchange process. Occasionally it didn’t get passed along in time for the next season.
Other times there was no lag period. When Utah beat BYU in 1978 — its first win over the Cougars in seven years — coach Wayne Howard dispatched sports information director Bruce Woodbury to Provo the next day so they could use the Boot at a booster club luncheon on Monday.
“I’ve got to have that boot,” Howard insisted.
Apparently so, because the Utes won again the next week against Utah State.
Nowadays some players look quizzically when asked about the Boot because they’ve never heard of it.
Either way, Saturday’s Utah-Weber State game again won’t count on the official tally. It will only serve as a reminder of instate rivalries, nothing official. Meanwhile, just making sure Utah, BYU and USU continue scheduling one another will be an ongoing challenge. The traveling trophy could end up going the way of the Trotsall Trophy. Which is too bad.
It would be a shame to see that much history be given the boot.
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