The NHL playoffs started on April 30. On June 8, the Chicago Blackhawks topped the L.A. Kings in overtime to…send Chicago to the Stanley Cup finals, ensuring at least two, and possibly three more weeks of hockey. It took until June 24 for the Blackhawks to dispatch of the Boston Bruins and claim another section of engravings on the Cup.
Hockey fans wouldn’t have it any other way, because the payoff is so sweet. That payoff, of course, is Lord Stanley’s Cup, which has been around in one incarnation or another since 1892. That fact alone makes the Stanley Cup one of the best trophies in sports.
Here’s my list of the 10 greatest trophies in the sporting world. They’re all not a “trophy” in the most literal sense, but they all fall into the dictionary definition of a trophy being “something gained or given in victory or conquest.” I graded the trophies on a scale of 1 through 10 on aesthetics, history, and the difficulty in obtaining each.
10. Borg-Warner Trophy, Indianapolis 500 winner
Aesthetics: 5 History: 8 Difficulty: 7
The trophy given to the winner of the Indianapolis 500 is equal parts ugly and unique. The Borg-Warner trophy made its debut in 1936, and since that year, the trophy has featured a bas-relief of the winning driver’s face. That’s what makes this trophy a one-of-a-kind relic, but unique doesn’t automatically mean beautiful. The Indy 500 is a challenging open-wheel race that’s held every year, and three different men – A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears – hold the record for wins with four.
9. NCAA basketball trophy and net
Aesthetics: 7 History: 7 Difficulty: 8
The tradition of winning teams cutting down the nets after winning a basketball tournament dates back to the 1920s, a tradition that started – go figure – in the Hoosier State of Indiana. For collegiate basketball players, there is no prettier picture than the frayed ends of a cut-down net set against the traditional, simplistic wood paneling and gold plating of the NCAA championship trophy. The trophy that the basketball team wins is the same as in all of the other sports, but there’s something to be said about incorporating a part of the playing field in with what the team earns for winning. The difficulty level is high as well. Outlasting a field of 64 (or 68) is not always an accomplishment completed by the best team in the country, but rather the team playing the best basketball in March and early April.
8. Lombardi Trophy, NFL champion
Aesthetics: 8 History: 7 Difficulty: 7
The trophy has only been named after legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi since 1970, but has been awarded since the league’s first Super Bowl in 1967. The trophy is beautiful and simple and a new trophy is constructed every year by Tiffany and Co. All things considered, the trophy is relatively small, standing just 22 inches tall and weighing seven pounds, but the grind of 16 regular season NFL games and three or four playoff games makes for a sweet payoff for the Super Bowl Champion.
7. Heisman Trophy
Aesthetics: 7 History: 8 Difficulty: 8
It’s one of the few statues in all of sports where winners can mimic the pose depicted, the Heisman Memorial Trophy has been awarded to the most outstanding player in college football each year since 1935. Originally known as the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy, the award was named after John W. Heisman after his death in 1936. The cast-bronze statue stands 13.5 inches tall and weighs 25 pounds, and only one player, Ohio State’s Archie Griffin, has ever won two Heisman Trophy awards (1974 and 1975).
6. Green jacket, Masters champion
Aesthetics: 9 History: 7 Difficulty: 7
Golf has its fair share of trophies, but its most prestigious award isn’t a trophy in the traditional sense. Until 1949, only members of Augusta National were given green jackets, until Sam Snead received on for winning that year’s Masters. Since then, each winner has become an honorary member of the club, and has been presented with a custom-tailored jacket that he is allowed to keep for a calendar year. After that point, the jacket remains at Augusta.
5. Title belt, Heavyweight boxing champion
Aesthetics: 7 History: 9 Difficulty: 8
The traditional of awarding a title belt to boxing’s heavyweight champion dates back to 1887, when the city of Boston wanted to award native son John L. Sullivan with an elaborate diamond-encrusted, gold-plated belt with the inscription “Presented to the Champion of Champions, John L. Sullivan, by the Citizens of the United States.” There has not been a true unified heavyweight champion since Mike Tyson in 1989, but the uniqueness, as well as the infrequency that it is awarded, that elevates the prestige of heavyweight title belts to one of the highest in sport.
4. Bed of roses, Kentucky Derby champion
Aesthetics: 8 History: 8 Difficulty: 8
One of the most beautiful prizes in all of sports also “stems” from one of the oldest traditions. The red rose became the official flower of the Kentucky Derby in 1904, but the first bed of roses was presented to the winning jockey, Ben Brush, in 1896. The race was unofficially dubbed the “Run for the Roses” by sports columnist Bill Corum and the bed of roses has appeared in the same manner as it does today every year since 1932. The bed of roses is made up of more than 400 roses, and has been produced by the Kroger Company since 1987.
3. World Cup trophy
Aesthetics: 8 History: 7 Difficulty: 9
One of the few trophies to not be awarded on an annual basis, the winner of the World Cup trophy must survive two-plus years of qualifying before running the gauntlet in a 32-team tournament held every four years. The journey is long but the payoff is sweet: the FIFA World Cup trophy. Originally commissioned in 1946 and named after the “founding father of the FIFA World Cup” Jules Rimet, the trophy has since been altered with the current edition awarded since 1974. The trophy is made of 18-karat gold, stands 14.5 inches high and weighs just shy of 17 pounds. The winning country does not get to keep the trophy, as it remains a possession of FIFA.
2. Gold medal, Olympic games
Aesthetics: 8 History: 9 Difficulty: 9
It’s hard to compete with the beauty and simplicity of the gold medal, awarded to the winner of each event at the Olympic games. Medals have been awarded at the Olympics since 1896, but the last year to award solid-gold medals to the winners was 1912. The Olympics are conceptually a simple event, the exist to determine the fastest, strongest and best in each event, and the prize for doing so is simple as well. Each Olympic games designs a new medallion, but the prestige and history remain intact for each Olympiad.
1. Stanley Cup, NHL champion
Aesthetics: 10 History: 10 Difficulty: 8
The perfection that is Lord Stanley’s Cup is unrivaled in the rest of sport. The grueling playoff structure that the National Hockey League forces its teams to partake in are rewarded by lifting the lightest 34.5 pounds a hockey player will ever pick up. First commissioned in 1893 to award to the champion of the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada, the names of the winning team members have been added to the silver and nickel alloy cup every year since. The Stanley Cup maintains is current dimensions of being 35.25 inches high with a diameter just shy of 11.5 inches by removing a band from the cup once it is filled with names. The tradition of each member of the winning franchise getting to “spend a day with the Cup” helps to vault the status of the Stanley Cup even higher into sports lore.