The ugliest trophy in college sports appears on ESPN.
Jim Cella, sports information director for Cobber athletics, had a challenge in mid-September.
All eyes were across the river as ESPN’s “College GameDay” was scheduled to broadcast live to hype North Dakota State University Bison football. Cella wanted some of that national media interest to find its way to the Cobber football game with St. Olaf on Sept. 21.
Cella found his solution in the office of football coach Terry Horan – the Troll Trophy that goes to the winner of the Cobber-Ole game each year.
“You gotta go with something quirky,” Cella says.
Cella began by tweeting “GameDay” host Chris Fowler about the troll, noting that ESPN frequently recognizes Cobbers as a top 10 nickname and Kernel as a fun mascot.
Fowler tweeted back: Tell me more.
And quickly, the ugliest trophy in college sports inspired national interest in the once semi-obscure Lefse Bowl between two schools of Norwegian heritage.
The Troll Trophy was introduced nearly 40 years ago as a way to welcome St. Olaf back into the conference and to gain exposure for the rivalry. The Cobbers asked John Proitz, Norway’s pre-eminent troll artist, to create it. Proitz used all natural materials, like moss gathered from trees near Lillehammer, to build the unusual but authentic Nordic folk icon.
Finally, late the night before the game, Cella received confirmation – bring the troll and a one-page history of it to the “GameDay” set in downtown Fargo at 5 a.m. Saturday.
Cella hung out with the ESPN crew as the national show unfolded. At the start of the show’s second hour, he saw Fowler put the troll on his desk in front of the cameras where a television audience of several million saw it.
Fowler explained that this most crazy and ugly trophy was awarded to the winner of the annual Concordia and St. Olaf football game. His three co-hosts seemed to stare in disbelief.
“That was the most surreal moment,” says Cella. “The only thing that topped that was Fowler holding Niblet, our miniature Kernel mascot, as they picked the Cobbers to win the game.”
During a commercial break, Fowler waived Cella onto the set.
“Everybody wanted a picture with the troll,” he says. “I had a hard time getting out of there so many people wanted to see it.”
After a 33-29 Cobber victory, the “ugliest trophy in college sports” once again sits in Coach Horan’s office.
“I don’t think it’s so ugly,” Horan says. “If it’s in my office it means good things have happened.”