LINCOLN, Neb. — If you’re looking for the $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy, it’s in the back someplace. Probably. Maybe. We think.
“I’m pretty sure it’s somewhere here, yeah,” Nebraska tight end Trey Foster said, then paused. “I think it’s somewhere in our equipment room, yeah.”
Left of the chin straps? North of the cleats? Is it on a table? A shelf? A chair? Wait, wait, wait, wait. If the Broken Chair Trophy is resting on another broken chair, doesn’t that open up a rift in time and space, like in the “Doctor Strange” movie?
“I mean, I don’t know,” Foster shrugged. “I’m not really looking for rivalries. But they’re a good team. We’ll get ready for them.”
The Cornhuskers (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten West) host Minnesota (7-2, 4-2) in another potential Big Ten West elimination game Saturday night at Memorial Stadium, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Or, frankly, goofier.
Since October 2014, the newly christened rivals — they’ve only shared a division since 2011 — have played, unofficially, for the right to own the $5 Bits of Broken Chair:
— Goldy Gopher (@GoldytheGopher) November 21, 2014
Minnesota loves its rivalry trophies, even if it sometimes has a hell of a time hanging on to them. The Floyd of Rosedale game with Iowa might be the most famous; the Paul Bunyan’s Axe battles with Wisconsin the most intense; the tussles for the Little Brown Jug with Michigan the most one-sided (the Wolverines have won 20 of the last 22 meetings). Team Goldy also plays in the Governor’s Victory Bell with Penn State, a prize created to honor Nittany Lions’ first Big Ten game back in 1993 and … yeah, that’s mostly it.
But the Huskers thing was completely organic. Fun. No title sponsors, no university presidents, no protocol, no pomp, no agendas. Just a pretend rodent mascot and a pretend Twitter account having a damn good time and making good on an online wager:
Hey @FauxPelini, how about a friendly wager for this weekend’s game? Team that gets the most points gets a conference win? Seem fair?
— Goldy Gopher (@GoldytheGopher) November 20, 2014
@GoldytheGopher OK how about if we win you give me $5, if you win I get to smash a wooden chair over your back
— Fake Bo Pelini (@FauxPelini) November 20, 2014
.@FauxPelini just as long as we can turn that $5 or bits of broken chair into a trophy for next year’s game
— Goldy Gopher (@GoldytheGopher) November 20, 2014
So somebody … did. Which was awesome. Even more awesome: Without fanfare, without corporate backing, Goldy brought it out to the sidelines at Memorial Stadium for the Huskers-Gophers game on Nov. 22, 2014:
— Goldy Gopher (@GoldytheGopher) November 22, 2014
And carried it around:
— Peter Mortell (@PMortell1) December 1, 2014
“I just brought it over to the stands and I raised it up to the fans and they all went nuts,” Mortell, a standout punter with the Gophers from 2012-15, told Land of 10. “I honestly think they like that trophy more than some of our other trophy games. And this was not even official.”
And yet when the Huskers won in Minneapolis last October, Goldy still made a point to pass it on:
Here ya go. pic.twitter.com/gPBEotGS4z
— Brian Rosenthal (@GBRosenthal) October 17, 2015
Even Nebraska’s new coach, Mike Riley, got involved:
— Nebraska Huskers (@Huskers) October 18, 2015
All fun and games, right? And yet when Land of 10 asked a staffer at the Minnesota athletic department about it — What’s the origin story? Who really built it? Goldy? Somebody on the U’s equipment staff? Tony Stark? — this was the response:
Well, ya know, that’s interesting, given that somebody recently green-lit this commercial:
Did you catch that? Coach Tracy Claeys’ shopping list:
Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
Floyd of Rosedale.
Yup. Broken Chair. Right there. Logos and everything.
Surely that makes it official, right?
You can’t say it doesn’t exist and then stick it on a promotional video. Can you? How can something that doesn’t officially exist, you know, exist?
“It seriously looks awesome,” offered Mortell, the founder and first winner of the even more unofficial college football “Holder of the Year” award.
“It’s not heavy. You can tell someone spent a lot of time making it. It’s definitely one of the cooler-looking trophies we play for. I talk about it like a real trophy game and an official trophy game, even though it hasn’t been recognized.”
And it may never be. And that’s OK.
“I definitely didn’t envision there being, like, a physical trophy,” Mortell said. “I thought it was maybe kind of started as a kind of joke. And the more people got on board, the more seriously people took it.
“First of all, to win in Lincoln is difficult. And then also, we came back, we were down a lot and came back in the second half to win that game and go hoist the Bits of Broken Chair Trophy. That’s up there with some of my best football memories.”
Mortell says the thing weighs 20 pounds, tops, so it’s easier to lug around, than, say, a 98-pound bronze pig. The Chair’s even got its own hype video:
“It’s funny,” Foster said. “I thought it was hilarious. I was like, ‘Wow, this is a real thing. They actually did this.’”
They actually did. Although he’s never held it.
“I probably will this week, though,” Foster said.
So it’s a rivalry, then? Officially?
“I don’t know,” he said with a chuckle. “I don’t necessarily like Minnesota. But I wouldn’t say they’re a rival. I wouldn’t really say that.”
“I think it’s just something that’s going to take a little bit of time,” Mortell said. “And if it keeps swapping back and forth, the more people will see it. I think it’s got a good chance to get recognized. Which is just so funny and so cool. I think there needs to be a trophy between Minnesota and Nebraska.”
All gags side, Saturday is a personal game for Mortell — and a personal series. He was good friends with late Nebraska punter Sam Foltz, the senior-to-be who was killed in a one-car accident this past July:
— Peter Mortell (@PMortell1) July 24, 2016
Someone recently sent Mortell one of the Big Ten’s new ceremonial coins that feature Foltz and ex-Michigan State punter Mike Sadler, who also died in the crash. He’d gotten to know the pair in recent summers at Kohl’s kicking camps and usually keeps the coin within line of sight on his dashboard. A reminder. A tribute.
“I can’t tell you how many times we talked during the season, trying to help with certain things,” Mortell said.
“(The coin’s) right on the dash. It’s right up there. I flip it around every day, so I can make sure I can see both of them. I think it’s so well done, on the outlines of them, it looks so realistic. Sometimes I’ll take it out of the car and I’ll keep it in my pocket during the day. When I think about their smiles, I look down and think of the good times.”
Like a rabbit’s foot?
“Yeah,” he said. “That’s exactly what it is.”
Some mementos stick.
Others take … well, a little longer.
“It’s fun,” Foster said of the Minnesota series. “I mean, I’m not really playing for a trophy. I’m just playing to keep winning. I want to have a winning career against Minnesota. I want us to finish the season the right way, and that starts off with winning this game.”
And winning the Chair.
Mortell: “We’re running low on trophies. We definitely need it back.”
Foster: “It’s just goofy. That’s all that is. It’s just goofy.”
Although, come on. Equipment room? Really?
“I don’t know where it is. I’m not sure where it is,” Foster said. He paused again. “But I’m sure it’s here.”