As I was watching the St. Louis Cardinals cap their unlikely run to be Major League Baseball's champions, I had one thought: "What a lame trophy."
Sorry, MLB fans. The Commissioner's Trophy just doesn't hold a candle to the Stanley Cup. The Lombardi Trophy, while it makes a better effort, also falls short. The O'Brien trophy (NBA) doesn't even bear mentioning.
Lord Stanley's Cup is the oldest, most storied trophy in professional sports. It is filled with tradition, lore, history and class.
Here are a few reasons that none of the other major sports' championship hardware can touch the trophy awarded to the champions of the National Hockey League.
It sounds simple enough. But seriously, you get your name on it. Every player to have won the cup in the history of the NHL, plus many from years prior to the NHL's existence, has their name engraved on the piece of hardware they won.
Victorious players can look back through the list of names who have held the cup before them and feel a part of a rich history. They see the names of players they idolized growing up as they themselves hoist the same trophy above their heads. Fans can search the rings for their team and remember the year they brought the championship home.
It creates a connection and remembrance that you don't get anywhere else.
The original Stanley Cup was donated in 1892 by Lord Stanley (the Governor General of Canada) to be presented to the winner of the Dominion Cup. The NHL didn't even play its first season until 1917. By then, the Stanley Cup had been associated with championship hockey for a quarter of a century.
Lord Stanley's bowl was 75 years old by the time the Commissioner's Trophy (MLB) and the Lombardi Trophy (NFL) were first awarded. Stanley purchased the cup for a little over $1,000 in today's currency.
One of the great traditions of the NHL is that everyone who has his name on the cup gets to take the cup home with him for a day. What happens from there is where the stories come from.
It has found many uses while in the care of the NHL's players, coaches and managers. The cup has been used as everything from a flower pot to a baptismal. It has been a cooler, a champagne bowl, a urinal and a lawn ornament.
The cup has also traveled the world, including a trip into a live combat zone in Afghanistan in 2007. It apparently came under rocket-propelled grenade fire, but escaped with no injuries.
Like many of us, the Stanley Cup hasn't always been treated well. This is just a sampling of some of the adventures the NHL's crown jewel has been on:
In 1905, it was drop-kicked into the Rideau Canal in Ottawa.
In 1924, members of the champion Montreal Canadiens left the cup in a snowbank on the side of the road after taking it out of the trunk to change a flat tire.
It has been to the bottom of multiple swimming pools, including Patrick Roy's after the Canadiens again won the cup in 1993. This incident prompted a genius level observation from captain Guy Carbonneau. "The Stanley Cup does not float," he astutely observed.
It has been stolen on multiple occasions, mysteriously finding its way home again each time.
You don't get these types of stories with trophies that are remade every year by Tiffany & Co. and put in glass display cases for the rest of their lives.
One of the things that I found annoying as I watched the Commissioner's Trophy awarded to the St. Louis Cardinals this year is the length of time it took for the trophy to get from the commissioner to the players who had earned it.
It first had to pass through the owners, managers and a number of other suits before a player got a finger on it.
The NHL does things a little differently. The Stanley Cup passes straight from the NHL's commissioner to the captain of the victorious team. This move outclasses all of the other major sports leagues that do not follow this practice.
It also makes possible those epic moments where the captain gets to hand it off to another deserving player, such as the moment between Joe Sakic and Ray Bourque after the Colorado Avalanche won the cup in 2001. Bourque had requested a trade from his beloved Bruins just to have a shot to cap his storied career with a Stanley Cup ring. Sakic passed on his right as captain to hoist the cup, instead passing the hardware straight to Bourque. This photo will go down in sports history.
How many photos of NFL owners accepting trophies share the same emotion and fame?
If you have a few minutes, here is a great video interview with Mike Bolt, one of the Hockey Hall of Fame's "keepers of the cup" who travel everywhere with the trophy. He has some great stories and insight into the travels of Lord Stanley's hardware.
The Stanley Cup is a true champion's trophy. It has come from humble origins to bear the names and records of the majority of the greatest hockey players and teams from the past century. You can't buy that type of history.
Trophies from the NFL, NBA and MLB, great as they are, will always be envious of the silver bowl that every hockey player dreams of hoisting.