When Minnesota takes on Nebraska this Saturday it will be the third time an entirely unique and completely unexpected trophy will be on the line. A trophy that we didn’t know we needed but that now deserves to be officially recognized and sanctioned by both schools. But how did it come to be?
The build-up to the Broken Chair
The story begins in late November 2014. Minnesota and Nebraska are gearing up for their fourth meeting since the Huskers joined the Big Ten. No one considers the game a heated rivalry, but the game takes on more significance following Minnesota’s unexpected win over Nebraska in 2013 and the game’s potential impact on the very hot seat of then Husker head coach Bo Pelini.
Earlier in November, Nebraska and Wisconsin announced the creation of the Freedom Trophy as the trophy riding on the outcome of Badger/Husker games for years to come. This bland, boring attempt to turn Wisconsin vs. Nebraska into a fierce rivalry was poorly received but it also left Minnesota and Nebraska as the only two schools in the “Quadrangle of Hate” portion of the Big Ten West Division who did not play for a trophy. The creation of the Freedom Trophy soured both fan bases to the idea of a MN/NE symbol to fight over. Everyone assumed the game on 11/22/14 would only about the win/loss column.
The Broken Chair is born
The Broken Chair is the first college football trophy created almost entirely by the internet and the story of it’s creation is why I and so many others have embraced it. A little bit of Twitter banter between the best mascot in college sports and a fantastic parody Twitter account set it all in motion:
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
It could have ended right there. But it didn’t.
The replies and responses to this request from Goldy’s Twitter account inspired those in and around the mascot to craft an actual Broken Chair Trophy.
The spirit squad brought the Broken Chair with them to Lincoln, Goldy paraded it about, and the best holder in Minnesota Football history celebrated with it when the Gophers won.
An uncertain future
While the story of the Broken Chair was an internet sensation (of sorts) during the fall of 2014, its fate as a trophy embraced by both schools and their fans remained in doubt. Being “internet popular” doesn’t mean something is actually well known or liked, and no one was even sure what had happened to the Broken Chair Trophy after the game.
Slowly but surely though, there were signs that the Broken Chair might endure. It was added to Wikipedia, which as we all know is an immediate and enduring source of legitimacy. Goldy brought it to a couple of public events where the Jug and Floyd were also on display. But none of this was official.
As Minnesota/Nebraska 2015 approached, excitement around the Broken Chair grew. Peter Mortell announced the Chair was safe and continued to push for it to receive better recognition:
I went all in for making the Broken Chair into an officially recognized prize. And it wasn’t a Minnesota only affair, as Nebraska fans began to say publicly that the Chair was the only trophy that mattered.
The Broken Chair changes hands for a good cause
Even with the renewed excitement, there was no guarantee that the Broken Chair would be embraced by either team after the 2015 game. Some feared that if Nebraska won, no one would claim the trophy (a valid concern given the fate of the Civil ConFLiCT trophy this fall). Thankfully these fears were misplaced.
When Nebraska won last season, Goldy and Herbie Husker got together and took a big step in making the Broken Chair a more important part of Minnesota and Nebraska’s future.
The broken chair is about to be exchanged between mascots, Goldy tells me.— Brian Rosenthal (@GBRosenthal) October 17, 2015
The result? A trophy that was publicly celebrated by Husker players, their head coach, and the official Nebraska sports Twitter account.
Sam Foltz said he wanted to secure trophy after game but didn't know where it was. He's one of few #Huskers who knew it existed.— Brian Rosenthal (@GBRosenthal) October 17, 2015
What lies ahead for the Broken Chair Trophy?
In short, we don’t know for sure. There still seems to be a lot of support for the Broken Chair among both Minnesota and Nebraska internet communities and the wider CFB internet at large. I’ve seen some early indications that Herbie or some other member of the Nebraska sports team will make sure the Broken Chair will be ready to change hands again if Minnesota wins, but this isn’t confirmed.
There has been no official movement towards either Nebraska or Minnesota recognizing the Broken Chair as a sanctioned trophy game. Perhaps there never will be. To me, the Chair would remain perfect even if it never got beyond the level of a mascot led tradition that only a subset of the wider college football world ever knew about. But if the powers that be were to add the Broken Chair to a list that includes the Jug, the Pig, and the Axe, I’d certainly be ok with it.