Have You Seen This Trophy?

Written by on January 31, 2020

AKRON, Ohio — Right here you see a valuable 100-year-old trophy. It’s product of sterling silver, lovingly created for a group championship, and first introduced at a outstanding gathering inside an old-world lodge.

Formed like a cup, the award has handles, which made it simple for the gleeful recipients to hoist it overhead. Their achievement? Successful the primary N.F.L. championship, in 1920.

The trophy has been lacking ever since.

Its whereabouts have been unknown because it was handed to the Akron Professionals in 1920. Largely forgotten, the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Cup is the holy grail of American sports activities memorabilia.

It could possibly be in somebody’s attic or chock-full of pencils on a schoolkid’s desk.

“At this level, the possibilities should not excellent that anybody will ever discover it,” Joe Horrigan, the previous longtime govt director of the Professional Soccer Corridor of Fame, stated in an interview.

It gave the impression of a problem.

And so started the mission to unravel this whodunit, this where-is-it, a quest that hinged on discovering that one who, when proven the one present, shadowy picture of the trophy, would say: “I’ve seen that. My mom makes use of it as a doorstop.”

It was a journey that meant knocking on doorways, poring over library collections, monitoring down interview topics in 12 states and spending at the very least one dusty afternoon looking behind the drywall of a number of deserted Ohio buildings.

However first, just a few info:

The N.F.L. has no concept the place the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Cup is. The archives of the Professional Soccer Corridor of Fame in Canton, Ohio, include the unique, typewritten minutes of league conferences that authenticate the existence of the Cup, named for the early-20th century sporting items firm that donated it. However the path goes chilly by 1921.

The one identified image of the trophy, printed in newspapers on the time, is grainy. So far as anybody can inform, the trophy was formally bestowed upon the 1920 champions, who have been supposed handy it over to the subsequent yr’s winners.

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Besides there isn’t any report of that taking place. Which implies the final place the trophy was seen was in Akron, and that’s unquestionably the place the search needed to start.

In 1920, Akron was a metropolis whose quick development had been spurred by the demand for rubber tires throughout World Struggle I. Goodyear and Goodrich operated 24 hours a day and stuffed boardinghouses with laborers who rented beds in eight-hour shifts to match the schedules of the factories, whose smokestacks cloaked the town’s vast boulevards with smoke and ash.

“It was a grubby metropolis — a wide-open city with a lot of bars, taverns and playing,” David Lieberth, a former president of the native historic society, stated of Akron, which is 40 miles south of Cleveland.

Professional soccer at its dawning was no much less tough across the edges, and it was roundly dismissed as a poor substitute for school soccer. However on Sept. 17, 1920, the Akron businessmen Frank Nied and Arthur Ranney, the homeowners of the Akron Professionals, traveled 23 miles south to Canton, the place they convened with coaches and managers in an vehicle dealership to type the American Skilled Soccer Affiliation with different professional groups representing industrial facilities. Two years later, the group turned the Nationwide Soccer League, which has come to acknowledge the 1920 season as its first.

On the assembly, the homeowners voted to thank the Brunswick-Balke-Collender firm for presenting the league with, because the assembly minutes referred to as it, “a loving cup” that may go to the affiliation’s champion yearly. In keeping with newspaper accounts, all through the inaugural season, the cup had a spot of honor within the assembly website, the auto dealership owned by Ralph Hay, who additionally owned the A.P.F.A.’s Canton Bulldogs.

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Credit score…Lyndon French for The New York Occasions

Karl Hay Jr., whose father, Karl Sr., was a companion within the dealership along with his cousin Ralph, snickered when requested if he had ever heard about or seen the trophy.

“All I keep in mind is that my dad, who was the corporate bean counter, thought-about the soccer group a waste of cash,” Hay, 91, stated in his front room in an Akron suburb in November. “Possibly he was proper, as a result of the entire operation went bankrupt in 1929.”

Requested if his father saved any mementos of his time linked to the genesis of the N.F.L. — like, say, a silver loving cup trophy — Hay laughed loudly.

“Not an opportunity — all that was handed right down to me was a field of dealership stationery and an previous blanket utilized by Jim Thorpe, the star of the Canton group,” Hay stated.

When the 1920 season started, the Akron Professionals performed as if they might not wait to get their fingers on the cup, compiling an undefeated season and an 8-0-Three report. The league champions, nonetheless, needed to wait to get their trophy till the group homeowners reunited on April 30, 1921, on the Portage Lodge, a stately constructing on the nexus of Akron’s downtown district. As quickly because the assembly started, Nied and Ranney have been introduced with the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Cup. Ranney, who because the league secretary recorded the minutes of the assembly, made no point out of what occurred subsequent.

Maybe, in that second, he was too busy working across the room in joyous celebration, a hand wrapped round one deal with of the trophy as an exultant Nied clung to the opposite.

We are going to by no means know. After extra league enterprise, Ranney famous that the group adjourned to have dinner on the lodge. Whereas Prohibition was enacted months earlier, it was nonetheless widespread for eating institutions, particularly in inns, to make lodging for company to furtively take pleasure in alcoholic libations. Might Nied and Ranney have toasted their 1920 championship with the opposite group homeowners, who have been fortunately feting the inaugural season, and in all that revelry, might someone have by chance left the trophy behind?

As a result of 99 years later, the minutes of the assembly on the evening of April 30, 1921, include the final documented point out of its whereabouts.

“Doesn’t it make extra sense that the trophy ended up in my grandfather’s cigar retailer, the place athletes frolicked and there was a separate room only for playing?” Rick Ormsby, Nied’s grandson, stated from his dwelling on a quiet road in Medina, Ohio, 25 miles northwest of Akron. “That place was the right spot to indicate off a trophy. The playing room was highly regarded.”

O.Okay., now we have been getting someplace.

Nied was a famous Akron sportsman with possession pursuits in boxing, minor league baseball, soccer and horse racing. Along with the playing parlor, which was authorized, his cigar retailer had a protracted picket bar and blackboards utilized by clerks to often replace the scores of Main League Baseball video games.

Jeff Modlin, one other of Nied’s 5 grandchildren, who lives in Lake Forest, In poor health., inherited footage of the cigar retailer inside. Alas, the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Cup isn’t entrance and middle, or within the background, of any of these footage. Modlin additionally inherited a football-shaped gold fob, a preferred jewellery merchandise within the 1920s that may have hooked up to a watch chain, which was awarded to every of the 1920 Akron Professionals and homeowners.

“However I’ve by no means heard something a few championship trophy,” stated Modlin, whose mom was the sister of Ormsby’s mom. “My grandfather was round, we noticed him. It by no means got here up.”

Nied died in Florida in 1969. He was 75.

Suffice to say, neither Modlin nor Ormsby has the trophy. Ormsby even double-checked each final dresser drawer and previous trunk in his home, rummaging by something handed down from his mom or grandparents.

“I want I discovered it,” Ormsby later stated. “Wouldn’t or not it’s cool to have that flip up 100 years later in an previous field in my basement?”

Sure, very cool.

So the Neid descendants didn’t have the trophy. That also left Nied’s companion, Artwork Ranney.

Ranney, who performed soccer on the College of Akron, stayed concerned with Nied till their soccer group started to falter on the sphere and on the gate within the mid-1920s, when the duo gave up their N.F.L. franchise. Ranney turned a county engineer and a pacesetter in native Democratic Occasion circles. He retired to Florida, the place he died in 1970.

One December morning, a ray of hope within the hunt for soccer’s holy grail arrived in texts from a few of Ranney’s 4 grandchildren, who admitted they have been properly versed within the legend of the misplaced trophy, which they’d first heard about within the 1960s. They stated it was household lore that Ranney may need had the cup many years after the 1920 championship.

“However everyone additionally knew that Grampa Ranney was not a sentimental man,” Arthur Ranney, who lives in Platteville, Wis., stated of his namesake in an interview. “I believe he stuffed it in an attic after which someday threw it out. Or somebody bought it in a yard sale.”

One other grandchild, Elaine Roy of Lakeside Park, Ky., had a unique principle.

“The trophy was talked about by our mother and father, however who is aware of, our grandfather may need hocked it,” stated Roy, who has scores of newspaper articles and different keepsakes associated to her grandfather, together with diaries. She stated there was no point out of the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Cup.

And no, not one of the grandchildren stated they’d the trophy. Arthur Ranney did have a final considered it.

“Grandpa lived on the intercoastal when he retired to Florida and he had a ship,” he stated. “Possibly he used the trophy as an anchor.”

Sifting by the Professional Soccer Corridor of Fame’s 1920s recordsdata in November on the request of The New York Occasions, the archivist Jon Kendle puzzled if Brunswick-Balke-Collender may know something concerning the trophy. Possibly it bounced again to them?

Brunswick-Balke-Collender, based in Chicago and Cincinnati, had been a significant producer of billiards tables and different sporting items in 1920 and later performed a number one position within the midcentury bowling growth in America. Right this moment, what’s left is Brunswick Company, whose merchandise are marine associated. Happily, the corporate has a resident historian, Joe Newell, who remembers a foreman on the firm’s Kansas Metropolis, Mo., plant asking in 1960 about what had occurred to the N.F.L.’s first championship trophy.

“His title was Carl Peterson and he’d been with the corporate since 1909,” Newell stated. “He stated, ‘We have been happy with that cup.’”

Newell knew the precise inscription on the cup, “Donated by the Brunswick-Balke-Collender firm to additional the pursuits of American skilled soccer,” and stated that the corporate would have sponsored scores of comparable sports activities trophies throughout the 1920s.

“I do know we had it made; it’s a real story,” Newell stated. “However I’ve exhausted my analysis and I by no means might discover out the place it went.”

Kendle, the archivist on the Corridor of Fame, advised that the trophy might have made its technique to the 1921 A.P.F.A champions, the Decatur Staleys in Illinois, even when the league conferences by no means talked about it. The group was named for A.E. Staley, the proprietor of a outstanding starch firm whose soccer franchise ultimately turned the Chicago Bears.

The Staley household made such an enduring affect on the Decatur group that there’s now a Staley Museum there, which — eureka! — could be a pure place to retailer a 100-year-old trophy.

“By no means heard of such a factor,” stated Mark Sorensen, a historian who has extensively researched the Decatur soccer group for the Staley Museum.

Sorensen has learn 40 years of inner firm paperwork in addition to lots of of Decatur and Chicago newspaper articles pertaining to the group.

“A championship trophy doesn’t come up,” he stated. “And truthfully, they put each little factor in these papers again then.”

On a return journey to Akron, Lieberth, the town’s unofficial historian, confirmed me an previous newspaper clipping that talked about that Nied owned not one, however three, Akron cigar shops. The buildings that housed two of the cigar shops have been torn down years in the past, however the construction the place the final of Nied’s shops had been on the bottom flooring escaped demolition and was being redeveloped.

The constructing, which might have been cater-corner to the previous Portage Lodge (razed in 1992), is owned by Tony Troppe, an Akron developer who is popping the property right into a lodge with a rooftop bar. Introduced on top of things on the historical past of the lacking trophy, the adventurous Troppe was pleased to steer a search amid the bones of his 1870 neo-Classical model constructing. We discovered a lovely wood-paneled basement room that had served as a humidor. There was previous china and bronze doorways and elevators. Drywall was being put in. Partitions had been torn aside. However nothing popped out — at the very least not a trophy.

“Something like a sterling silver cup, we definitely would have seen,” Troppe stated.

Standing on the road exterior Nied’s final cigar retailer, I began to really feel determined. Doesn’t the destiny of the trophy should be identified or understood by somebody?

Undeterred, I had yet one more concept for the place to search for the trophy, though I thought-about it a final gasp. In keeping with county and metropolis directories for the world from 1920 to 1960, Nied and Ranney lived at six addresses in Akron and a close-by suburb, Cuyahoga Falls.

Knocking on the doorways of every home whereas holding up the grainy image of the trophy, it was time to ask startled strangers if such an object regarded acquainted. I vowed to withstand the urge to ask if I might search their crawl areas.

In two circumstances, it appeared there have been now not properties on the handle. At one home, nobody answered the door. Twice, folks listened politely after which laughed since they’d been residing of their homes for under 10 or 12 years.

“You’re asking about one thing from 100 years in the past?” they stated.

“Nicely, yeah.”

“The place’d you say you have been from once more?” they stated.

On the final home on my listing, a person who was in all probability in his 70s, stated he had discovered a big field of very previous soccer and baseball gear within the basement when he moved in 25 years in the past.

My coronary heart raced.

“Did you retain any of it?”

“No, threw it within the rubbish,” he stated, closing the door.

So, in the long run, because the Tremendous Bowl of the N.F.L.’s 100th season approaches, I’ve not discovered the holy grail of America sports activities memorabilia.

But.

Take a look at the picture of the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Cup.

Alain Delaquérière contributed analysis.


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