Have You Seen This Trophy?

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“All I remember is that my dad, who was the company bean counter, considered the football team a waste of money,” Hay, 91, said in his living room in an Akron suburb in November. “Maybe he was right, because the whole operation went bankrupt in 1929.”

Asked if his father kept 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 a chance — all that was passed down to me was a box of dealership stationery and an old blanket used by Jim Thorpe, the star of the Canton team,” Hay said.

When the 1920 season began, the Akron Pros played as if they could not wait to get their hands on the cup, compiling an undefeated season and an 8-0-3 record. The league champions, however, had to wait to get their trophy until the team owners reunited on April 30, 1921, at the Portage Hotel, a stately building at the nexus of Akron’s downtown district. As soon as the meeting began, Nied and Ranney were presented with the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Cup. Ranney, who as the league secretary recorded the minutes of the meeting, made no mention of what happened next.

Perhaps, in that moment, he was too busy running around the room in joyous celebration, a hand wrapped around one handle of the trophy as an exultant Nied clung to the other.

We will never know. After more league business, Ranney noted that the group adjourned to have dinner at the hotel. While Prohibition was enacted months earlier, it was still common for dining establishments, especially in hotels, to make accommodations for guests to furtively enjoy alcoholic libations. Could Nied and Ranney have toasted their 1920 championship with the other team owners, who were happily feting the inaugural season, and in all that revelry, could somebody have accidentally left the trophy behind?

Because 99 years later, the minutes of the meeting on the night of April 30, 1921, contain the last documented mention of its whereabouts.

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