Last year, the North Dakota Historical Society took custody of the Nickel Trophy, the coveted award presented to the winner of the UND-NDSU football game for more than a half-century.
The move came after the State Board of Higher Education unanimously decided to sign a transfer agreement, which allows the society to maintain and insure the trophy. But now, just months after the decision to forever maintain the keepsake in Bismarck, murmurs are circulating that the trophy should be returned to the university system, allowing it to potentially once again be awarded each year to the winner of the big game.
The conversation sparked anew late last week. As of Monday, the details were still scarce.
Our choice? Leave the Nickel Trophy where it’s at, in the custody of the North Dakota Historical Society. And if not at the society, then somewhere else where it can be safely stored as a historic artifact but where it can’t spark lawlessness or further controversy over its imagery.
From 1938 to 2003, the trophy was given to the winner of the UND-NDSU game. It was kept in the winning team’s possession until the next year, when the ceremony was repeated. On one side is the image of a bison; on the other, an image of an American Indian.
And that’s the problem. While NDSU still plays as the Bison, UND no longer plays as the Fighting Sioux. Nowadays, UND players take the field as Fighting Hawks. We leave the contemporary argument over that decision to others, since it’s been thoroughly played out in print.
But that argument also is why it’s time for the Nickel Trophy to stay permanently retired. There’s no need to reignite the controversy that plagued UND over the past two decades.
Further, there’s no need to spark another controversial issue surrounding the Nickel Trophy – the act of stealing it. Over the years, bandits went to great lengths to illegally take possession of the trophy, which weighs 75 pounds.
The Nickel Trophy’s time has passed. It was last awarded in 2003; that year, UND beat the Bison in what would be the last annual matchup between the teams for nearly 20 years. After that game, the programs moved from competing in Division II to Division I. Unfortunately, they made the move separately, found themselves in different conferences and didn’t play each other again until 2015.
Now, they’re back together in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, with annual head-to-head meetings for the foreseeable future, including this weekend, when UND travels to Fargo to meet the Bison in a highly anticipated matchup.
The winner of Saturday’s game won’t get some commemorative trophy – the Nickel or any other.
Rather than spend time trying to recirculate the Nickel, lawmakers and officials from the university system should create a new traveling trophy for the winning team. It should include appropriate imagery, have strong ties to the entire state and should appropriately commemorate the winner of the UND-NDSU matchup for the next century. It should promote diversity and inclusion, and it should avoid controversy.
And with a new trophy in place, it will allow the Nickel Trophy to be displayed – safely and securely – to help tell the story not only of the great UND-NDSU rivalry, but also of the controversial process associated with UND’s nickname change.