The Introduction of the “Nickel Trophy” for UND and NDSU, 1937
The rivalry between UND and NDSU for football preeminence in North Dakota began long ago, in 1894. At first, UND and NDSU merely contended for bragging rights, but a new element arose after 40 years of gridiron competition. It was on this date in 1937 that UND hosted NDSU in for homecoming, with the winner getting a brand-new prize – a shiny “Nickel Trophy” shaped like a gigantic Buffalo Nickel.
The Nickel Trophy idea came from UND student Robert Kunkel. Kunkel, editor of the Dakota Student campus newspaper, suggested establishing the rivalry trophy following in the tradition of the “Little Brown Jug” game between Minnesota and Michigan. Using a nickel was a brilliant concept, because the nickel five-cent piece of that era was called a “buffalo nickel” – portraying a buffalo/bison on one side and the head of a Native American on the other. If the UND Sioux won, it would be “heads,” and if the NDSU Bison won, it would be “tails.”
So, UND manufactured an outsized Buffalo Nickel, measuring 22 inches in diameter. This heavyweight trophy, made of “dull-cast aluminum alloy,” weighs 75 pounds, making it more than 34,000 times the weight of a 1937 buffalo nickel.
To defray manufacturing costs of the trophy, UND’s Blue Key service club raised money by selling clay-ceramic replicas of buffalo nickels, two-inches-in-diameter, for 25 cents each. UND’s Blue Key club members sold 1,590 of the medallions and had NDSU’s club sell 210 more.
In the inaugural 1937 Nickel-Trophy game, on October 30th, UND clobbered NDSU, 27-0. Predictably, there were shenanigans. Somebody stole the Nickel Trophy on Friday, before the game, taking it away by taxi after the trophy’s unveiling at the Alumni Homecoming Banquet. When Saturday’s football game began, officials did not know the whereabouts of the big nickel. The pranksters had stashed it on UND President John C. West’s front-porch, where West recovered it, just in the nick of time for presentation to the winning-team at UND’s homecoming dance.
For the next 60-some years, through 2003, UND and NDSU fought for the coveted trophy. Historically, the nickel games ended due to Division I upgrades and UND’s nickname change from “Sioux” to “Fighting Hawks.” UND prevailed over NDSU in the Nickel-Trophy Series by a final count of 35-30.
Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.
Sources: “Introducing The University-Agricultural Nickel Series,” Fargo Forum, October 24, 1937, p. 12.
“Nodaks Capture Seventh Title in 10 Years, Beat Bison 27-0,” Sioux Falls Argus-Leader, October 31, 1937, p. 9.
“Blue Key Units Plan Trophy Awards to AC-U Grid Champs,” Spectrum [NDSU], March 12, 1937, p. 1.
“Bison-Sioux Clash To Again Determine Winner Of NCI Conference Championship,” Spectrum [NDSU], October 29, 1937, p. 1.
“Blue Key Will Sell Clay Medals,” Spectrum [NDSU], October 29, 1937, p. 1.
“Stolen Nickel Found By West,” Spectrum [NDSU], November 5, 1937, p. 1.
“Sioux-Bison Trophy Stolen At Alumni Dinner,” Minneapolis Tribune, October 31, 1937, p. 32.
“Sioux-Bison Grid Trophy Has Habit of Disappearing,” Bismarck Tribune, October 27, 1955, p. 11.
Turner Blaufuss, “Battle for Nickel Trophy Resumes,” Wahpeton Daily News, September 14, 2015, wahpetondailynews.com, accessed on September 12, 2017.