Rivalry trophies are a big thing in the Big Ten. Some of the newer rivalries, however, haven’t had the chance to build up historic hate yet.
Enter the $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy, the first and only Big Ten rivalry trophy to originate entirely on the internet, without the input of the involved athletic departments. You’ve probably heard of it by now, but here’s the complete story and an update on its current state. Minnesota and Nebraska play for it again in Week 8 in Lincoln.
The Broken Chair Trophy is the brainchild of some 2014 Twitter banter.
It began with an exchange between Minnesota’s mascot and the popular internet personality Faux Pelini, the alter ego of former Nebraska coach Bo.
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
.@FauxPelini just as long as we can turn that $5 or bits of broken chair into a trophy for next year's game— Goldy Gopher (@GoldytheGopher) November 20, 2014
At some point, an enterprising Redditor created a prototype.
The Gopher was exceptionally serious about the idea, it turned out:
Whoever runs the Minnesota mascot’s Twitter account ran with a joke tweet and made it into a trophy. Somehow, it stuck.
The two schools picked up the idea and ran with it for a time.
The Gopher mascot made the trophy before the teams’ 2014 game. Minnesota won it that year, and the Gophers weren’t about to pass up on the chance to parade the thing around an unrelated basketball game.
When Nebraska won in 2015, then-coach Mike Riley proudly hoisted it:
Notice the peaceful transition of power after the Huskers’ win:
“If the Broken Chair is the most lasting contribution to Planet Earth by Reddit and Twitter, I’ll be perfectly fine with it,” Faux Pelini told SB Nation in 2016. “I love the random way that it came about, and I’m proud to have played a role in it, but the most fun part is seeing how the teams and fans have latched on to it and given it a life of its own. It’s the most beautiful broken piece of furniture I’ve ever seen. Look at it. LOOK AT IT. It is art.”
After Nebraska’s and Minnesota’s 2016 game, disaster struck.
The Lincoln Journal Star reported some Nebraska players didn’t even know they were playing for the trophy, and that they couldn’t track it down after the game. The report says "no one seemed to know where it was," and that "it seemed to be misplaced."
"I had no clue we were playing for (the Broken Chair trophy)," Husker lineman Nick Gates said after the victory. "I remember seeing it last year, I guess; it’s been in the trainers' room for a while. I guess it’s pretty cool, because winning it last year was the first trophy I have won here."
Was the tradition abandoned? Was the sport’s greatest new trophy a thing no more?
In 2017, the chair returned — again thanks to some football fans on Reddit.
“It was a trophy that started online, and we thought that it was fitting to bring it back there, and that’s where we kind of started our grassroots movement,” says Jordon Rapp, one of the Redditors involved.
At church one day, another Redditor approached Luke Petersen, a Nebraska fan with carpentry skills, to ask, “You know the Broken Chair Trophy, right?”
“I said, ‘Yeah, the one that’s been missing for a year now,’” Petersen recalls.
“He says, ‘Well, there’s good people on the internet, specifically on Reddit, that I’ve been talking to, and we want to bring it back. Can you build it?’
“And I said, ‘Well, yeah, I can build that.’”
Petersen, a barista at the time, got to work, with his church friend’s help. They wanted to recreate the trophy’s original dimensions, so they printed pictures of the chair, which had dollar bills glued to the bottom of it, and used their own bills to make a replica.
They added a bigger case, with both schools’ logos lasered in. The involved creators’ usernames are all etched on it. The build took about 40 hours, in total, in wood shop on the Nebraska Innovation Campus in Lincoln.
But they wanted the chair to be more than just a new trophy.
Now, there’s an annual “Chair-ity Fundraiser” associated with the trophy that raises money for two organizations associated with each university.
One is Nebraska’s Team Jack, which raises money to fund pediatric brain cancer research and work to create awareness for the disease. It’s named after Jack Hoffman, a cancer survivor who became a Nebraska spring game legend.
The other proceeds go to the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.
“We wanted to go with something that would benefit others instead of just slapping company names on it,” Rapp said. “So we felt that if we could get donations for these great causes, that would bring a little attention to it, and add a little validity to it.”
The winning team’s charity gets to host the trophy. In 2017, the Chair-ity raised $7,300, split evenly between the two organizations.
“It adds a lot of camaraderie between the two fanbases,” Rapp said.
“Nebraska doesn’t really have much history or tradition in the Big Ten yet, but we feel that a lot of those trophies are just forced a little bit, so it’s nice to have that trophy for Nebraska finally that’s organic and can be exchanged with a little fun.”
When he built the new trophy, Petersen aimed to create a tradition that could last.
“It’s been surreal to be a part of something that not every fan knows about, but the ones that do are extremely excited about it,” he said. “I get to be part of a really fresh Nebraska tradition, which we hope will carry on for the next 50 to 100 years.”