AMES — Craig Floss jokingly says the pewter family that formerly adorned the top of the Cy-Hawk Trophy now resides in Nebraska.
“When something’s in witness protection, you never talk about where it’s at because it’s in witness protection,” said Floss, chief executive officer of the Iowa Corn Growers Association. “It’s tucked away.”
The pewter family was the scourge of Iowa for one August weekend in 2011. When Iowa Corn, along with Iowa and Iowa State’s athletics departments and Learfield Sports, unveiled a new-look traveling trophy at the Iowa State Fair, the response was quick and dramatic. Fans and media panned the trophy in part because it didn’t represent football. That was the whole point, Floss said.
“I don’t think it was communicated very well that the expectation was to have one trophy for all sports, male and female,” Floss said. “That really is the key thing.
“As Iowa Corn, as a new sponsor, we were invited to participate in the process with that being the directive. The reason why there was male and female representation on the trophy is it wouldn’t look very good to give a trophy with a man on it to a woman’s team as a symbol. We were trying to figure out how to incorporate all those things. And, as we said at the time, we missed the mark.”
That’s the danger in recreating traveling trophies, something Floss learned firsthand. Iowa-Minnesota’s “Floyd of Rosedale” and Iowa State-Missouri’s “Telephone Trophy” began organically. They last. The cautionary message with the Cy-Hawk saga? Don’t overthink it.
The Greater Des Moines Athletic Club gave the original Cy-Hawk Trophy to Iowa and Iowa State in 1977 when they renewed the series after a 43-year layoff. It was a wooden box with game scores, a generic running back and simple football on top. Fans cracked jokes about the trophy for years.
The schools partnered to create a more aesthetically appealing trophy for all sports — not just football — and the original Cy-Hawk Trophy was retired in the summer of 2011. Iowa Corn replaced Hy-Vee as the Iowa-Iowa State all-sports series sponsor, and the goal was to elevate the trophy’s theme beyond a symbol of victory. But once the marketing staffs got involved, it turned into a public relations disaster.
A series of email exchanges in 2011 among Iowa Corn, athletics communications officials at both schools along with Learfield subsidiaries Hawkeye and Cyclone Sports Properties were obtained by The Gazette. They show how each entity wanted to make the trophy. The original pre-design included long cornstalks and overalls on the farmer, both of which were discarded after the opening round of emails. Rick Klatt, Iowa’s associate athletics director for external relations, wanted the trophy to depict “a farmer and his young son after playing catch following a day of harvesting.”
“I suggest we drop a football at the feet of the man to provide evidence of his game with his son,” Klatt wrote. “We can also put near the football a pair of work gloves and a few stalks of corn that have been pulled back, e.g. the farmer was making a count of the kernels when his son came up, ball in hand and said, ‘Dad, let’s play some catch!’”
“This is a big deal,” Klatt wrote. “We get it right — e.g. think it through and do it completely and execute it well — we’re golden. Some may not like it, but we have a darn good plan that was executed well. Do it poorly or not completely, we don’t move the needle.”
Those involved with designing the trophy quibbled over details such as the girl’s hairstyle, whether the corn depicted was sweet corn or field corn, the coloring — or lack thereof — of logos, what shirt the boy was wearing and if the trophy base should include descriptions about the schools and sponsorships.
Steve Malchow, Iowa State’s senior associate athletics director for communications, preferred to avoid color on the trophy, while Klatt demanded each school’s colors were embedded to the trophy base.
“It is important to the UI, so much so that we would want to know the gap in dollars between budget and this option,” Klatt wrote.
“We prefer less color on the base,” Malchow wrote. “Cost isn’t the issue, but we feel it looks classier. I can’t think of many (if any) colorful trophies.”
“I just don’t think we should be trying to tell stories,” Malchow continued. “No one will be able to read the text anyway.”
After a month of negotiating, the trophy was completed and unveiled at an Aug. 19 news conference at the Iowa State Fair. The top featured a farm family huddled around a bushel of field corn. According the limited news release, the trophy represented Iowans as “Caring. Trustworthy. Committed. Compassionate. Nurturing. Stewards, mentors and educators.”
It became a laughingstock. Pictures instantaneously hit social media, and the trophy was slammed. Twitter was ablaze with fans deriding the trophy. Iowa and Iowa State fans united in their dislike of it, and even Gov. Terry Branstad remarked, “I think they can do better.”
Four days later, the trophy was shelved.
“For me it was solidified by the end of the weekend when I saw the reaction of the public and what they expected, which was a football trophy,” Floss said. “I knew there was no way the fans were going to be satisfied for the football game anyway; I think a lot of the other sports would be just fine.
“We don’t need people frustrated with us as Iowa Corn. We’re in there for positive messages and to be supportive of both schools. It was a no-brainer for me to do that.”
Iowa Corn took the brunt of public fallout. The company website was hacked, and threats were levied against the staff. Floss was accused of creating the trophy to drum up publicity.
“All I can tell you is I would never gone through what we collectively went through purposely,” he said. “These people wanted to string up the pewter family as it became known.”
As for the Sept. 10, 2011 game, the schools used an interim trophy rather than bring the original Cy-Hawk Trophy out of retirement. The interim included the base of the farm family trophy with a metal football tee fixed atop. Iowa State won the 2011 game 44-41 in triple overtime and keeps that trophy in its football building.
For the permanent version, Iowa Corn and the schools invited fans to submit trophy designs, and 500 were received. They were cut to six semifinalists by Iowa Corn and a graphics company. Iowa Corn and the two schools formed a 10-member panel to select three finalists. Fans voted on the designs through April 2012, and the current version overwhelmingly won the election. Iowa State has possession of the new trophy by virtue of its 9-6 win last fall.
Football teams — including both of these — storm across the field to claim a trophy, no matter what it looks like. Coaches appreciate the symbolism as well.
“Trophies go along with victory and victory, my friend, is not overrated,” Iowa State Coach Paul Rhoads said. “I could play for a lollipop, and it would be extremely exciting.”
But, as Floss now knows, trophies do matter.“We missed the mark; we’re making it right,” he said. “It’s the fans' game; it should be the fans’ trophy. I think that’s exactly what we wound up with. Ultimately, I think we made the right decision.”