As a linebacker for Arkansas in the Razorbacks’ pre-Southeastern Conference days, David Bazzel was high motor guy whose legs never quit running.
By the time his college career ended in 1985, he had the stats and the honors to prove it – a three-year starter, played in four bowl games, was the Hogs’ defensive MVP in the 1984 Liberty Bowl (making 15 tackles despite sustaining a broken hand in the first quarter) to end a season which led Arkansas in tackles and was captain of a defense in 1985 that set a Southwest Conference season of record allowing no rushing touchdowns in league games.
When David played his final game for the Razorbacks, he jumped into sports marketing. His legs quit running, but his creative mind went into overdrive.
He established the Broyles Award in 1996, named for former Arkansas coach and athletic director Frank Broyles and given to the nation’s top assistant coach by the Little Rock Touchdown Club.
The same year, with Broyles’ blessing, David re-started the program for the school to acquire Tusk, a live Razorback mascot.
“I just saw the value of having a live mascot,” David recalls.
But then with Arkansas just starting its fifth year as a member of the SEC, David brainstormed another idea that stemmed from his playing days.
“I’d see these schools in the Big 10 and Big Eight playing this trophy games against a rival,” David says. “That was something I always wanted to play for as a player. I wanted to play for a trophy. I thought it was cool when I watched players in those trophy games run across the field after they won the game and take back the trophy from the other team’s sideline.”
Thus, it was David’s unfulfilled trophy fantasy being blended with a budding neighboring state rivalry between Arkansas and LSU that led David in 1996 to create a $10,000 24-karat gold trophy, “The Golden Boot,” that weighs almost 200 pounds (more than most placekickers) and stands almost four feet tall.
Friday afternoon in Tiger Stadium, it’s the biggest “Battle for the Golden Boot” ever, with LSU ranked No. 1 and Arkansas ranked No. 3. The Razorbacks regained possession of the Boot last year, with a 31-23 victory over the Tigers in Little Rock.
Unlike a lot of conferences, there aren’t many trophy games in the SEC. For instance, the University of Missouri, which joins the SEC next year coming from the Big 12, played four trophy games annually: The Indian War Drum (vs. Kansas), Telephone Trophy (vs. Iowa State), Missouri-Nebraska Bell and the Tiger-Sooner Peace Pipe vs. Oklahoma.
There are some rival games in the SEC that you’d think should have a trophy, like the annual in-state Alabama vs. Auburn Iron Bowl.
But Alabama coach Nick Saban said no trophy is required for the Crimson Tide-Tigers rivalry, and the reason is simple.
“You live with that game 365 days a year,” Saban says.
At one time, the oldest trophy game in the SEC was the Kentucky vs. Tennessee “Battle of the Barrel.”
The trophy was a wooden beer barrel painted half blue (Kentucky) and half orange (Tennessee). The “Battle for the Barrel” started in 1925 by some former Kentucky students with the intent to create a material sign of supremacy of the rivalry.
The first time it was rolled out on the field at a UK-UT game, the UT students wisely painted the words “Ice Water” on it to avoid any protest about a drum full of alcohol representing a college rivalry.
The barrel was awarded annually to the Wildcats-Vols winner through the 1997 game. But in 1998 when two Kentucky football players were killed in an alcohol-related car crashes, both schools agreed to abolish the beer barrel tradition.
LSU and Tulane battled at one time for “The Rag” which is a victory flag and more recently the Tigers and Ole Miss created a “Magnolia Bowl” Trophy in 2008.
But the longest enduring SEC rival trophy is Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State “Battle for the Golden Egg” that started in 1927.
The Rebels-Bulldogs annual battle, this year played on Saturday in Starkville, is known as the “Egg Bowl.” The Golden Egg is the fifth oldest trophy in the FBS (Division 1-A), trailing Arizona-Arizona State’s Territorial Cup (created in 1899, Michigan-Minnesota’s Little Brown Jug (1909), Illinois-Ohio State’s Illibuck (1925) and Indiana-Purdue’s Old Oaken Bucket (1926).
The Golden Egg was created after a postgame riot following Ole Miss’ 1926 7-6 victory in Starkville, the Rebels’ first win in the series in 13 games against the school then known as Mississippi A&M College. When Ole Miss won, overjoyed Rebels’ fans ran on to Scott Field to tear down goalposts. A&M fans and players defended the goalposts by whacking the overzealous Ole Miss faithful with cane-bottom chairs.
Horrified by the violence, both schools vowed come up with a symbol of the rivalry that could be awarded to the victor. Members of an Ole Miss fraternity, Iota Sigma, proposed the Golden Egg idea, and just 15 days before the teams played the 1927 game, school representatives met in Starkville to create the trophy.
The schools agreed to:
*Share the cost of $250 to create the trophy.
* Inscribe “The Golden Egg” on one side of the trophy and “Presented by the Ole Miss and A&M Student Bodies, 1927.”
*Annually inscribe the score of the game.
*Allow the winner of the game to keep the trophy for one year. In case of a tie, each school would have possession for six months, but this rule was eventually ignored several times. In 1964 when Mississippi State beat Ole Miss, 20-17, State kept the trophy for two years, reasoning the Bulldogs had been without the trophy for too long.
It was in the spirit of the Beer Barrel, The Rag and The Golden Egg that David Bazzel approached Arkansas’ athletic director Frank Broyles with the idea of awarding a trophy to the LSU-Arkansas winner.
“Even before Arkansas joined the SEC, it had a history with LSU,” says David, who is one of the state of Arkansas’ most visible media faces and voices. “There was that great 0-0 Cotton Bowl game (in 1947) known as the Ice Bowl. Then, LSU knocked Arkansas out of a second national championship n 1965 by winning the Cotton Bowl.
“And if you go way back, LSU bought its first live tiger mascot from the Little Rock zoo (in 1935 for a cost of $750, paid for by collecting 25 cents each from every LSU student).
“LSU and Arkansas had won national championships. Both have very passionate fans. I didn’t think LSU really had a rival besides maybe Ole Miss, and after leaving the Southwest Conference I know Arkansas didn’t have a rival.
Originally, I didn’t think Arkansas-LSU was meant to be a true rival game. It was meant to be a trophy game, but I knew it could eventually lead to a rival game if the games were good enough.”
So David went to Broyles with a cardboard cutout of the two states together, Arkansas piggybacking (pardon the pun) Louisiana. It struck David the two states together looked like a huge boot.
Then, because David was already giving the Broyles Award winner a $5,000, 75-pound trophy, he decided the LSU-Arkansas boot should be the largest, heaviest, shinest rivalry trophy in college football.
He wanted size and the glitter of 24-karat gold, thus “The Golden Boot.” It cost $10,000 and the schools split the cost.
“I wanted it as big and gaudy as possible, because I wanted to create value in it with gold and size,” David says. “I found a local jeweler in Little Rock who found somebody in Boston who could build it. I told him, `I want it as heavy as possible.’ I wanted it where it could only be lifted by multiple people. I wanted to see the topography of the states engraved on it.”
When the trophy was made and delivered to the jewelry shop, David thought it was perfect.
“I said, `Oh my God’ and then I started laughing,” David remembers. “It was massive. I tried to pick it up. One person can’t do it. If you’re not careful, you’re going to have a 200-pound piece of gold fall on you.”
It was super-sized, gleaming and it screamed, “We won, you didn’t.”
“The first year we had `The Golden Boot,’ LSU coach Gerry DiNardo sort of scoffed about it,” David says. “But I always thought if one or both LSU and Arkansas could return to prominence, that the trophy would really mean something.
“And if you look at the last six years, this trophy game now really means something, with nationally ranked teams, division titles and bowl games on the line, with great finishes almost every year. That’s what sets it apart from other trophy games. It has national and conference implications.
“Even in the beginning when both schools struggled, I can tell you that having been a player at one time, you never wanted to see that other team run off with the trophy. I guarantee in the last six years (three wins by each team) that it sticks in the craw of LSU players to see Arkansas players go over and haul off The Golden Boot, and vice-versa.
“People thought the Boot was silly at first, but it now fits the competiveness of this series. It’s big, it’s gold and it takes at least three players to lift it. You can’t miss that sucker when it’s brought into a stadium. I get excited when I see the winners rush over to grab it at the end of the game.”
This Friday will mark the 16th “Battle of the Golden Boot.” It will be the 15th time the game will have at least one ranked team (2008 was the only year neither team was ranked) and it’s third time that both teams are ranked entering the game.
But it’s first top five meeting between the Tigers and the Razorbacks, and David, 48, unmarried with no kids, is like a proud father watching his teenaged trophy being presented as a glittering debutante on the biggest national stage ever in this series.
“To have a No. 1 and No. 3 matchup play for The Golden Boot is very exciting,” David says. “And just think The Boot has been around for just a short time. Wait until it’s around for at least 30 years.”
Somebody give that man a tissue. His baby has grown up.