Has anyone heard of the Platypus Trophy? I did not know about it until I asked Sharon
Takahashi whether Oregon had something equivalent to the Paul Bunyan Trophy of
Michigan. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the Paul Bunyan Trophy. The Paul Bunyan
Trophy is the trophy that goes to the year’s winner of one of the longest running rivalries in
the U.S., that of the annual football game between the University of Michigan and Michigan
State University. This game happens sometime in October. This year, they will be meeting
on the 20 th .
For those who do not know what the Paul Bunyan Trophy is, let me give you a short
history of it. It is interesting that it was not always well received. First of all, Paul Bunyan
is the name of a fictional lumberjack who was supposed to be a giant. He was so big that
some people believe that the Grand Canyon was created by Paul Bunyan, by pulling his ax
through the soil. Anyway, people wanted to create a trophy which would be handed over to
the winner of the year’s rivalry football game between Michigan and Michigan State
Universities. Its image was that of Paul Bunyan because Michigan was a major lumber
producing state. Like Paul Bunyan, this trophy is imposing compared to others like it. It is
carved from wood and stands four feet tall, with a base that is five foot high.
Although the University of Michigan and Michigan State University football teams have
clashed since 1898, part of the reason why the Paul Bunyan Trophy was created was to
observe the induction of Michigan State University into the Big Ten Conference.
University of Michigan athletic director and former head coach Fritz Crisler was not fond of
Michigan State’s inclusion into the Big Ten, and so he proclaimed that he would refuse its
acceptance if Michigan won.
As it turned out, Michigan State won 14-6 in 1953. The trophy was displayed proudly in
Jenison Fieldhouse. This venue, by the way, is famous for being the home of the 1978-79
NCAA champion basketball team, which included Earvin “Magic” Johnson. It is
interesting what happened the next year when Michigan beat Michigan State 33-7. In
keeping with what Michigan’s Fritz Crisler had proclaimed, the trophy was left unclaimed
for half an hour after the conclusion of the game. It was later claimed, but left
disrespectfully in an equipment closet of the Michigan Stadium locker room. Furthermore,
despite winning in 1954 and 1955, Michigan did not engrave their scores onto the trophy.
When a 12-12 tie occurred in 1958, the favored Spartans were so embarrassed that they
refused the trophy. But since Wolverines wanted no part of the trophy, Michigan State
relented and held on to the trophy. Such were the beginnings of the Paul Bunyan Trophy.
However, today, after years of having the trophy go back and forth, it has become a coveted
trophy prized by both teams. There was neither truth or trial to which both sides were privy.
It was just a matter of piling years of continued diligence in the observance of the yearly
game that somehow shed the trophy’s undesirable overtones. Almost mysteriously, the
trophy is revered and embraced today.
Now, let us get back to Oregon. When I asked Sharon Takahashi whether Oregon had
something similar to the Paul Bunyan Trophy, she promptly had her sports research staff doa thorough check on this issue. Truthfully, I never expected a response from her. But, I
will never underestimate Sharon again. She came back to tell me that there is something
called the Platypus Trophy. I could not believe it. Oregon and Oregon State play each
other every year in what is referred to as the “Civil War”, but I had never heard of the
Platypus Trophy. I think that hardly anyone knows this. The platypus was chosen because
this animal has features of both Oregon’s and Oregon State’s mascot, a duck and a beaver
respectively. Interestingly, this trophy comes with a story that rivals that of Michigan’s
Paul Bunyan trophy. The Platypus Trophy was awarded to the winning schools for three
years, from 1959 to 1961. However, it was mysteriously lost for more than forty years
thereafter. Apparently, the trophy was stolen following the 1961 game. It would not be
rediscovered until 2005. It was found in a closet at the University of Oregon’s McArthur
Court, the home of the Oregon Duck’s basketball team. In 2007, someone proposed that the
trophy be the annual game’s unofficial prize.
Despite being rediscovered, its once coveted status has not been restored. It is currently
awarded to the alumni association of the winning school. Why has this happened? Could it
be that the Platypus Trophy is nowhere near the size of the Paul Bunyan Trophy? It is
probably only a foot and a half in length and no more than a foot high. But, the size of a
trophy really should not determine its worth. The FIFA World Cup Trophy is less than a
foot and three inches tall. It weighs less than thirteen and a half pounds. The NFL’s Vince
Lombardi Trophy stands at only 22 inches and weighs seven pounds.
The worth of something varies by how much each person places their trust or passion on
it. The Paul Bunyan Trophy was once shunned and abhorred; yet, as both Michigan and
Michigan State kept playing each other through the years with the trophy standing in the
stadium, people began to grasp its value. As this practice has not been followed with the
Platypus Trophy, it has lost its meaning and sheen. Our faith in the Buddha and his
teachings are no different from this. One’s faith grows in relation to how much effort or
practice s/he puts into it. Like the Platypus Trophy, faith can easily be lost if there is no
effort to maintain its worth. In time, it loses its luster. One’s faith does not grow simply by
contemplating about it. Faith is nurtured through our daily effort in practicing Buddha’s
teachings. And, in turn, when one has faith, the practice of Buddha’s teachings become
unclouded and effortless, motivating us again to further grow in our faith.
(Eisei Ikenaga)