Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Meet Your New Papa Bear

When the Packers meet the Bears at Soldier Field on Sunday, on the line will be the right to represent the National Football Conference in the Super Bowl. Also at stake is the George S. Halas Trophy, named after the famed Papa Bear, founder of the Decatur Staleys/Chicago Bears in 1920 and one of the key figures in pro football's rise from a second-rate sport to national obsession.

The American Football Conference trophy is named for the Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs' Lamar Hunt, who was spurned by the NFL and founded the rival AFL, the only league to seriously challenge the NFL's dominance and which today forms the backbone of the AFC.

Starting with this season, the Halas and Hunt Trophies have been redesigned as part of the NFL's overall rebranding project. The new trophies, designed and crafted by Tiffany & Company, reflect the legacy of the Lombardi Trophy they supply the NFL with every season.

Two-dimentional photographs don't tell the whole story, but this video from WGN gives us a good look at the trophy from various angles:

I'm not a big fan of the new design; there is to my eye a clash between the elegant arcs, negative space and overly detailed laces on the front.

I think the trophy would be more effective if it was a little more abstract. They're trying to have it both ways, and that's seldom if ever effective.

The NFC Championship Game logo is much more effective, playing down the football's details in favor of a streamlined series of arcs and angles:

This page from the NFL's promotional materials tells the story behind the design:

Based on that graphic, the new conference trophies have been recently tweaked. The conference logos have been moved to the front, as the side arc has been streamlined and reduced.

The previous incarnation of the trophy, awarded from 1984 through 2009, was comprised of a bas-relief sculpture of two lines crashing together mounted on a football-shaped oak base and topped off with the conference logo.

I suppose the problem, from the NFL's point of view, is that the old conference trophies aren't all that memorable. They're not. I'm not sure that anyone other than hard-core football fans could describe them (or name them, for that matter). That's obviously what the NFL means to change, by playing up the conference trophies on the game logos and creating a visual link to the Lombardi Trophy.

Visually, the old trophies might not belong in the same class as the Lombardi Trophy, but there is something solid and satisfying about them.

The Packers have won the Halas Trophy twice - once in 1996, before going on to beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI. The trophy is pictured above with Brett Favre and Reggie White, following its presentation after the NFC Championship game with the Carolina Panthers on January 12, 1997 at Lambeau Field.

The Green and Gold won it again the following season, in advance of a crushing loss to the Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII. Favre is pictured holding aloft the 1997 Halas Trophy after beating the 49ers at Candlestick Park on January 11, 1998.

Personally, I've always seen the Halas Trophy as something of a booby prize. If you win the Super Bowl, then it's a forgotten step along the way. If you don't, then does the Halas Trophy really provide all that much consolation? The players seem to agree:
"It doesn't matter whose name is on it I guess," said AJ Hawk, Packers linebacker. "We just like to have it, but when it comes down to it that's not really our goal."
We'll see. On, you Green and Gold to glory!

EDIT 1/23/11: The first re-designed Halas Trophy is destined for the Packers Hall of Fame.

Now on to Dallas: let's get another Lombardi!

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