The MMQB presents NFL 95, a special project—unveiled every Wednesday, from May through July—detailing 95 artifacts that tell the story of the NFL, as the league prepares to enter its 95th season. See the entire series here.
Today’s NFL teams are driven by the quest for a Lombardi Trophy and Super Bowl rings so extravagant that, as the Giants’ Michael Strahan once said, they could be gawked at 10 tables away in a restaurant. But bling wasn't always the reward for winning a league title. After the NFL’s first official championship game, the Chicago Bears’ 23-21 victory over the New York Giants in 1933, Bears owner George Halas presented each player with an unusual memento: a custom-made bearskin, inscribed with the team’s numerical roster and painted to read, “Professional Football Champions of the World.”
Beginning the following season, 1934, champions earned the Ed Thorp Memorial Trophy, named for a deceased NFL referee and friend to many team owners. It was last awarded to the 1969 Vikings, and as legend has it, the Minnesota organization lost the trophy and has been cursed ever since. The Super Bowl era brought a new bauble—a trophy originally designed by Tiffany & Co. in 1966 and renamed in honor of legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi after his death in 1970. And, of course, there’s the tradition of rings now given to every player on a winning Super Bowl side.
Photograph courtesy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.