NFL at 100: Is this the biggest mystery in NFL history?

Has anyone seen the Brunswick-Balke Collender Cup?

Photo by Getty Images.

Somewhere in Ohio, there might be some buried treasure. 

It’s not gold or diamonds, but instead, it could be a prized and mysterious artifact from the early days of the National Football League. 

As the NFL enters its 100th season, the whereabouts of the Brunswick-Balke Collender Cup is a mystery few can answer.

What is it?

The Cup was a silver trophy donated by the tire division of the Brunswick-Balke Collender Company that was intended to be handed out to the league champion of the American Professional Football Association (later renamed the National Football League) following the inaugural 1920 season. 

There were 14 teams in the league, most of which resided in the Great Lakes region. 

A clause was instituted saying if any team won the Cup three times, that team would assume ownership of the trophy.

Documented meeting minutes said the title was going to be awarded by a vote of league managers instead of which team was going to finish with the best record. 

With an 8-0-3 record, the Akron Pros were voted on as the champions and the Cup was presented to team owners Art Ranney and Frank Nied. 

It was at that point the mystery of the trophy began.

What happened to it?

After the trophy was given to Ranney and Nied, who, according to league records, gave congratulatory speeches, the Buffalo All-Americans and the Decatur Staleys disputed the title being awarded to the Pros.

Both franchises argued they tied the Pros that year and that Ranney had a conflict of interest because he presided over the season-ending meeting. 

The league originally had in its books that the 1920 title was undecided, but roughly 50 years later, the NFL looked back into its history, found the initial vote and declared the Pros the 1920 champions.

However, while the team that won the first title was rediscovered by the NFL, the trophy was not. 

Meeting minutes beyond 1920 never mentioned the Cup and nobody knows what happened after Ranney and Nied took possession of it.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, doesn’t have any photos of it.

Where is it?

That is the million dollar question, or perhaps even more than a million dollar question, since who knows how valuable the trophy would be if it is ever located. 

Did Ranney or Nied hand it down to family members? 

Is it an attic, closet or basement somewhere?

Did someone bury it in a yard?

Or did the trophy get thrown away and suffer its death in a garbage incinerator long ago?

A replacement trophy for the league wasn’t commissioned until 1934, and had the Brunswick-Balke Collender Cup kept being awarded, the Green Bay Packers would have assumed ownership of it after winning a third league title in 1931.

Of course, the current Vince Lombardi Trophy (different ones are made every year) was created in 1970 and now is arguably the NFL’s most recognized symbol.

On the other hand, the Brunswick-Balke Collender Cup might be the league’s biggest mystery in its 100 years.

What happened to it?

The world may never know. 

About the Author:

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.