The Vanishing Trophy

Over the years fans of Terrapin football have wondered about the fate of the Terps’ 1953 national championship trophy.  Seen below in the grips of Maryland Football coach Jim Tatum (shaking with hands with Maryland Governor Theodore McKeldin, at left), the trophy disappeared from the campus sometime after that, or so it was claimed.

1953 National Championship Trophy
(L to R: Maryland Gov. Theodore McKeldin, football coach Jim Tatum, Board of Regents Chair William P. Cole, and UM President Harry C. “Curley” Byrd)

Recently the University Archives decided to investigate the mystery, in an attempt to shed some light.  We traveled the country (via e-mail), going from Chicago to Indiana to Minnesota to Oklahoma to Indiana and back again.  As it turns out, the trophy never disappeared, because it was never Maryland’s to keep.

In the 1920s, national champions were given the Rissman Trophy, named for Jack Rissman, a Chicago clothier.  After winning the trophy for a third time, Notre Dame was allowed to ‘retire’ (a.k.a. keep) the trophy, and create another, naming it as they wished.  Notre Dame created the Knute Rockne trophy in 1930, and this was won three times by the University of Minnesota, who retired it and created the A.V. Williams trophy in 1940.

Notre Dame re-entered the picture in 1947, having won the Williams three times.  They created the Rev. J. Hugh O’Donnell trophy, in honor of a former ND president and football star.  It is this trophy that the University of Maryland won in 1953.

O'Donnell Trophy

The Rev. J. Hugh O’Donnell Trophy.  Standing next to it is Notre Dame Athletic Director Edward “Moose” Krause.  Courtesy of the University of Notre Dame Archives.

Unfortunately for the Terps, the trophy they won was ultimately retired by the University of Oklahoma in 1956.  We tracked the trophy there, where today it sits in a display case in the university’s Switzer Center.  The trophy that took its place was the AP National Championship Trophy, which was re-named for former Maryland and Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant in 1983.  That trophy is still awarded today, but no-one gets to keep it permanently, regardless of how often they win it.


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