A very valuable Nickel: Though thefts passed with rivalry, trophy security is top secret
GRAND FORKS — In 1997, North Dakota State University students donned University of North Dakota janitor shirts to pluck the Nickel Trophy from the football players’ lounge in Memorial Stadium. They then took the football rivalry’s prize on a cross-country tour, documenting the trip with photographs of the Nickel at such landmarks as the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls.
A year later, UND students swiped it back by obtaining the security codes for the NDSU Memorial Union alarm system, hiding above the ceiling tiles and communicating via walkie-talkies.
Because of those two elaborate episodes of espionage and other temporary acts of thievery of the Nickel in years past, UND Athletic Director Brian Faison said he is not letting down his guard even though the football teams haven’t met the last 10 seasons.
“It never stays in one place for an extended period of time,” Faison said. “It moves around occasionally on campus and perhaps sometimes in town. We feel it’s our responsibility to protect it.”
The Nickel Trophy hasn’t left Grand Forks, Faison said, since it traveled around the state as part of UND’s 125th anniversary celebration in 2008.
“It’s been pretty much out of sight since,” he said, before taking it out of hiding for a news photographer.
Despite no other apparent heist attempts due to the football rivalry has been on hold since 2003, the Nickel will return to hiding, he said.
“I don’t know if there’s still a threat for someone taking it,” Faison said. “But I don’t want to find out, either. It’s definitely going to be hidden.
“It could be in a nook. It could be in a cranny.”
Faison said the Athletic Department’s plan is to establish an on-campus location for all of its trophies to be on display. The likely place would be the $13 million indoor practice facility, which will be built at the site of the first Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Little appetite for heist?
Growing up in Mayville, roughly halfway between Grand Forks and Fargo, Robbie Lauf knew about the history of Nickel-napping. However, the NDSU student body president has heard scant chatter about the trophy and its thievery tradition since arriving on campus three years ago.
That’s why Lauf and others in Fargo say that, with no current football rivalry between the universities, there is little appetite to swipe it.
“I’ve heard about the Nickel maybe once or twice since I got here and that was from alumni — not students — reminiscing about stealing it,” he said.
Lauf said times have changed with the football rivalry becoming stagnant the last 10 years: “The Nickel is safe from our students. I don’t know if I can say the same about our alumni.”
South Dakota State has replaced UND as NDSU’s football rival, with the winner gaining possession of the Dakota Marker as its trophy. That prize hasn’t been stolen by either side in its seven-year history.
“I bet if we played UND again in football, the (trophy) swiping would come back,” Lauf said.
Jeff Kolpack, the NDSU football beat writer for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, said there is no appetite for hi-jinks because a UND-NDSU football rivalry no longer exists.
“Most NDSU students don’t even know what the Nickel Trophy is,” Kolpack said. “If you walked around campus and asked, 90 percent wouldn’t know what you’re talking about.
“You could advertise in (NDSU’s student newspaper) that the Nickel is sitting in the lobby of the union and I don’t think anyone would bother to pay for the gas to steal it.”
A rivalry renewal debate
However, there is some sentiment from NDSU precincts of reviving the rivalry. For instance, Bison senior wide receiver Ryan Smith, from Wahpeton, sparked a debate last week with a tweet about him missing out by not being able to play against UND.
He tweeted: “So why does Missouri State get to face UND and we don’t? Bring the true rivalry back to the dome! #nickel.”
Response to Smith’s tweet was mixed. Some, siding with Smith, wanted UND back on the NDSU schedule. Others expressed a sentiment shared with Leah Oye: “Let UND sweat it out a few more years. They wanted it over, (so) let them grovel a little more to get it back.”
Nickel Trophy Facts
Weight: 75 pounds
Size: 250 times bigger than a regular 5-cent piece
Design: Like buffalo nickel, has a Native American head on one side and a buffalo on the other
Series result: UND leads 62-45-3
First meeting: In 1938: NDSU 17, UND 13
Last meeting: In 2003: UND 28, NDSU 21 (OT)