Wrestling Belts, ConFLiCT and The Spirit of College Football Rivalry

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A rule of thumb in professional wrestling: If a match involves a trophy, chances are it’s getting smashed.

UCF didn’t take a play out of Bad News Brown’s playbook from WrestleMania IV, but the Knights leaving the Civil ConFLiCT Trophy at Rentschler Field after beating UConn Saturday sent a similar message. It also marks a new example of what constitutes rivalry.

Rivalries cannot be manufactured. Introduction a trophy alone does nothing to add significance to a series. There has to be something special behind it.

Texas A&M and South Carolina added a trophy to their SEC cross-divisional series a few years ago, for example. The Bonham Trophy feels more like an ego stroke for former Texas Gov. Rick Perry than a genuine reflection of any animus between the Aggies and Gamecocks.

Likewise, the Civil ConFLiCT appeared to be little more than Bob Diaco giving his Huskies a motivational tool against an American Athletic Conference foe. But UCF’s rejection of the trophy does more to introduce the real rancor needed to build a legitimate rivalry. Go figure.

Rivalry gives college football some of the character that separates it from the NFL. Sure, the NFL has legitimate rivalries: Chicago-Green Bay; Dallas-Everyone Else In The NFC East; New England-The Rest Of The World.

However, only in college football are the rivalries so culturally ingrained. Packers fans aren’t painting Bears’ emblems in Chicago green-and-gold, the way Arizona and Arizona State students paint their rival schools’ respective A’s. Not legally, anyway.

Undergrads conspiring to paint the rocks on each school’s version of A Mountain, and counter efforts to protect the A, are as much a part of Duel in the Desert week as the game itself.

The annual contest between the Sun Devils and Wildcats culminates with the presentation of the Territorial Cup, the oldest rivalry-game trophy in the sport. The small, Tiffany silver vase dates back to 1899, and is thusly named because Arizona was still 12 years away from statehood when it was first awarded.

And yet, even the oldest rivalry trophy in college football had to get its start somewhere.

Perhaps in another century, the Battle for the Belt between South Alabama and Troy will approach the same level of hostility and tradition as the Territorial Cup — or dare I say, the Iron Bowl?

Sorry. I’m sorry. I’m trying to delete it. Perhaps I’m taking things too far. But can you blame my exciting over a burgeoning rivalry game played for a wrestling title belt?

Thursday night marked just the fifth all-time meeting between Troy and South Alabama. Of course, South Alabama’s only hosted a football program since 2009, and joined the Sun Belt Conference just five years ago.

Presenting the winner such a unique trophy does indeed give the Battle for the Belt a special quality. It may not be a hostile quality — not like UCF leaving the Civil ConFLiCT Trophy in Connecticut.

That scene could have been uglier, though. Scott Frost could have had his Knights smash it on the field.