When UCF's final fourth-and-16 pass fell incomplete last November in Hartford, and when Connecticut entered the victory formation and the final whistle sounded, little did we know that college football's next great rivalry had been born.
UCF didn't know either.
On Monday, UConn's official football Twitter account posted a photo of a new trophy with the Huskies and Knights logos and the words "Civil Conflict," under a "Beat UCF" countdown clock. The two will meet on Oct. 10 in Orlando.
Off-the-wall motivational ploys happen all the time in college football, but this one has already reached the level of an all-time classic.
The premise is absurd on many levels. Calling it the "Civil Conflict," for one. Or the fact that UConn and UCF are located 1,200 miles apart. Or the fact that they have met only twice on a football field, the first time being a 62-17 UCF win in 2013, before the Huskies beat the Knights 37-29 in a pretty big upset last fall. The win turned out to be UConn's first and only AAC win last year, joining a 19-16 win over FCS-level Stony Brook as the Huskies' only two victories overall in a frustrating debut season for new coach Bob Diaco.
For the most part, college football rivalries need to happen organically. You can't just create them out of thin air, especially when the teams involved are UConn and UCF.
In this case, UCF apparently had no idea about a trophy or any sort of rivalry talk.
Just checked w/ @UCF_Football: "We have no involvement with the trophy or creating a rivalry game with UConn." They were surprised by tweet.— Brandon Helwig (@UCFSports) June 1, 2015
As pointed out by The UConn Blog and others, the idea stems from Diaco's postgame comments in November, with Diaco coining the name at the time and everything.
"Maybe I'll, with my money, make a trophy," Diaco said. "I'll buy it myself. I'll put a big, giant Husky and another big, giant Knight on it. Make a stand. Put it out in the hallway."
Seven months later, there it actually is. Nobody could have thought Diaco was truly serious at the time, but UConn did, in fact, decide to create its own bland trophy for a "rivalry" in which it's the only one calling it a rivalry.
It's a concept so bizarre that … well, it could actually work. Not in an Ohio State-Michigan sort of way, but in whatever special way a random rivalry idea with no history can exist.
There are several types of rivalry trophy games in college football:
1. Unique old "trophies" with stories behind them
The first rivalry trophy was actually the Territorial Cup, awarded to the winner of Arizona-Arizona State in 1899. It proceeded to go missing for 80 years before being found in 1980 and subsequently brought back with a replica. That's the first, but rivalry trophies really got their start in the early 1900s thanks to the Little Brown Jug. In 1903, Michigan coach Fielding Yost instructed a manager to buy a jug to carry water to the game in Minneapolis, not trusting Minnesota's water supply. The game finished in a 6-6 tie, and Michigan left the jug in its away locker room. Minnesota kept the jug and painted it, then decided to put it on the line when the two teams next met in 1909. Michigan agreed to the rivalry, and a tradition was born.
It's perfect: Two teams that had already started to develop a bit of a rivalry in the early days of football, with a quirky backstory to go with the trophy. The list of these sorts of things is now lengthy: Minnesota and Iowa play for a bronze pig called the Floyd of Rosedale (after initially wagering an actual pig), and Ohio State and Illinois play for a wooden turtle called the Illibuck (after initially wagering an actual turtle). Minnesota and Wisconsin play for a giant Paul Bunyan Axe, which replaced the Slab of Bacon. Neighbors TCU and SMU began playing for the Iron Skillet in 1946, although the trophy was eventually lost and replaced in 1993. UNLV and Nevada play for the Fremont Cannon. Indiana and Purdue play for the Old Oaken Bucket. Cincinnati and Louisville play for the Keg of Nails.
These are all fun trophies, between natural (or old) rivals, with history behind them.
Status: Highly Encouraged
2. Historic rivalries with bland trophies
A trophy isn't needed to signify bragging rights won in a rivalry game, but if two teams who have been playing each other for a long time decide to give a trophy to the winner, then, well, that's fine. Washington and Washington State have been meeting in the Apple Cup since 1900, and while the trophy itself is bland, it's all well and good. The same goes for Kentucky and Louisville playing for the Governor's Cup, and the new Oklahoma-Oklahoma State Bedlam trophy. Boring trophies? Sure, but the rivalries themselves are legitimate.
3. Manufactured realignment-era trophy games
Much was made last summer of the new Wisconsin-Nebraska "rivalry." Nobody loves trophies and rivalries more than the Big Ten, which has a ton of history behind it and now tries its best to manufacture rivalries whenever possible as realignment changes its structure. Now that Wisconsin and Nebraska are in the same division, they are playing for the Freedom Trophy, which attempts to attach patriotism to the series. The same goes for Nebraska and Iowa, who in 2011 announced the Heroes Game Trophy. They try to attach good intentions to them, but most people see right through it.
Elsewhere, did you know that Pittsburgh and Cincinnati put the enormous Paddlewheel Trophy on the line in their brief time together in the Big East? Or that Penn State and Minnesota play for the Governor's Victory Bell -- that is, when they actually play each other as Big Ten rivals?
Few know, and nobody really cares.
Status: Unnecessary and contrived
4. The truly ridiculous
Obviously, UConn-UCF falls into this category.
The best example is Michigan State and Penn State, which ordinarily would fall in category No. 3, if not for the trophy. When Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993, the rivalry-happy conference was eager to find someone for Penn State to play at the end of the season, as its rivalry with Pitt would soon be on its last legs. Given that Ohio State and Michigan have each other, Michigan State was thought to be a logical choice, with the two designated as permanent opponents in the league's new schedule format. They aren't too far away from each other, and their identity as universities is similar. But instead of trying to let things happen naturally, the world was graced with the presence of the Land Grant Trophy, which, with its combination of trophies, memorabilia and discarded cheap furniture, is the worst trophy in the history of sports.
The Spartans and Nittany Lions were permanent rivals from 1993-2010, then didn't play in the Legends-Leaders era, and now are back on each other's annual schedule in the new Big Ten East-West alignment. The Land Grant Trophy monstrosity has been a running joke for so long that I no longer want to see it destroyed. It has taken on a life of its own and should be around forever, even if the Penn State-Michigan State "rivalry" still lacks real rivalry qualities. It is so ridiculous that it deserves to stay, no matter how hard it is for the winner to transport it back to campus.
UConn-UCF, with a bizarre trophy created by one team's coach -- and not approved by the other side -- after its only conference win of the season, with no shared history or geographic proximity or any real reason for a rivalry beyond sharing a division in a new conference, is just the type of memorable thing that can catch on, even if it's in an ironic way. The Civil Conflict is so dumb that I'm ready to embrace it.
Status: Crazy enough to work
All traditions have to start somewhere, and while it it's always best for these things to develop uniquely and organically, times have changed such that a Michigan-Minnesota Little Brown Jug type of incident can't happen again, because nobody is going to play for a giant orange Gatorade cooler that's accidentally left behind. There is room for new rivalries -- Baylor-TCU is really beginning to blossom, as has Oregon-Stanford -- but the trophy part of it can be tricky, because it should never feel forced.
However, college football is a sport filled with absurd ideas, and sometimes ideas are so truly ridiculous that they may actually catch on. Through a laughable idea that has no business existing, Diaco has gotten us to care about one of the most random pairings of schools possible. It is all crazy, and slightly embarrassing, but whatever. Would we ever be talking about UConn-UCF in June -- or October, when the game actually happens -- otherwise?