Remove the faceplate of the recently revived and rebuilt $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy and you’ll find everything you need to know about the unauthorized but adored (by fans at least) totem. It reads: two-of-infinity.
That infinity symbol is important, a statement of intent.
The idea is that the group of Husker and Gopher fans responsible for bringing it back to life would “continue to make trophies, that if they kept getting lost one would appear every year,” said Luke Petersen, the Nebraska fan who built the trophy.
Such a disappearance has happened before.
Here’s what we know about the $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy. It started as joke on Twitter between @FauxPelini and Goldy Gopher in the week leading up to the 2014 Nebraska-Minnesota game. A group of Gopher supporters turned the joke into reality by building the trophy, which Minnesota won and carried off the Memorial Stadium turf that first year.
— Nebraska Huskers (@Huskers) October 18, 2015
Nebraska took it back in 2015. Mike Riley was photographed with it in the locker room following the game, but by 2016 it was nowhere to be found amidst rumblings that neither university was that interested in continuing the unofficial tradition.
But the tradition never died at Reddit’s college football subreddit, r/CFB, a popular online destination for fans throughout the world. Attracted by the organic, DIY aesthetic of the trophy and the fact that it essentially rose from an online meme to an on-field trophy, there was a group of fans committed to willing the trophy back into existence.
It started as a Reddit thread back in August, with users kicking around various ideas for keeping the trophy alive. Eventually the group decided they could just build the trophy themselves.
Petersen, a Reddit user and woodworker in his spare time, took up the challenge. Working from a handful of photos of the trophy and using the dimensions of the fake $5 bills pasted to the bottom of the original chair for scale, he and another Husker fan got to work. In an ironic twist for a trophy that has, to this point, not been widely supported at the administrative level, the pair used the Nebraska Innovation Studio, a makerspace open to the community on UNL’s campus, to rebuild the broken chair with some improvements.
“We decided that if we really wanted something that would last longer and not be an embarrassment later on to help the administrations be OK with it, it needed to look nicer,” Petersen said.
The original trophy, clearly constructed in a hurry, was pretty rough according to Peterson. The Minnesota and Nebraska logos on the faceplate were drawn on in Sharpie. The base was made out of lumber that hadn’t been sanded or finished. The children’s chair was spray-painted gold and simply screwed on.
That has all been fixed with the new version. It looks a little bit nicer, but, given its origin story, remains firmly anti-establishment. That’s always been a key part of its appeal.
“The idea of an online personality, Faux Pelini, and Goldy Gopher making a chair, seemed much more real to people and more fun,” Petersen said. “Fans definitely love fun. It’s from the people. We like that.”
There’s still no word on if either university is ready to support the $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy in any official capacity, but the group of fans behind it are having those conversations and remain optimistic. In the meantime they’ve taken steps to ensure that the trophy won’t go away.
In addition to making it easily rebuilt should the new one disappear, the organizers also reached out to two local charities, one in Nebraska and one in Minnesota.
“We were trying to think of a way to implement it without having the universities or administrations involved,” Petersen said. “For me there’s something organic and fan-based about it. We came to the conclusion that the best way to do that was partnering with charities to raise $5 donations or whatever for the $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy.”
The Team Jack Foundation and the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital are the two charities that quickly got on board. All donations received at brokenchairtrophy.com will be split evenly between the two organizations.
As for the trophy itself, Petersen says they’re still working on getting it on the field for the winner of the Nov. 11 Nebraska-Minnesota game. It will definitely be at TCF Bank Stadium. Given it’s popularity, you’ll probably see numerous photos of it on social media that day.
That’s how the $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy started, and if that’s how it has to restart, well, it feels pretty fitting to Petersen and what he called the “nameless online people” who wouldn’t let it die.
“We’re just random folks,” Petersen said. “We don’t want fame for it. I don’t want credit for it. We just want the trophy to happen.”
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.