CHICAGO – Some play for axes, little brown jugs and even a milk can. Others engage in "battles" and "holy wars." Still more play for cups of a myriad of shapes and sizes and names.
On the last Friday of November in Lincoln, Neb., the football teams from the University of Iowa and the University of Nebraska will square off in the first of what is expected to be a long and competitive and entertaining rivalry between one of the Big Ten Conference's original member institutions and the league's most recent addition.
And, while the goal is the same as other "trophy games" – win the struggle on the gridiron and claim the trophy -- the Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers won't use their annual meeting to determine ownership of football bragging rights for the Corn Belt exclusively. Instead, they will use the national stage that will be Nebraska's Memorial Stadium or Iowa's historic Kinnick Stadium each autumn to honor citizens of their respective states who are, according to Webster's Dictionary, "admired for their brave deeds and noble qualities," and they intend to work with a partner to do a good deed of their own.
Representatives of the two institutions unveiled their plan for "The Heroes Game" Friday morning, hours before the Big Ten Conference celebrated the start of its 116th season of football -- the first which includes the Cornhuskers as a member institution of the nation's oldest and grandest intercollegiate athletics conference.
The institutions plan to honor one citizen of Iowa and one citizen of Nebraska prior to each Heroes Game for their extraordinary act. These heroes will be nominated by friends, neighbors or co-workers and will be guests of the two teams at the game where they will be honored on-field during game day. Each will also have their name and hometown etched on the to-be-created Heroes Game trophy.
"We believe that the people of Iowa and the people of Nebraska are very much alike in many ways. Both believe in an honest day's work, the importance of community and family, and both love college football and their football heroes. We also know there are citizens of our states doing exceptional things every day and we think they are deserving of some recognition and we look forward to using this game to do that," said Tom Osborne, director of athletics at the University of Nebraska.
The first "Heroes Game" is still months away. It will be played the day after Thanksgiving – Friday, Nov. 25. However, that event is already larger than life for the fans of the two teams. UI and NU officials are counting on that interest to drive another piece of "The Heroes Game" puzzle: The opportunity to use the "Heroes Game" to raise funds for a non-profit organization in each state. The beneficiary of the efforts initiated in support of the first two "Heroes Games" will be the Iowa and Nebraska chapters of the American Red Cross.
"There's little doubt that the football game between Iowa and Nebraska will have the full attention of our fans and fans across the country. In fact, in our state it's been a topic of significant discussion for our fans since the official announcement of the expansion of the Big Ten last year. So, to have the opportunity to work with our friends at Hy-Vee and our new friends at Nebraska to channel that energy into support for something as deserving as the American Red Cross efforts is exciting," said Gary Barta, the UI's director of athletics, who also noted the prominent role the American Red Cross is playing as the states of Iowa and Nebraska deal with the flooding caused by the swollen Missouri River.
As the title sponsor of the "Heroes Game," the institutions will look to the leadership of Hy-Vee, one of the nation's top 20 supermarket chains and top 50 private companies in the United States, to spearhead the fund-raising efforts that will be staged annually and to take a lead role in creating activities that bring the event to life across the two states.
And, Hy-Vee is uniquely positioned to help the UI and NU achieve their goals. The company boasts annual sales of more than $7 billion and 233 locations throughout the Midwest, including more than 160 locations in Iowa and Nebraska. It also has a wealth of sports marketing experience with a resume that includes partnerships with NFL's Kansas City Chiefs and MLB's Kansas City Royals, in addition to the staging of the annual Hy-Vee Triathalon.
"With the ‘Hy-Vee Heroes' game we have a truly unique opportunity to not only sponsor two legendary football programs and what we believe will be the new classic post-Thanksgiving rivalry game. We also have the opportunity to use this great new rivalry to recognize some incredible people, doing incredible good throughout the heartland, our heartland heroes," said Randy Edeker, president of Hy-Vee.
" The first two years partnering with the Red Cross and all the great work they do and then moving to another great organization, honoring all who give unselfishly to our communities," Edeker added.
The Heroes Game is the 14th "trophy game" in the history of the Big Ten Conference.
The institutions will work with their multi-media partners – Hawkeye Sports Properties, a property of Learfield Sports, and Husker IMG Sports Marketing – to expand support of the event and of the non-profit organization that will benefit annually from the efforts of the American Red Cross.