Eric Peterson, Published September 18 2013
'Ugliest traveling trophy' back in play for Cobbers on Saturday
“That’s the ugliest traveling trophy in the country I tell people,” Horan said with a laugh. “But it’s a good thing that it’s here. We take a lot of pride in it.”
The furry-looking figure is awarded to the winner of the Concordia-St. Olaf game. The teams play at 1 p.m. Saturday at Jake Christiansen Stadium, the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference opener for both teams.
The Cobbers and Oles have played for the Troll since 1974.
“Our players have jumped on board with it, and they love it,” Horan said. “None of them see it a whole lot unless they come to my office.”
The Troll trophy could garner national exposure Saturday. Earlier this week, ESPN “College GameDay” host Chris Fowler expressed interest via Twitter in having a shot of the Troll on the show, which will originate from Fargo on Saturday.
Concordia sports information director Jim Cella said Wednesday night it hadn’t been verified whether or not the Troll would make it on the show.
“Even if it doesn’t happen, it adds to the lore of the Troll trophy,” Cella said.
The Troll’s origins can be traced to the mountains near Lillehammer. That’s where John Proitz, who made trolls from natural items, lived.
“It’s all Norwegian natural,” said Herb Morgenthaler, a 1961 Concordia graduate. “We loved it, because it seemed so authentic and unusual.”
Morgenthaler and Mark Halaas, who is a former Concordia alumni director, developed the Troll idea. They wanted a unique way to welcome St. Olaf back into the MIAC. The Oles had left the conference for more than 20 years before rejoining in the 1970s.
Since Concordia and St. Olaf both have Norwegian heritage, using a troll – which is part of Norse mythology – was a way to reflect that, Morgenthaler said.
Morgenthaler got the Troll trophy through Jim Johnson, who operated a Scandinavian-themed store in the Twin Cities for four decades. Johnson has since retired. While Johnson is Swedish, his wife, Mary, is Norwegian.
Johnson found out about Proitz through his wife’s relatives who lived in Lillehammer.
“He lived high up into the mountains,” the 86-year-old Johnson said of Proitz. “That was a glorious trip we used to take every year. I’d drive up there and wind around to get to his place.”
In the fall, Proitz would climb pine trees and bag moss that he would use through the winter to make trolls, Johnson said. Proitz also used natural items like pine cones for toenails and fingernails.
“I don’t know where he got these glass eyes, but they were like a human’s eye,” Johnson said with a laugh.
Part of the folklore goes that the man who made the Troll was legally blind. Johnson doesn’t recall that being entirely accurate.
“He had a sight problem,” said Johnson, who became good friends with Proitz. “That part is true. When it came to working with something right in front of him, that was fine.”
Morgenthaler said the Troll was purchased for around $125.
“It’s no typical trophy,” said Concordia senior offensive lineman Ben Tamm. “It’s kind of like the Cobber mascot. It adds to the charm of it just, because it’s such an obscure mascot.”
Horan was also part of the Troll game as a player. Horan was an All-America wide receiver for the Cobbers in the 1980s. Jim Christopherson was Horan’s head coach.
“We really never even knew about the thing,” Horan said. “I was always wondering why coach Christopherson was carrying this ugly looking fur thing on a wood block to our St. Olaf games.”
Horan has tried to use the traveling trophy as an extra motivator for his team when it plays the Oles. Tamm recalled the scene after the Cobbers earned a 28-14 victory at St. Olaf last season to regain the Troll.
“We hoisted it and took a bunch of pictures with it,” Tamm said with a smile. “Guys gathered around it and touched it. It was a big deal.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.
Peterson’s blog can be found at peterson.areavoices.com