The Land Grant Trophy and All Its Beauty

By John Morgan on November 4, 2017 at 11:48 am
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Being the nation’s oldest land-grant universities certainly has its perks, and one of them is on display whenever Penn State and Michigan State play a football game. The Nittany Lions head to East Lansing on Saturday with the infamous Land Grant Trophy at stake. The trophy is the subject to internet ridicule, but for some, it’s a (really ugly and heavy) badge of honor


When Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993, Michigan State and Penn State were deemed “permanent rivals” that would play for the trophy during the final week of conference play. From 1993-2010, the game was played annually, but once the Big Ten added Nebraska, the “permanent” rivalry got paused as Penn State was placed in the Leaders division and Michigan State was in the Legends division.

In 2014, the Big Ten added Rutgers and Maryland and once again realigned. It was then that the glory of the Land Grant Trophy was restored. Though they don’t play at the end of the season anymore, that hunk of a trophy will be on the line every year.

The Trophy

There may not be enough words to adequately describe the Land Grant Trophy. It looks like a woodshop project that was done by a group of seventh graders, but that’s neither here nor there. The trophy was not designed by a sculptor, but rather, it was thrown together by former Michigan State coach George Perles.

In what seems like an act of desperation, a picture of Penn State’s Old Man and Michigan State’s Beaumont Tower were slapped on the sides of the multi-tiered trophy. On another landing area of the wood is a replica of the Lion Shrine and the Michigan State Spartan Statue. As an added touch, a football player was added to the top of the trophy, probably because if it was not specified that this was meant to be a trophy for a football game, someone might mistake it for an inconvenient end table.

The Games

The Penn State and Michigan State series stands at 15-15-1 heading into Saturday’s clash. In the 21 games since Penn State has been a member of the Big Ten, though, they hold a decisive 14-7 advantage.

When the trophy is on the line, the games have generally been one-sided. Though the first game in 1993 was a 38-37 Penn State win, only seven games of the 21 have been decided by seven points or fewer. The last two games have resulted in a 72-point aggregate margin of victory — Michigan State won 55-16 in 2015 and Penn State returned the favor last year by a score of 45-12.

Why We Love It

The Big Ten did its best to create a rivalry for both Michigan State and Penn State, but it never materialized as originally intended. In fact, you can argue the last two seasons have done more for the rivalry than the previous 19 meetings.

Michigan State used an offensive lineman to score a touchdown late in the 2015 game, and last year, Penn State never took its foot off the gas. When asked about Penn State throwing late in the game with a big lead, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said, “You know what they say about paybacks – 55-16 last year, I guess they felt …We gotta make the plays to stop them.”

It may be an ugly trophy to some, but James Franklin summed it up best this week when he said, "I think what makes it so beautiful is how unorthodox it is. It's not your normal trophy. It's unique, it's unorthodox. It's cool.”

After years of getting used to it, we agree.