Fresno State, SDSU, An eBay Oil Can
San Diego State and Fresno State meet up for a trophy
Who would have thought Fresno State and San Diego State would be playing for first place?
How can something so new, relatively speaking, stink so badly? “That thing reeked,” former Aztecs wide receiver Adam Roberts told the San Diego Union-Tribune of the Old Oil Can trophy, which is once again up for grabs as San Diego State and Fresno State renew their rivalry on Saturday. “It smells bad. Really bad.”
Well it is an old oil can after all.
The Old Oil Can trophy hasn’t actually been around all that long. It was conjured up in 2011. The alumni associations of Fresno State and San Diego State, just three weeks before the two schools were slated to meet for the first time since 2002, worked together to create a from-scratch tradition. The alumni leaders wanted a physical representation of the two schools’ long standing (they had met 50 times prior) rivalry. So they set to work.
Looking in every direction for goodwill and an actionable idea, the alumni leaders called for suggestions. A “Rivalry Renewed” contest was launched, asking for nominations “to select an appropriate iconic trophy to be awarded annually to the victorious university in the schools’ renewed rivalry football game.” To encourage participation, a prize was announced.
“The winner will receive an iPad.”
Dozens of people took the bait. Ideas ranged from tolerable (a “CSU Pinnacle Trophy”) to the bizarre (a bulldog in Aztec clothing). Fortunately one anonymous submission pointed out that there might actually be some history to draw upon. An old oil can from Fresno had been found on the building site of SDSU’s Viejas Arena.
The can, according to Fresno’s Jacquelyn Glasener (the Executive Director of the Alumni Association), “Likely came from a time when Aztec and Bulldog teams and fans traveled to football games between the two schools via the old, twisting, precipitous Grapevine section of Highway 99 over the Tejon Pass.” An extra can of oil could be a trip saver.
We had a winner.
Then the organizers turned to eBay (it was 2011 after all) for the actual hardware. Oh the choices. A search for a “vintage oil can” currently yields 6,463 results. Expedient shopping prevailed; a $35 selection was made. It’s a good looking can.
Now some might proceed from here to bemoan the Old Oil Can trophy as an example of contrived history, conjured rivalries, and vintageness run amok. But not me.
The “Battle for the Old Oil Can” is a textbook example of building a tradition
Everything has to start somewhere. Consider just a couple of examples. The vaunted Rebels team walk through The Grove at Ole Miss, often highlighted in CBS’s coverage of the SEC as something nearly as storied as college football itself, started in 1983.
The new coach at the time, Billy Brewer, wanted to expose his team to the festivities going on outside the stadium. Thus the walk began. More recently, the fans at the University of Iowa’s stadium have started waving to children in the adjacent hospital at the end of the first quarter of Hawkeye games. It’s already being called “the new wave” and “the best new college football tradition.” It just started this year as a concerted effort to provide a bit of encouragement to hospital patients.
The first Old Oil Can trophy presentation went to San Diego State, on December 3, 2011. The Aztecs, under first year coach Rocky Long, won a hard fought 35-28 victory.
Since then it’s been a back and forth affair. Fresno surged, winning the subsequent three Oil Can contests. Then, in 2015 and 2016, San Diego State wrestled back control of the trophy and rivalry.
The rivalry itself survived a scare in 2012. Just as fans got used to the named rivalry, San Diego State announced its intentions to leave the Mountain West for the Big East in 2013. “So this might well be the last Battle of the Oil Can we see for a while,” the Union-Tribune lamented, perhaps surprised at its own sense of loss, in 2012. Fortunately, the Aztecs stayed put. The rivalry survived. Here we are at this year’s game.
Can Fresno Ruin SDSU’s Homecoming?
It’s homecoming for the Aztecs on Saturday. The last time the Aztecs football team lost on homecoming? 2013, to Fresno State.
Who would have thought first place would be on the line? No one looked at the calendar and circled this game as a marque Mountain West contest.
Fresno State enters the contest 3-0 in the Mountain West, and fresh off a 38-0 thrashing of New Mexico. First year head coach Jeff Tedford might just be a miracle worker. Fresno, 1-11 last season, is ranked 14th in the nation in rushing defense. Fresno is practically undefeated, with its two losses coming against No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Washington during the first two weeks of the season.
San Diego State, on the other hand, enters Oil Can week following its first loss of the season—31-14 to Boise State. The Aztecs have dropped out of the top 25, but remain the heavy favorite in the Mountain West’s West Division. SDSU is 4-1 overall, 2-1 in the Mountain West.
As always, I’ll leave the winner/loser predictions to the experts. I’m just a lowly sports historian. But what I will project is that this Battle for the Old Oil Can will continue to grow. It will continue to be good fun. And more than that, it will undoubtedly produce copycats. Schools will look to codify their rivalries with quirky trophies. I can almost hear the Sports Information Directors now: “Well if SDSU and Fresno can make an old oil can work….”