2017-12-07 09:39:04
‘No Two Are Exactly the Same’: How the Heisman Trophy Is Made

09:39, December 07 41 0

DEL CITY, Okla. — Even among famous awards, the Heisman Trophy stands out.

It lacks the mirrored angles of the Vince Lombardi Trophy, the rounded symmetry of the Stanley Cup or the contoured simplicity of the Oscar. The Heisman is gritty verisimilitude. It depicts an athlete in action, dynamically stiff-arming an unseen opponent. It is the color of a scuffed shoe sole, and its chiseled features — deep-set eyes, wrinkled trousers, one bulging calf muscle — are beautiful but not pretty.

So byzantine are its details and so idiosyncratic its coloring that each individual statuette feels unique. In fact, each is, even though the Heisman remains instantly recognizable and its manufacturer takes no creative license.

“No two are exactly the same,” said Jack Nortz, the director of sculpting for MTM Recognition, the company that produces them.

On Saturday in New York, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield is the heavy favorite to win the 83rd Heisman Trophy. It will be more special than usual for the employees at MTM Recognition, which has made the Heisman Trophy since 2005: Its headquarters are just south of Oklahoma City, about a half-hour’s drive from the University of Oklahoma campus in Norman. (The other finalists are Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, who as last year’s winner already owns one of MTM Recognition’s products, and Stanford running back Bryce Love.)

Even when the likely winner is not a Sooner, though, the aura in a workshop that produces dozens of high-profile sports awards is nonetheless distinct when college football’s outstanding player is named.

Suitably for a new statue designed to look old, the process of making a Heisman is both normalized and artisanal. The ancient Egyptians would have known how to make a Heisman: The lost-wax casting method has been used to fashion bronze sculptures for roughly six millenniums.

Hot wax is poured into the molds — one a sturdy, plastic mother mold and the second, inside that, a silicone mold that is sensitive enough to pick up the contours of the figure’s nose, the parallel lines on his helmet and the pebbly base. The mold is hardened to make a cast. Flaws in the cast — for instance, seam lines where the molds came together — are removed with a heated metal implement.

The wax cast is then dipped in what is known as investment, a kind of liquid ceramic, which hardens and, crucially, is heat resistant. This is then heated, melting the wax, which escapes out a hole in the bottom of one of the player’s feet. The hole is not visible once the trophy is mounted on its base.

The empty cast made of heat-resistant investment is next sent to a foundry, where molten bronze — hotter than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit — is poured inside it. Enough bronze to assume the shape of the mold is used, but not so much as to fill it entirely: If the largely hollow Heisman were actually a dense hunk of bronze, it would weigh more than 200 pounds. (The finished model handed to winners is about 35 pounds; roughly double that with its base.)

The object is then returned to MTM Recognition, where the now-brittle investment is hammered off the ashy bronze. The bronze is treated with acid and fire to give it the familiar patina that makes it look as if it is a few decades or centuries old. Invariably, however, each one’s patina comes out slightly different, which is part of what makes each one singular.

Not only is this year’s Heisman slightly different from last year’s, it is more different from those of a generation ago.

MTM Recognition, which took over the trophy’s production more than a decade ago through a partnership with the memorabilia giant Jostens, effectively redesigned it, if in a very small way.

Before 2005, the back shoe had bumps on it to depict laces while the front shoe did not. Nortz added some grooves to the top of the right foot.

“I got to sculpt it!” Nortz said.

MTM Recognition also standardized the trophy’s dimensions after staff members noticed that past trophies’ outstretched right arms departed the body at different angles. That arm has always been cast separately from the body.

“They did research,” Cory Beltz, MTM Recognition’s director of sports business development, said. “In the 1960s, the arm was pointing one way. In the ’70s, another way. We said, ‘Let’s lock that in.’ ”

The solution was to carve a square hole inside the stub of the arm where it meets the torso, and a square peg on the end of the arm where it fits into the hole. As a result, every right arm of every Heisman Trophy now extends at the same angle.

Beyond that alteration, the trophies MTM Recognition makes are faithful reproductions of the one first designed for and awarded by the Downtown Athletic Club in 1935. In fact, the mother mold, made of polyurethane, was made directly from an old Heisman that the Heisman Trophy Trust, which administers the trophy, sent to the company after Jostens got the account.

“They want that antique look,” Beltz said.

MTM Recognition mounts the bronze on a wood base and makes a nameplate for each finalist in the week leading up to the announcement. Everything is shipped to New York for the Saturday night ceremony.

The trophy the winner lifts bears a generic nameplate. After the ceremony, according to a Heisman Trophy Trust spokesman, the trophy and the winner are hustled across the street, where the official nameplate is attached with four screws in time for the player’s news conference. (Teams receive their own Heismans when their players win.)

The trophies are sent home with the player in a container made by Cabbage Cases. The company, based in Columbus, Ohio, fashioned its first Heisman receptacle when the Columbus native Archie Griffin — a former Ohio State running back and the only two-time Heisman winner — drove up one day more than 25 years ago and asked if the company could make him one, according to Mike Hannah, the sales manager. The Heisman Trophy Trust owns these containers, and politely asks that players and colleges return them; they may order their own from Cabbage Cases, which Hannah said will gladly paint the new one in the team colors.

Should a trophy be damaged or in need of refurbishing, players (or their teams) can send them back to Del City for a literal buffing. According to Jay Manning, a metal fabricator at MTM Recognition who handles repairs, the right index finger is the most commonly damaged appendage.

Manning, a former jeweler, recently worked on the Heisman that Billy Cannon won in 1959 as a senior at Louisiana State. He may have touched more Heisman Trophies than anyone else.

“Sometimes I get frustrated,” he said, “that people don’t get as big a kick out of it as I do.”