The Stanley Cup

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Jeff Kowalsky / EPA / Corbis

Detroit Red Wings Henrik Zetterberg carries the Stanley Cup, after they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 at the Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on June 4, 2008.

Moments after they win the National Hockey League championship, the delirious members of the victorious team invariably pass the Stanley Cup around the ice and essentially make out with the silver trophy. It's pretty gross. After all, don't these guys know that during its 116-year history, liters of backwash have sloshed around the Cup as countless players and fans chugged champagne out of this glorified keg? Don't they know that at least one dog — and a Kentucky Derby-winning thoroughbred — have slurped chow from the Cup? And that both infants and inebriated adults have literally treated the Stanley Cup as a toilet bowl? A man named Walt Neubrand, who is one of the three people in charge of chaperoning the Cup through its many misadventures, put it best. "I laugh at the people who kiss it," Neubrand once said. "I mean, would you kiss a subway pole? Hey, if you get hepatitis, don't blame me."

The Stanley Cup is, without question, the most colorful — and potentially contagious — title trinket in sports. It's hard to imagine anyone peeing on the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Stanley has so many stories — if he could talk, he'd love to tell you about that wacky night he spent at the bottom of Mario Lemieux's pool — because every year, each player and front-office member from the winning team gets to spend a day with the Cup before turning it over to their championship successors. (Of course, if the Detroit Red Wings hold on to their 2-0 series lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins in this year's Finals, they'll get to party with it for two straight off-seasons.) If you've only got a day to hang with Stanley, you'll want show him a helluva time. (See the top 10 sports moments of 2008.)

When Lord Stanley of Preston, the Governor General of Canada, purchased the Cup for $50 in 1893, he never anticipated that a goalie would use it as a popcorn bowl in a movie theater, like the New Jersey Devils' Martin Brodeur did over a century later. Stanley bought the Cup as a prize for the best amateur hockey club in Canada. The NHL took control of it in 1926, but the tradition of abuse started at the outset. In 1905, a member of the Ottawa Silver Seven drop-kicked the Cup into a canal. The boys kept the party going through the night, and rescued the Cup the next day. Two years later, the Montreal Wanderers gave the Cup to a photographer, who was tasked with documenting their title. Instead, the photog's mother turned Stanley into a fancy flowerpot. A few months later, Wanderers management retrieved the soiled prize.

In 1924, a few Montreal Canadiens stuck Stanley in the trunk of a car and headed to a victory celebration. They got a flat, and flipped Stanley onto a snow bank so they could pull out the spare. After changing the tire, they drove off without the Cup. (They returned later that evening to find the Cup still on the side of the road.) Stanley has been punted, abandoned —and, of course, stolen. During the 1962 playoffs, the Cup was on display in the lobby of Chicago Stadium when an angry Canadiens fan snatched it from a glass case and fled for the exits. When an officer stopped him, the fan offered a simple motive for the heist. "I want to take it back where it belongs," he said, "to Montreal."

The great Mark Messier, winner of six championships during his Hall of Fame career, was fond of taking the Cup to strip joints. After his New York Rangers won the title in 1994, he brought the Cup to a Manhattan venue called Scores. "It was the first time I'd seen our customers eager to touch something besides our dancers," the club's spokesperson said. The Animal House antics of those '94 Rangers — Eddie Olczyk let Kentucky Derby winner Go for Gin eat out of the Cup at Belmont Park, and a couple of other Rangers took it to an MTV beach house — prompted the NHL Hall of Fame to hire minders to keep the Cup out of jail. The Cup Cops, however, will still let Stanley go bar-hopping. And they're kind enough to give players private time with the trophy. They weren't standing in Steve Yzerman's bathroom, arms folded like bouncers, when the former Red Wings captain took a shower with the Cup a few years ago.

Another Cup tradition — engraving the names of players, coaches, and executives from each winning team on the trophy, which is now almost three feet tall, and weighs nearly 35 pounds — offers more opportunities for misadventure. With so many names, misspellings are inevitable. Still, it's pretty difficult to explain how the Toronto Maple Leaes, not Maple Leafs, won the 1963 championship, or how the New York Ilanders, not Islanders, took home the 1981 trophy. And what's with the 16 "Xs" under the 1983-1984 Edmonton Oilers? No, they don't refer to the nocturnal fetishes of Messier, who starred on that team. Former Oiler owner Peter Pocklington tried to sneak his father, Basil, onto the roster. The Cup Cops eventually caught onto the ruse, and since you can't use Wite-Out on silver, they used the X's to cross out Papa Pocklington's name.

Blemishes and all, the Stanley Cup is a beauty. What other trophy may show up at your local tavern for a shot or two? But if you happen to see the Cup this summer, please keep it clean. And do yourself a favor: no matter how psyched you are to see the trophy, keep your lips off Stanley.

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