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A History of the Rocky Mountain Cup

An inside look at the RMC from the chairman of the original organizing group.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Abbie asked me to write up a history of the early days of the Rocky Mountain Cup to introduce new fans to how we ended up with the competition we have today. She asked me because I was the “Chairman” of the original organizing group that set the competition rules up and got the trophy made and the tradition started. (Chairman being the title for the guy who’s most willing to poke people until stuff gets done.)

How it all started

After Real Salt Lake was announced as an expansion team in 2004, a discussion started on the BigSoccer Rapids forum about the natural rivalry Denver has with Salt Lake City and if/how it would translate to MLS when RSL started play in 2005. After talks about getting a rivalry competition was kicked around, I poked my head into the RSL forum on BigSoccer and found them having a similar discussion. I decided to reach out to a couple of “leaders” on their forum to see if there was any real interest in getting something going or if this was just some talk. There seemed to be some real interest on both sides so we set off to recruit some fans to help.

We ended up settling on five fans from each side of the Continental Divide, at least in loyalty. I was actually living in Arizona at the time, another Rapids fan on the committee was in Washington DC, and at least one of the RSL fans wasn’t local to SLC. The Colorado reps were Mark Bodmer, Jason ‘Greenie’ Greene, Bill Fisher, and Jeremy Vanderlan (along with myself). After getting ourselves somewhat organized in the fall of 2004, we announced to the fanbases we were working on the competition.

This was partially to cut off the Front Offices who we had heard were working on something on their own and we wanted to make sure whatever was developed would come from the fans, not run by the teams. It wouldn’t be until midway through the first year that the phrase we used, “For the fans, by the fans”, was developed but it was the mentality we had from the start. The Committee settled on a simple name of the Committee of 10 (or C10) to work under going forward.

Naming the cup

The next step was to figure out what the competition would be called. We temporarily called it the RealRapids Cup while we worked on a permanent name. Top suggestions were Highlands, High Country, Alpine, King of the Mountains/Mountain Kings, and Rocky Mountain.

There was also a discussion of what would be played for. The suggestions from the committee were a cup, an antique ski, a miner’s pickaxe (this was actually my suggestion), and a climber’s ice axe. We decided to put the suggestions to a vote of the fan base. The overwhelming winners were Rocky Mountain and a cup—with both getting twice as many votes as the next closest options—so the Rocky Mountain Cup was born. Had Cup not won we were going to have a discussion about calling it a Derby or a Classic or whatever but we were able to skip that part at least. But just think, we could be playing for the Alpine Derby this week where the winning team lifts an antique ski!

Setting up the rules

This got us up to the kickoff of RSL’s inaugural season in 2005 and there was still a ton of work to do. The big pieces left were the actual competition rules and fundraising to purchase the trophy. The former wasn’t too hard since the committee seemed to be pretty much on the same page for the most part.

The tricky part was the deeper tiebreakers, and they’ve changed over the years. At first, the competition was points, goals, away goals, “most recent win” and then “current holders retain”. We originally felt that the “most recent win” would give more meaning to those late-season games where teams would be pushing for playoff position. We realized after the first year or two though that it only meant something if both teams were in playoff competition. If they weren’t one team might have been trying harder so we dropped that tiebreaker.

The away goals rule was fine when both teams played an equal number of home games but when the league went to an uneven home-away schedule we dropped that tiebreaker. The final “current holders retain” tiebreaker was just to have something to clarify what happens in a dead tie and we felt that the Cup must be won, not handed over on a tie. I wish we had been more explicit in specifying that in the case of a tie, the “current holders” didn’t actually win the Cup that year. Now those are seen as wins for the “current holders” (all RSL to this point).

Raising money to buy the Cup

As far as the fundraising goes, the teams pitched in and helped the committee out by providing a number of items that were auctioned off to raise money. On the Salt Lake side one of the committee members was a semi-pro photographer with a team press pass, so he got pictures of players at practices, had them autographed and framed/mounted and we auctioned those off on eBay and at fan events.

In Colorado, the team dug out old and new memorabilia and had them autographed so we could auction them off. There was a planned ‘celebrity bartending’ event where the Rapids players took over the bar at the Celtic for charity and the team set some of the items up there and auctioned them off that night for us. One of the items was an autographed scarf which still hangs in my basement.

After raising enough money the Cup was commissioned from a smith in Scotland for about $2,000. After being delivered to Colorado it was engraved with the mountains and inscription you see on it today. “Bring me men to match my mountains: Bring me men to match my plains: Men with empires in their purpose and new eras in their brains” from The Coming American by Sam Walter Foss.

Rapids fans had it for a few weeks before handing it off to the Real fans after game two in 2005 so they could have it for a couple of weeks before it was first awarded.

The first winner

In October of 2005, at the final game of the regular season, the Cup was awarded on the field at Rice-Eccles Stadium. I had the honor of awarding it as the Rapids fan representative to Fernando Clavijo and the team. Joe Cannon was quick to take the Cup to celebrate in front of the Salt Lake fans (all 10 Rapids fans who had made the trip that night were allowed on the field for the presentation). I got to repeat the presentation in 2006 in SLC, which was the infamous “Pablo stuffing his shirt in his shorts” game. After that I left C10. The competition was up and running and there wasn’t much else to do.

The future of the Cup

There’s really only one other piece of interesting history. In 2012, the Salt Lake front office went out and found a sponsor for the competition, auto dealer Larry H. Miller. This was done without the approval of C10 (or even the Rapids FO) and ruffled some feathers.

In the end it turned out to be a good thing, though, as C10 filed a trademark on Rocky Mountain Cup in Colorado and Utah. This would come in handy the following offseason as MLS tried to trademark all the rivalry competitions in the league, ostensibly to protect them from some other organization claiming them. Most of the competitions were fine with it, either because they were largely run by the league anyway (like the Trillium Cup) or because the fans running it didn’t care that much (like the Brimstone Cup).

The only two competitions to object were the Cascadia Cup between Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland and the Rocky Mountain Cup. In both cases, the league worked with the fan organizers to make sure their interests were protected while leaving control of the competition and the trademark in the hands of the fans.

A couple of years ago I was asked to rejoin C10 and I am currently one of the Rapids’ representatives on the committee. Should we manage to pull out the unexpected 4-goal win on Saturday night, I’ll have the Cup in Eighteen76 for fans to take pictures with it after the presentation (assuming we can get it back from the players!).