The Telephone Trophy is the name of the traveling trophy awarded each year to the winner of the college football game played between the University of Missouri (Mizzou or MU for short) and the Iowa State University Cyclones (often abbreviated ISU). The history of this coveted award known as the Telephone Trophy dates back to 1959.
The physical nature of the Telephone Trophy is that of a rotary telephone from a bygone era. Unlike a touch-tone telephone with buttons, the rotary style of early telephones have a circular style used for dialing numbers. Before the proliferation of touch-tone phones, the rotary phone was a more time-consuming way to make calls. The receiver, part of the rotary telephone used for listening, is colored half red (Iowa State color) and half yellow (Mizzou color). Inscribed on the base of the Telephone Trophy are the scores of every game played for the traveling trophy between Iowa State University and MU.
The University of Missouri is located in Columbia, Missouri. This mostly college town is centrally located in the state of Missouri. Iowa State University is located in Ames, Iowa which is centrally located within that state. A distance of 275 miles separates the two schools. The 275 miles between the two university campuses can normally be covered between four and a half and five hours by car.
While both the Mizzou football program and the Cyclones are both members of the Big 12 Conference (and in fact both members of the Big Twelve North subdivision), the two colleges are not normally associated as rival institutions as are other more prominent rivalries. The origin of the Telephone Trophy has more to do with a strange history than an actual hated rivalry.
When these two schools faced each other in 1959 there were some complications with the telephone systems used to allow the on-field coaches to communicate with the coaches upstairs in the coaches’ pits (a perched position which allows great visibility of the entire golf an aerial perspective). Standard practice dictates that Missouri coaches on the field would have closed access to communicate with Missouri coaches in the box, and Iowa State coaches on the field would have closed access to communicate with Iowa State coaches in their box. Until shortly before the start of the game, the coaches of both teams could listen to the other team’s communications. The wiring error occurred correctly before the game started. To commemorate and illuminate the confusion, the area service provider (Northwestern Bell) had a trophy made in honor of the incident. That trophy would become the traveling phone trophy for decades to come.