Glenn Alford is a walking history book. If the internet wasn’t around, Alford could sit on Idaho State’s campus in a folding chair and charge people for information. And the line would stretch a quarter-mile.
Over the last few months, the Bengals’ athletic department has used Alford, a former ISU Sports Information Director, to narrate videos of historic events in Bengal athletics. Some moments — like the Bengals’ 1977 tournament win over UCLA — are well-known. Others — like a wild play that helped ISU football to a thrilling 1992 victory over Boise State — have little archival evidence, which makes the video almost solely reliant on Alford’s voice.
In other words, Alford doesn’t forget much. Except the King Spud trophy.
“Haven’t thought about the King Spud trophy in 40 years,” Alford said in a text, confused why anyone in their right mind was asking about such a thing.
But there was a time when the Alford was gung-ho about the trophy, the one given annually to the winner of the Idaho/Idaho State basketball series. He became the Bengals’ SID in 1967, five years after King Spud’s genesis.
That winter, Idaho State played Idaho in Twin Falls. Why? Newspaper records and Alford have no clue.
Anyway, Alford drove a couple of statisticians west down I-86 in his bright white Mercury Comet Cyclone. The trophy was strategically tossed in the trunk, purposefully out of sight for a few hours. At the game, Alford displayed it for all to see, naive about the collective dismay the thing would inspire.
“I brought the trophy and put it out on the scorer’s table and people looked at me like, ‘Why?’” Alford said with a chuckle. “I put it there because I thought it was a legitimate trophy that people might care about. And no one did.
“Nobody referred to it. Nobody mentioned it. And it just kind of disappeared due to a lack of interest. Have you ever seen it? It’s the ugliest trophy, beyond doubt. It looks like an aluminum turd.”
There are a lot of unknowns that surround the mythical King Spud (more on that in a second). But even those who have only seen the trophy in pictures never forget how odd it is. Some call it ugly. Others think it’s hilarious. But everyone agrees it’s bizarre.
After all, it’s a metallic potato, showcasing all the bumps and imperfections of a real potato. But on its lower half, the potato has a face. The eyes dart left and the smile is a mix between sly and smug. On top of the potato sits a crown that looks like a fourth-grader made it out of construction paper. The whole thing is housed on a wooden circular base that reads, “King Spud” and has room for engravings.
Alford isn’t the only one who wasn’t a fan. Laura Packard’s father, Byron “Robbie” Robinson, was the Holt Arena building superintendent in the 70s. As a little girl, she watched her dad carry the silver potato to the court any time the Vandals came to Pocatello.
“It was a silver Mr. Potato Head,” Packard joked.
The idea beyond King Spud was simple. In 1962 — two seasons before Idaho and Idaho State joined the newly-formed Big Sky Conference — the Vandals and Bengals scheduled a two-game, home-and-home series with each other, the inception of regular meetings between two of the biggest schools in the Gem State.
The hope was to create a rivalry. Whoever won the basketball series each season would get to house the trophy for a year. And if the teams split, the trophy would go to the school with the better point differential.
In February 1962, on the day of Idaho and Idaho State’s first meeting in years, U of I’s student newspaper, The Idaho Argonaut, plastered a mock-up of the trophy on its front page with the caption:
“SYMBOL OF SUPREMACY … The newly designed King Spud is the trophy to go to the ISC-Idaho basketball tilt. Professor Alfred Dunn of the Art Dept. designed the trophy with a brass crown, silver-plated potato and a wooden base. It is sponsored by the Moscow Chamber of Commerce to ‘cement relations’ between the two schools. However, one difficulty has occurred already – they can’t find anyone to make the silver-plated potato!”
How or when King Spud was constructed remains a mystery. The first known image of the actual trophy appears in the 1963 University of Idaho yearbook.
Initially, sportswriters of the time seemed to follow the trophy with a level of intrigue. They rarely mentioned the look of the creepy potato, but they kept tabs on point differentials and used the trophy as a storyline before each rivalry game.
“Idaho State College can win the ‘King Spud’ trophy … with a three-point victory,” Idaho State Journal sports editor Tom Morrison wrote in March 1962. “The trophy, which depicts Idaho’s three principal industries … potatoes, mining and lumbering … goes to the team which wins the series.”
Wrote The Spokesman-Review in 1965: “The King Spud Trophy, emblematic of the Idaho-ISU series, is at stake and the Vandals have the first leg on the silver spud off their record-smashing 120-94 victory over the Bengals Feb. 26 in Moscow. King Spud’s home has been Moscow since the trophy first was at stake in 1961-62.”
The trophy didn’t get many more mentions until 1979, when Idaho State basketball coach Lynn Archibald started ranting about King Spud after a February loss to the Vandals.
“The trophy should go to the losing team, not the winning one,” he told reporters. “It’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen. The only good thing that happened last weekend was losing it.”
Alford doesn’t remember much from that night, but said Archibald was one of the nicest guys he’s ever met. He was competitive but an easy coach to work with, a pleasant figure off the court.
In other words, if Archibald bad-mouthed something, he must have really, really disliked it. Years later, Alford shares the same disdain for the trophy.
“Do everybody a favor,” he said. “If you discover where it is, leave it there.”
The search for King Spud began where old things always seem to end up — museums. Up and down the state, I began reaching out to different libraries and museums, searching for any information about a trophy lost to time.
Ellen Ryan was one of the first people to return my call. The Head of Special Collections & University Archives at Idaho State University knew what the King Spud trophy was. That’s where the good news stopped.
“U of I has contacted me a few times looking for it and I’ve told them we don’t have it,” she said. “I’ve been here since 2013 and they’ve asked me twice. One was actually recently, back in November.”
I expected that other people being after the trophy would help the search. Even if they hadn’t found it, they would know where not to look. Contacting the University of Idaho, though, led to false hope.
“Some folks in our athletics department said that the ‘word on the street’ is that King Spud ended up at ISU because they won the last tournament that this trophy was part of,” Michelle Shannon, an archival assistant at the U of I Libraries, said.
“Perhaps you’ll find more luck with them! If you do locate King Spud, please let us know! Even if the trophy doesn’t end up in our archive, we would love to know where it resides once and for all!”
I still haven’t been able to confirm when the last time Idaho and Idaho State played for the King Spud trophy or when it was last moved. But if Shannon and the folks in Moscow had done their due diligence searching for it and they believed it resided in Pocatello, that was probably the best place to look.
Problem is, most of those still around from the King Spud days hadn’t worked at Idaho State for decades. Trying to track down contact information for descendants of old ISU administrators, I called Ryan Sargent, the school’s executive director of alumni relations. If anyone had heard rumors, I figured, it would be someone around old alumni all the time. Unfortunately, he had never heard of King Spud.
But Sargent mentioned a bunch of trophies are housed in the Bennion Room inside of Holt Arena. That tip seemed like a long shot, considering people are inside there all the time. Regardless, current Idaho State SID Steve Schaack agreed to check it out and reported back that it did not house a creepy potato.
OK, but there’s tons of rooms in Holt Arena. Surely, if King Spud was at Idaho State, someone would have stumbled upon it.
I got George Casper on the phone. He’s the Holt Arena Director of Events, basically holding the job that Packard’s father occupied back in the day. Casper is in Holt Arena almost every day. If anyone would have dug into a weird room or old box and found King Spud, it would be him.
“I’m not familiar with that particular trophy,” he said over the phone.
Another dead end.
As a hail mary, I phoned the Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot. Perhaps someone found King Spud and figured it belonged in the only museum dedicated to potatoes. A young girl answered the phone. She was polite, but I could sense her skepticism grow as I described this weird potato trophy with a crown.
At that moment, I realized the King Spud trophy was just like the Ark of the Covenant. Lost.
OK, let’s say someone found the King Spud trophy. Then what? Would it just go to one of those museums I called? Would anyone care?
Brian Marceau would. A contributor to the Vandal-devoted “Tubs at the Club Podcast,” Marceau is one of the few people on the internet who cares about Idaho athletics and, thus, one of the few people curious about the whereabouts of King Spud. Heck, the podcast even began selling shirts that read, “Wanted: King Spud” with a picture of the trophy.
“(Some fans) allegedly contacted (the U of I) library for records and were told King Spud was at Idaho State,” Marceau said. “None of us had a background at Idaho State, so that was the end of the research.”
And if they found it? Well, that’s where Marceau had a plan for King Spud, the face of which he thinks resembles “if a potato was a sexual predator.”
“There’s this very small like cult following of pro-King Spud guys online who have — there’s no official organization — but have tried to bring some attention to getting King Spud back but transitioning it to football because that’s where more attention is,” Marceau added.
“From the people we’ve talked to online, part of the love is how ugly the trophy is … When both teams suck, it’s appropriate that the trophy sucks, too. But if the teams were good, there could be energy around it.”
Most fans who know about it, like Marceau, lean into the weirdness. Sure it's quirky. But it belongs to them. The creepiness almost plays into the joke. It's so outlandish that people grow devoted to it, grow fond of telling others about this kooky trophy their school had that no other rivalry could claim.
Right now, that's not the case.
The rivalry across all sports between Idaho and Idaho State has been dubbed the Battle of the Domes, a play on the two school’s football stadiums — Holt Arena (ISU) and the Kibbie Dome (U of I). That mantra began just after Idaho fully rejoined the Big Sky in 2017 and was immediately sponsored by Idaho Central Credit Union, which gives a scholarship donation to the school that accumulates the most points each season.
It’s a nice gesture, but in a rivalry that was dead for almost two decades, it seems like a bit of stilted effort to drum up interest. The traditions that make a rivalry rarely ignite from corporate interests shoving ideas and names down the throat of fans.
There’s another problem with the Battle of the Domes name, too.
“I don’t know that I have an opinion on it because we don’t play in a dome anymore,” Idaho State basketball coach Ryan Looney said. “And they’re not going to play in a dome next year, either.”
Other coaches aren’t exactly opposed to bringing back King Spud, either. A couple of years ago, Marceau and another Tubs at the Club contributor attended Big Sky Football Media Day. Marceau walked around the room with a picture of King Spud on his phone, asking conference coaches for their thoughts on the relic.
“We showed them pictures of the trophy and asked them if they would be in support of bringing the trophy back, but for football,” Marceau said. “(Idaho coach) Paul Petrino looked at us like we were the dumbest people in the world. (Idaho State coach) Rob Phenicie actually thought it was funny. He took my phone and showed it to (Montana coach) Bobby Hauck because he was actually energetic about it.”
Contempt for the other side fuels the potential for the Idaho-Idaho State rivalry. In the early-70s, Alford said, fans at Idaho’s Memorial Gym leaned over the balcony that overlooked the court and threw a live chicken at a Bengal on a fast break. Years later, when ISU football beat the Vandals 62-28 in Pocatello, Bengal fans treated the victory like “the greatest thing since sliced bread,” Alford noted.
Winning would boost the rivalry, but the addition of the King Spud trophy (real or replica) might create some broader attention for both programs. Idaho-Idaho State is not Duke-North Carolina. It is not steeped in tradition. It is rarely meaningful. And no one outside the state cares. But the rivalry has King Spud, an odd, somewhat loveable, completely hilarious trophy.
In a way, King Spud is the perfect analogue for the entire rivalry: often forgotten, lost for years and only cared about by a few diehards.
If you have any information on the location of the King Spud trophy, please email email@example.com