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Meet Joe, Owner of the Notre Dame - Northwestern Shillelagh Trophy

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The trophy is safe and sound...in Omaha.

Joe Hoovestol, who now owns the once-discarded Northwestern-Notre Dame shillelagh trophy
Joe Hoovestol

A Omaha, Neb. businessman — and fan of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish — has revealed himself as the owner of the Shillelagh trophy once used by Notre Dame and Northwestern University.

Joe Hoovestol paid $12,344.33 to RR Auction to acquire the one-of-a-kind item, which was inexplicably discarded by the Northwestern Wildcats sometime in the mid-1970s, but saved from the landfill by an keen-eyed employee.

Here’s a brief interview with Hoovestol, conducted via e-mail Friday. Pictures of the walking stick (or, if you prefer, cane or cudgel) are provided by the owner.

OFD: Are you an alumnus of either Notre Dame or Northwestern or consider yourself a fan of either?

JH: My grades in high school were less than stellar so I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t have been accepted to either university, but I’ve always liked Notre Dame. I went to a game in South Bend a few years ago when they played Oklahoma. It was an amazing atmosphere.

[Editor’s note: TOMMY NO!]

Did you buy the trophy during the RR Auction in February 2016 or did you acquire it afterwards?

I bought it in the RR Auction.

The three foot long Shillelagh trophy
Joe Hoovestol

What attracted you to the item?

I just thought it was an amazing piece of history. The main thing that drew me to it was that it used to mean so much to two prestigious football programs. It’s a symbol of a great rivalry and the fact that it was nearly thrown out as garbage 50 years ago and has just recently resurfaced makes it very unique.

The engraving reads: “Notre Dame - Northwester Football Trophy Presented by William T. Cosgrave, President of the Irish Free State, 1931”
Joe Hoovestol

Did you contemplate reaching out to either university and letting them you know you had the trophy? If you did that, what was the response?

No, I haven’t reached out to either University. It would be cool if it could be used as a traveling trophy again though.

The etching of Shamrocks adorn the silver band.
Joe Hoovestol

What is the condition of the stick?

It’s in pretty good shape overall. It’s one solid piece of wood. There’s a chunk missing from the knob at the top, as you can see in the pictures. There are also some other chips in the finish, but other than that it could definitely still be used as a cane, a weapon, or a trophy.

Joe Hoovestol
The Shillelagh is missing a piece of its top knob.

If you won it during the auction, do you remember how many bidders there were for the item besides yourself?

I think there was only one other person bidding on the last day of the auction. I believe I only put in one or two bids and won it. I was shocked when the auction ended with one of my initial bids because I was prepared to go a lot higher. I expected some alums to bid it up.

You mentioned being contacted about selling it since the article went up. Are you actually interested in selling it and, if so, do you have an asking price?

I would probably only sell it if it was going to be used as a trophy again. Otherwise I’d rather just hang onto it, unless someone offers me something crazy. Or I suppose if Northwestern and Notre Dame each wanted to give me an honorary doctorate I’d be willing to deliver the shillelagh to the game next Friday free of charge!

A closeup of the top half of the Shillelagh Trophy.
Joe Hoovestol

Did you learn the identity of the pre-auction buyer? I’m wondering if you learned anything about why or when the trophy was trashed besides what was in the auction description.

I think I have some paperwork and a statement from the previous owner. I believe it was from the Northwestern employee that grabbed it before it went to the trash.

Where do you keep the trophy? Home? Work? A vault? At one point in its lifetime, it had a stand. Have you given it a stand again or how do you display it? Assuming it’s someplace public, what has been the reaction to the item from friends, neighbors and co-workers?

I just had it at home, but I’m going to put it somewhere more secure now that I know more about its history after reading your article. It’s fun to show it to people because, unlike a lot of antiques, this can actually be handled. When people hold it, they realize that it’s been held by hundreds of players and coaches from Notre Dame and Northwestern over the years. It’s pretty cool that people used to battle for it.

Have you collected any other memorabilia that may be of interest to Notre Dame fans?

This is the only Notre Dame memorabilia that I have. I watch a lot of auction sites, but I usually don’t buy anything. I just couldn’t pass up the shillelagh at the price it sold for.

Is there anything about the trophy that I didn’t ask that you think may be of interest to our readers?

You would think it would be fragile because it’s so old, but it’s actually pretty durable.

Notre Dame will travel to Evanston to play Northwestern, with kickoff scheduled for 7:15 or 7:30 p.m. Eastern Nov. 3. It’ll be the team’s 49th all-time meeting.