So businessman Herb Lotman pulls out this gold chalice that looks part religious artifact, part Pop Warner trophy, and plops it on the podium.
It's during a gathering at the Mayor's Reception Room at City Hall and the heavyweights of the Philadelphia rowing community know all about the mysterious chalice. The others in the room do not. They call it the Philadelphia Gold Cup. It's about 18 inches high and 31 ounces of pure gold. With the precious metal going for $1,428 per ounce yesterday, the straight value of the thing is $44,285, but that's only part of the story.
"You take the history - and the mystery of the history - and it's worth a lot more than that," Lotman said. "It's known around the world."
The whole reason Lotman had the trophy at City Hall yesterday was to tout the revival of the Philadelphia Challenge Cup, which will take place during the Dad Vail Regatta on Saturday, May 14, on the Schuylkill in Fairmount Park. The world's top four men and women single scullers will vie for the Cup. Basically, if the Dad Vail is baseball's All-Star Game, the Philadelphia Challenge Cup will be the Home Run Derby.
"To be here at a time when there's just so much sports history," said emcee Jim Murray, the former Eagles general manager. "Everybody's using the word 'miracle' [to describe Sunday's Eagles win], I was at the first Miracle at the Meadowlands . . . but this is sports history, too. This is our miracle."
The men's and women's winners will receive $10,000 each. Second place is $5,000. Third is $2,500. They'll also get a replica of the trophy, because Lotman and the rowing community aren't letting that baby out of their sights anytime soon.
In 1966, reigning world champion Don Spero was the last rower to have his name engraved on the trophy. Spero, who lives in Bethesda, Md., had beaten Soviet Vyacheslav Ivanov at the Worlds in Yugoslavia the year before. The Cold War was frigid, and Spero was honored for the accomplishment. Ivanov, a legend in the sport, had won the previous five Cups.
Somewhere along the line, as single-sculled rowing dipped in popularity, the trophy went missing. It was purchased at an estate sale and sat on a shelf in a Center City antique store for years. It was discovered in 1996 by Joan Scholl, a U.S. rowing judge/referee who just happened to walk into the store at 8th & Sansom. After years of legal haggling, Lotman stepped in and purchased it from I. Switt Antiques for an amount he disclosed only as "a lot."
Lotman led the group that helped save the Dad Vail from moving from Philadelphia to Rumson, N.J. He hopes his latest venture can generate more interest and, subsequently, more revenue to help grow rowing. Lotman was a co-founder of the McDonald's LPGA Championship, which raised $47 million for the Ronald McDonald's House charity in his 29 years there.
"I want to put in a first-class inner-city rowing program for kids," Lotman said. "This will hopefully give us the funds and support to hopefully do this thing. That's what I want to do."
Spero, who received simply a medal and citation letter in 1966, got his first look at the Philadelphia Cup yesterday. Memories of competing with the world's best along the Schuylkill came flooding back. He was joined in various photo-ops yesterday by Jack Kelly III, whose grandfather won the Olympic gold medal in 1920 and inspired the birth of the Philadelphia Cup. So proud of Kelly's becoming the first American to win a rowing gold, the Philadelphia-based Schuylkill Navy amateur rowing club raised $2,500 and had jewelers Bailey, Banks & Biddle craft the trophy.
"I hadn't seen it ever in my life," said Kelly, a member of one of Philadelphia's most iconic families. "I heard about it. It's sort of a legend on Boathouse Row and in my family. It's really very special to hold it. It's a beautiful cup, too. I had always heard it was beautiful. It's pretty cool." *