Behind The ScenesNCAAF

CFP trophy feature put on ice

Reporter Tom Rinaldi’s thoughts on a cool project

[Senior Coordinating Producer] Lee Fitting and I started discussing this piece earlier in the season. Because this is the inaugural championship in this format, in a sport with such a rich and long history, we wanted to acknowledge a beginning of sorts. We felt that beginning was represented by the creation of a new trophy. In discussing the idea, we talked about the moment when a champion first puts hands on a trophy and then lifts it in triumph.

So, at the end of the regular season, we set out to try to speak with some great champions across different sports, and ask them about their moments holding championship trophies. Producer Jon Fish did a remarkable job, in collecting those voices. Our first interview, for this piece, came when I sat down with Tiger Woods in December.

The list built from there. We found that many of the champions were very personal, talking about these moments. We hope people will connect with those champions in a different way, as they share their memories and their thoughts about why a trophy matters. And I hope, personally, that Jon has finally thawed out from his trip up north for the ice carving!


That’s how ESPN feature producer Jon Fish described – literally and figuratively – his latest project, scheduled to debut during tonight’s Championship Drive: Countdown to Kickoff (ESPN, 6-8 ET; the feature will air at approximately 6:55, the game at 8:30).

With the inaugural Championship’s new trophy entering the arena of iconic sports hardware upon its presentation at the end of tonight’s game, Fish was assigned (in late November) to do a “Raising the Trophy” piece. The “easy part” was getting sports’ biggest stars to discuss what it means to win their championships.

“When [reporter] Tom Rinaldi told me, ‘I got Tiger,’ that got the ball rolling,” Fish said.

The piece includes memories from Kobe Bryant, Wayne Gretzky, Jimmie Johnson, Rebecca Lobo, Joe Namath, Curt Schilling and Serena Williams. But as is often the case for the features unit, wrangling the participants is only a portion of the assignment – other elements need to be incorporated to the finished piece as well.

Emphasis on “elements.”

“This is actually a warm day in Quebec where it’s seven-below [Fahrenheit] without the wind chill,” said Fish last week, upon returning home from his “cool” shoot to Connecticut where it was in the balmy teens.

“When we identified we’d need something to tie everything together, I pitched some ideas to my wife [Joan], like I always do, and she kept saying, ‘I just don’t feel it’,” Fish said. “Then my three-year old son [Bradley] was watching “Happy Feet” [an animated film about dancing penguins] and I thought, ‘Ice is cool. What if we carve the new college trophy out of ice?’

Things fell into place when an Internet search led Fish to the Hôtel de Glace – “They’re big sports fans, so they were totally on board, and they knew ESPN” – and a familiar team was available: “I was fortunate to get the camera crew I had worked with before [on “Going Big,” part of ESPN Films’ SEC Storied series], and they had just come back from a shoot on Mount Everest, so I figured if they can handle Everest, then can do Quebec.”

Fish got the trophy specs to local, professional ice carver Martin Ernst, and secured a 300-pound block of ice, “we moved around like Kristoff [Bjorgman, the ice harvester in Disney’s ‘Frozen’].”

Ice is hard and ice is beautiful, just like a championship: It’s hard to win, but when you do, it’s beautiful. – ESPN feature producer Jon Fish on working on the trophy ice sculpture project

At the end of the 5 a.m.-sunset shoot, in the 23-degree Grand Hall with snow-covered floors — shhh, the snow was used to cover cable — the ice trophy stood proudly above the ice pick, chain saw and blow torch Ernst used to create it.

“It turned out exactly as I’d hoped — it tied everything together, and Tom said he liked the symbolism of the ice,” Fish said. “Ice is hard and ice is beautiful, just like a championship: It’s hard to win, but when you do, it’s beautiful.”

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