The John Madden Trophy, and Who Should Win It

Not since Vince Lombardi has the NFL given us as universally revered a figure as John Madden.

As such, there ought to be a trophy dedicated in Madden's honor, as there has been in Lombardi's honor ever since Lombardi died of cancer in 1970. The first Lombardi Trophy was awarded to the then-Baltimore Colts, who won Super Bowl V — also, coincidentally, the first season following the consummation of the NFL-AFL merger (the first four Super Bowl winners having received a "World Professional Football Championship Trophy" — it said so, right on the trophy itself).

But who should receive the John Madden Trophy?

Since 1938, the National Hockey League has awarded a trophy, originally known as the Prince of Wales Trophy, and now known as the Presidents' Trophy, to the team that finishes with the league's best overall regular-season record.

True, there was a gap in the award of this trophy: When the "Original Six era" ended in 1967, the Prince of Wales Trophy was transferred to the regular-season first-place finisher in the Eastern Division, with a new trophy, the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, created for the regular-season first-place finisher in the Western Division. Starting in 1975, the team with the best record in the Wales Conference received the Wales Trophy and the team with the best record in the Campbell Conference received the Campbell Bowl.

This arrangement lasted for seven seasons — after which the above trophies were awarded to the postseason champions of the respective conferences, leaving the team that had the league's best regular-season record without a trophy; however, the regular-season champion did receive a bonus of $350,000, or $17,500 per man (about $44,000 per man in today's dollars).

When the Presidents' Trophy was created in 1986, the above bonus was also retained — and that has been the situation ever since.

Starting this season, the NFL will award the same share that the division winners who play in a wild card game ($33,000 per man) receive to the two teams in each conference (the Titans and Packers) who earned a first-round bye (wild card teams will receive $30,000 per man).

The $33,000 figure can easily be doubled for the team that finished with the best overall record in the entire league (the Packers).

And if the top seeds in the AFC and the NFC finish with the same record?

The NFL already has that covered — retroactively: in 2020, the league implemented tie-breaking procedures to avoid coin flips for draft choices if two teams in different conferences finish with the same record and also played the identical strength of schedule. These same tie-breakers can be used if the top seeds in the AFC and NFC finish will the same record — except that strength of schedule would be the fourth tie-breaker, after strength of victory, as it is in the tie-breakers for division titles, wild-card playoff berths, and playoff seeding.

Of course Lombardi won the Super Bowl, whose trophy was renamed in his honor, twice.

Well, Madden cast his shadow before him, too, when his Raiders finished with the NFL's best overall record (13-1) in 1976 — and then put the icing on that cake by winning Super Bowl XI.

Thus it is resolved: any John Madden Trophy needs to go to the team with the league's best regular-season record.

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