Fans from across Missouri and as far away as Illinois visited the Missouri state Capitol on Monday for a chance to see a piece of sports history.
The National Hockey League's Stanley Cup came to Jefferson City for the first time as it tours the state following the St. Louis Blues' NHL title win last season, the first in team history.
Before the cup was put on display in the Rotunda, it was taken to the governor's office, where Gov. Mike Parson hosted elected officials for a brief welcoming ceremony.
"I want to thank the St. Louis Blues for being proactive in letting people, the everyday person, have the chance to see the cup," Parson said. "I know it means a lot for the state."
Phil Pritchard, of the Hockey Hall of Fame, has been charged with staying with the Stanley Cup wherever it goes for more than 30 years. The cup has traveled to 29 countries, including places such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Great Wall of China. Pritchard said he has traveled more than 30,000 miles with the Blues players and team staff who get to have the cup while they are the champions.
"The Stanley Cup is the people's trophy," Pritchard said. "We share it with everybody."
The cup was donated by Lord Stanley, the governor general of Canada, Pritchard said. The Stanley Cup is the oldest existing trophy to be awarded to a professional sports franchise in North America. The first cup was awarded in 1893 to the Montreal Hockey Club.
"Lord Stanley had two boys and a daughter who played hockey, and they wanted to win something when they won the game — and having your dad as the governor general, you got a bit of pull," Pritchard said. "Little did he know that 129 years later we'd be sitting here today in the state Capitol of Missouri with the Stanley Cup."
The cup has changed over the years, Pritchard noted. "It's 3 feet high and 37 pounds. Unlike other sports that have new trophy's made every year, in hockey it's the same one," he said.
Names of the most recent winners of the cup are engraved on the front of the bottom of the trophy.
"There is so much respect for this trophy because the players work so hard to win this trophy," Pritchard said.
During this past week, when St. Louis hosted the NHL All-Star Game, fans waited four to five hours for a chance to get a picture with the trophy, Blues CEO Chris Zimmerman said.
"One of the great things about sports is that it is a unifying thing that we all rally around," Zimmerman said. "It has been a magical year for our community."
After the ceremony in the governor's office, Pritchard donned white gloves and picked up the trophy to take it to the Rotunda, where he was greeted with cheers from a crowd led by Rob Stokes, of Columbia, originally from St. Louis, who was first in line to see the cup.
"I've been a fan since the late 1970s, so I've waited my whole life for this," Stokes said. "It's my first time to see it in person. It was my day off, so I was making sure I was going to be here, and I got here at 8 a.m. I never thought I'd see it."
Dale Hargis, of Jefferson City, took time off Monday morning so he could be among the first to see the cup.
"I got close to it, and my wife got to touch it," Hargis said.
Steve Looten, a Blues fan for 50 years, drove more than two hours from Quincy, Illinois, to see the cup.
"It was worth getting up early for the drive and probably paying a parking ticket outside to see it," Looten laughed. "I don't know how many more times the cup will be out for the public to see, so I wanted to take the opportunity while it was available."
After the then-St. Louis Rams won the Super Bowl following the 1999 season, Missouri natives and Rams players Mike Jones and Grant Wistrom brought the Vince Lombardi Trophy to the Capitol to thank lawmakers for the support to get what was then the TWA Dome, later renamed the Edward Jones Dome, built for the team.
The talk Monday at the Capitol was the hope the same trophy would make a return visit — if the Kansas City Chiefs win the Super Bowl on Sunday.