The master silversmiths behind the Super Bowl trophy


Tiffany silversmiths craft the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

CBS News

Only one name stands for excellence in 11 different sports, from the courts of the U.S. Open to the green lawns of the PGA, to the track at Belmont and the fields of the World Series – and that name is Tiffany.

Yes, that Tiffany, the one founded in 1837 by Charles Lewis Tiffany, the one that so thrilled Audrey Hepburn's Holly Golightly. They also make the most famous trophy in all of American sport: the NFL's Vince Lombardi Trophy, given each year to the winner of the Super Bowl.

To make the life-size ball that crowns the 22-inch trophy, master spinner Corpus Cristo Vasquez begins by heating sterling silver to more than 1,000°F so it is soft enough to shape. And then he spins, and spins, and spins, and spins.

"Spinning" silver to create the silver football. 

Silversmith Rachel Arday hammers out delicate designs in the ball's seams, a technique called chasing. "Chasing is a very traditional form of metal smithing," she told "CBS This Morning" co-host Tony Dokoupil. "You have a tool in one hand, and a hammer in the other. And you're using the hammer to move the metal. 

"I had learned chasing in school. But I've never chased anything as big as this before!"

Getting the football's seams just right.  CBS News

Meanwhile, master silversmith Steve Leicht cuts and solders the base together, and baths it in acid to clean the silver for polishing and final assembly. 

Soldering the trophy's base. CBS News

It's also Leicht's job to host the department's annual Super Bowl party.

Leicht said, "My co-workers and I get together and we watch the Super Bowl. Well, we don't really watch the Super Bowl. We make all these trophies. But none of us are really sports fans. But at the end of the game when they're presenting the trophies, that's when we're glued to the TV."

And those trophies do break on occasion, at least in Boston. In 2018, when the Red Sox paraded their World Series trophy through the city, someone pelted it with a can of beer. And when the Patriots threw out the opening pitch at Fenway Park last spring, Rob Gronkowski used the Lombardi Trophy for batting practice.

"That was one of those things where we were, like, 'Oh, my gosh!'" said Arday. "And then I was like, 'I can fix that!'"

But before the shiny 7-lb. hunk of metal that the Tiffany team has spent months soldering, bathing and buffing is presented to a winning team, it must first pass through the steady hands of master engraver Harold Gainer.

Dokoupil asked, "How do you get the line so straight?"

"With a ruler!" Gainer laughed.

He has personally engraved 15 of the Super Bowl trophies. "It's a challenge, yes," he said.

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And because of the curved pedestal, it's not a straight cut: "You have to adjust the height of your tool when you're cutting. It's not like a straight cut."

Gainer can engrave trophies anywhere, but often has to engrave the winning team's name at the last moment, in the field, when the pressure is on: "God forbid your point breaks or something happens, you don't have no backup to do any repair work. Close the curtain, it's time to go home. But all kidding aside though, you have to have confidence to do something like that, I feel."

Confidence is not something Gainer lacks, not after 58 years at Tiffany's. In fact, he remembers when the Vince Lombardi Trophy was first created.

Dokoupil asked, "When you first saw it, did you know right away that it was something special?"

"I did, because everybody was talking about it in the shop," Gainer said.

In 1966, according to legend NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and Oscar Riedner, head of design at Tiffany sketched the trophy on a cocktail napkin. "It shows how spontaneous and creative these projects can be," said Tiffany's creative director Reed Krakoff. "They're really like a piece of sculpture. There's no guidebook on how to create a successful trophy. So, it's quite difficult."

So, what makes a good trophy? "They're really pieces of sculpture," Krakoff said. "They have to be representative of the sport itself; they have to be iconic and memorable; and they have to somehow capture the spirit of that game, whichever one it is. So, it's quite difficult."

The Lombardi design proved so popular that soon after Major League Baseball created a trophy of its own for the 1967 World Series. Today, Tiffany makes that one, too, all 30 pounds of it.

But as Dokoupil learned at the Tiffany's in New York City recently, merely lifting a trophy does not make a champion.

Tony Dokoupil practices the Vince Lombardi Trophy hoist. CBS News

"Do you have insurance on this thing?" he asked Krakoff as he indelicately hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy aloft. 

"I hope so," he replied! 

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Story produced by Anthony Laudato.