Why Does the Winner of the Indy 500 Get a Big Ol’ Bottle of Milk?

The origin stories behind six eccentric pro sports traditions

By Matt Wink

Why Does the Winner of the Indy 500 Get a Big Ol’ Bottle of Milk?
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27 May 2016

“A tradition unlike any other.”

Sure, the phrase may be trademarked by that golf tournament in Augusta, but there are countless other traditions throughout the wide world of sports that could claim a similar distinction.

Some are pretty straightforward, others a little more out there. Here are the origins of some of our favorites.

The Travels of Lord Stanley’s Cup

Since 1892, hockey’s giant chalice of eternal greatness has been presented to and toured around the ice by 23 different teams. After it leaves the ice, each player on the winning team gets to spend a day with the Holy Grail. Some just chill with it on their couch and take a celebratory drink. Others let their hometown fans come touch, kiss and have almost real moments of intimacy with it. But others? The 1940 Rangers burnt it then pissed on it. The ’91 Pens tried to swim with it (it sank). The ’93 Canadiens tried the same thing: again, it sank. It’s been used as a feed bag for Kentucky Derby winners, cameo-ed on MTV donning a fake ‘stache and has even — allegedly — been used as a privy.

The Green Jacket

Since 1937, the winner at Augusta National has been awarded the prestigious green blazer (Pantone 342 green, to be exact). The one you see being draped over this year’s winner by last year’s winner is only temporary: they’re later sent a custom-tailored jacket built to spec ... which they still only get to keep it for a year. After that, it’s held in Augusta and they’re only permitted to wear it on the grounds of the National. But don’t tell Phil.

The 7th at Wrigley

You can hear it from the platform of the Wrigleyville Red Line stop. You know it if you grew up watching WGN. After the final out of the top of the 7th, the Cubs would run off the field and all of the focus would turn up to announcer's booth. An often inebriated Harry Carey would then belt out a rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” like only he could, causing the Chi-town masses to both revel in the moment and fear for his safety as he hung over the ledge, microphone in tow. After Carey passed, celebrities have taken turns each game trying to fill his shoes. Eddie Vedder, John Cusack, Ditka, Mr. T and Bill Murray have all led the Cubs faithful in song.

The Yellow Jersey in the Tour de France

While handlebar mustaches and skinny jeans have become associated with the bicycle in recent lore, no piece of clothing is more closely aligned with manual two-wheelers than the yellow jersey at the Tour de France. After each stage of the race, the overall leader gets to rock their team’s logo and sponsors on a canary background. No one is super sure when it started, but back in the day, the winner wore a green armband. Then a dude named Philippe Thys decided to wear a yellow jersey in 1913 because he wasn’t one to bow to corporate pressure. What most people lean towards, though, is French rider Eugene Christophe rocking a jersey of the yellow newsprint of L’Auto, the event’s organizing newspaper, back in 1919.


Image via Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Drinking Milk at the End of the Indy 500

Despite 1970s philosopher Ron Burgundy’s protestations to the contrary, milk doesn’t always signify a bad choice. Every year in the city of Indianapolis, a short drive away from Pawnee, the winner of the Indy 500 refreshes himself with a cold jug of milk. This all started in 1936, when three-time champ Louis Meyer took a swig of cow juice in Victory Lane. Never one to miss a marketing opportunity, a Milk Foundation exec saw this capture in the paper and vowed it be a staple at the end of the race … and it has been ever since (sans a brief lack-of-sponsor hiatus between 1947 and 1955).

One Shining Moment

The buzzer sounds, the NCAA champions are presented their trophy, T-shirts and snapbacks and each player takes a turn cutting down the nets, thread by thread. All that’s cool, but what college basketball fans are really waiting for is their one shining moment. Songwriter David Barrett penned this ode to hoops in 1986. It was then given to Luther Vandross … and the rest is history. “The ball is tipped, and there you are. You’re running for your life, you’re a shooting star.” Chills. All of the chills. The song is set over a montage cut moments before, compiled of the best moments from the three weekends of the tourney. Words don’t do it justice.

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