03/05/2015 10:52 EST | Updated 05/05/2015 05:59 EDT

Brier's storied Purple Heart gets a silver edition for defending champions

CALGARY - The Brier's storied purple heart — with its origins in something people once smoked — has a new look at this year's Canadian men's curling championship in Calgary.

A purple, heart-shaped crest has adorned the jacket of every provincial and territorial men's curling champion since the first Brier in 1927. Earning a Purple Heart is like gaining entry into a secret society for male curlers.

"I remember winning my first one and not wanting to let it go," said Northern Ontario skip Brad Jacobs. "A lot of the guys from Northern Ontario said 'sleep with it under your pillow' and I did that."

MacDonald Tobacco Company sponsored the Brier for its first 49 years. Purple Heart was the brand name of a tobacco the company sold.

"They were using this as brand identification by creating the image of the purple heart as the crest for winning a province or territory," explained Danny Lamoureux, Curling Canada's director of championship services.

The 2015 Tim Hortons Brier — the 85th national men's championship — was the first in which the defending champion from the previous year gained an automatic entry as Team Canada. The team skipped by John Morris would wear the Maple Leaf at the Brier for the first time.

The question was how to incorporate the purple heart, an enduring symbol of the event's history, onto their jackets?

"We just didn't want to give the team a regular purple heart because quite frankly they didn't compete in their provincial or territorial championship," Lamoureux said.

A silver heart crest was created for the defending champions and worn for the first time this year by John Morris, Pat Simmons, Carter Rycroft and Nolan Thiessen.

"I knew we'd have something there just because it would be odd if we didn't have anything," Simmons said. "Obviously it's the first time. It's probably going to be something that's more special later on.

"It obviously means you've had success the year prior. I think it will be something that's more coveted as years go by."

It's a similar concept to the Canadian women's curling championship, which has had a Team Canada since 1985. Provincial and territorial winners at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts wear red heart-shaped crests while the defending champions' crests are blue.

"There's some that may say it's sacrilege to tinker with the purple heart, but we didn't," Lamoureux said.

"We didn't want to lose the concept of the purple heart, so if you look at it closely, the outside of it is still purple, the inside design matches what the rest of the guys are wearing, but instead of purple in the centre we made it silver to give it some oomph."

So in addition to a national title and the chance to represent Canada at the world championship next month in Halifax, the teams in Calgary are playing to return to next year's Brier in Ottawa wearing both the Maple Leaf and a silver heart.

Newfoundland and Labrador skip Brad Gushue calls the concept "a good compromise."

"I don't think it should be purple because to me a purple heart signifies a provincial win," he said. "They deserve to be here, but they didn't win a provincial to get here."

Representing his province for the 12th time, Gushue owns a dozen purple hearts.

"It's a little bit odd for people outside of curling to think a felted crest is important," Gushue said.

"I know the first few times I won a provincial championship, that's the most exciting part — actually getting presented with a purple heart because you see guys growing up who had them. It's a big deal."