Autumn in Minnesota. Gold in the changing leaves, gold in the fields and prairies, and of course gold on the gridiron. It’s the time of the year that for autumnal traditions provided by college football at the University of Minnesota: reveling in the camaraderie of tailgating, raking leaves to the rhythm of radio play-by-play, the pageantry of the marching bands, the rose-tinted dreams, and the rivalry matchups for trophies of a jug, several pigs, and of course an axe.
Paul Bunyan’s Axe
When it comes to rivalries, the University of Minnesota’s Golden Gophers football team ranks atop the nation in regards to tradition and history. And when it comes to history, no two teams in all of Division I NCAA football have met more often than the Golden Gophers and their long time border rivals, the Badgers of University of Wisconsin–Madison.
The first time these two football teams faced off on November 15, 1890, the Gophers trounced the Badgers 63-0 in Minneapolis. Since then Minnesota has played Wisconsin a record 125 times, with the all-time series record favoring Minnesota 59-58-8 (eight ties) going into the 2016 football season. The Badgers and Gophers have squared off every single fall from 1907 to present, and the rivalry would have reached further back if President Theodore Roosevelt had not suspended all collegiate football rivalry games in 1906 due to safety concerns for players (most reports tally the death toll of players that year at 19).
In 1948 the winning side of this matchup began to receive Paul Bunyan’s Axe as a trophy in the nation’s fiercest and longest standing border battle. Paul Bunyan’s Axe features a wooden blade painted gold on one side and red on the reverse, with a six foot long handle featuring the scores of every meeting from 1948 to the present.
Interestingly enough Paul Bunyan’s Axe is not the only trophy that these two teams have played for over their storied history. From 1930 to 1943 the Gophers and Badgers played for a trophy known as “The Slab of Bacon.” This trophy was made from a piece of black walnut shaped as bacon slab and featuring a carved football with an inscribed “M” or “W,” depending on how the trophy was displayed. If the “M” was turned up, then the Gophers had triumphed. If the “W” stood on view, then the forces of darkness, er… the Badgers had prevailed. The story goes that the trophy was suspended in light of the World War II after the 1943 Gophers victory, and was subsequently lost in the post-game confusion. The “Slab of Bacon” was rediscovered in 1994 in a Camp Randall Stadium storage room in Madison, Wisconsin, with the scores of each matchup from 1930 to 1970 printed on its backside.
Floyd of Rosedale
The Gophers also participate in several other trophy games with Big Ten rivals including a fierce southern border battle with the University of Iowa Hawkeyes. In fact this southern rivalry’s trophy was voted the top rivalry trophy in college football in a 2008 by a rivals.com poll.
The Gophers and Hawkeyes played for the first time on November 2nd, 1891 when Minnesota won 42-4 in Iowa City, Iowa. The teams have played a total of 109 times, and have been playing for the much coveted “Floyd of Rosedale” trophy since the highly contested 1935 matchup that featured an Iowan-Minnesotan gubernatorial wager of a real life prize hog.
The story goes that legendary Gophers coach Bernie Bierman had received threatening letters regarding how Iowa fans would treat his players after the previous season’s treatment of one of Iowa’s top players by the Gophers team. To cool tensions between the two sides, Minnesota’s Governor Floyd B. Olson sent a telegram to Iowa Governor Clyde Herring offering to bet “a Minnesota prize hog against an Iowa prize hog that Minnesota wins today,” and that the losing Governor must deliver the hog in person to the winner. Minnesota would win the game 13-6 on their way to win their second consecutive national title, and Iowa’s Governor Herring delivered the prize hog.
Since it wasn’t feasible to play for a live pig each year, the following season a 98-pound bronze statue of the original hog, named for Governor Floyd B. Olson, was cast and has been the prize of the victor ever since. The record, going into 2016, stands in favor of the Gophers 62-45-2.
The Little Brown Jug
Minnesota’s has also battled the University of Michigan Wolverines of Ann Arbor since 1892, and since 1903 for college football’s second oldest rivalry trophy, The Little Brown Jug. The trophy came into being when the two squads met as two of the nation’s top teams in 1903 and battled to a 6-6 tie after which the Michigan team jug was supposedly left behind in the post-game pandemonium. When the teams meet again in 1909 it was decided that the jug would be a good traveling trophy for the victorious side in this rivalry. The Wolverines own the overall series record 74-25-3 going into the 2016 season.
These games help to add to the Maroon and Gold football team’s mystique and add to a program that has existed since in 1882. Over their history the Gophers have claimed seven National Titles (1904, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1940, 1941, 1960), a 669-498-44 all-time record, 18 conference titles, a Heisman Trophy winner (Bruce Smith, 1941) and 12 bowl appearances.
To many fans’ delight in 2014, after a Big Ten divisional realignment, the Gophers and Badgers returned to their tradition of facing one another in the final game of the regular season. This year, the Gophers will travel to Madison and Camp Randall stadium to do battle against Bucky on November 26th, 2016.