Chop, chop, chop! Minnesota and Wisconsin Continue to Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe

In the northern midwest United States, within the confines of the Big Ten Conference, lies the Football Bowl Subdivision’s (FBS) oldest rivalry, and no, it is not Ohio State vs. Michigan.

The oldest rivalry in the FBS has taken place each and every year, except one, since 1890 between the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers and the University of Wisconsin Badgers.

When the Badgers and Gophers first met on the gridiron, it was just another game. Wisconsin was in their second year of football and was coming off of an absolute drubbing of Whitewater Normal School, which is now called the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and currently plays football in Division III, 106-0. That win still stands as the most lopsided victory in Wisconsin history. Minnesota began playing football in 1882, took a two-year break from 1884-1885, and was on their sixth head coach in five years of football (the Gophers had four different head coaches in 1889).

Minnesota took the trip southeast to Madison, Wis., to take on the Badgers, and it did not go well for the home team. The Gophers topped the Badgers 63-0 in the most lopsided game in rivalry history, and the only game where one of the teams eclipsed the 60-point barrier.

The two schools decided to make this an annual meeting, and it has stayed that way to this day. The teams did decide to not play each other in 1906, but that is the only time that has happened.

The series continued the next year in Minneapolis, and the Gophers came out on top once again, albeit much closer this time around, 26-12.

The Badgers would earn their first victory in the series in 1892, as they beat Minnesota 40-32 in Madison. The teams would then trade wins for the next three seasons, with Minnesota winning two of them.

In 1896, both teams entered into the Western Conference, the first precursor to what is the Big Ten Conference today. They were joined by the University of Chicago, University of Illinois, Northwestern University, Purdue University and the University of Michigan. Entering into the conference ensured that the teams would meet on an annual basis.

The first conference game between the two schools ended in a 6-0 Wisconsin win, which would be the first of four straight for the Badgers.

In 1899, the Western Conference changed its name to the Big Nine Conference, as the University of Iowa and the University of Indiana joined.

The Paul Bunyan Axe is the trophy given out to the winner of the Wisconsin-Minnesota football game. The original axe was retired after the 2003 game. The handle of the axe is six feet long and players of the winning team act like they are chopping down the goal posts after they secure the trophy. Photo courtesy of Josh May on Flickr.

The Paul Bunyan Axe is the trophy given out to the winner of the Wisconsin-Minnesota football game. The original axe was retired after the 2003 game. The handle of the axe is six feet long and players of the winning team act like they are chopping down the goal posts after they secure the trophy. Photo courtesy of Josh May on Flickr.

Wisconsin’s streak would end in 1900, as the Gophers won a very close game 6-5. Wisconsin would add another win the following season, but Minnesota would then go on to win the next three, from 1902-1904.

Wisconsin would win 16-12 in 1905 before the series would take a one-year hiatus in 1906, the only time the two schools have not met on the football field since 1890.

When the two schools played again in 1907, the conference had shrunk down to eight teams (Michigan had been voted out for failing to adhere to league policy), and the first tie between the two schools occurred. Wisconsin and Minnesota would end up tying 17-17 that year.

Luckily, that would not become a trend as Wisconsin won in 1908, and Minnesota won back-to-back game in 1909 and 1910. The tie would rear its head again, however.

In 1911, the two schools tied 6-6. That would be the last tie for 11 years, during which time Wisconsin would win five games and Minnesota, six. The conference would also gain two more members, and go by the name Big Ten Conference for the first time as Ohio State University joined in 1912, and Michigan re-joined in 1917.

The next three years would see three ties. In 1923, the teams tied 0-0, followed by a 7-7 tie in 1924 and a 12-12 tie in 1925. Minnesota got tired of the ties after this, and decided to go on a bit of a run.

Over the next 24 years, from 1926-1949, Minnesota would win 20 games, including a span of nine straight wins from 1933-1941. This time period would not only see complete dominance by Minnesota in the rivalry, they would also win five national championships (1934-1936, 1940-1941). It was also during this time that a trophy was first given to the winner of the Minnesota vs. Wisconsin game.

Beginning in 1930, and lasting until 1943 when Minnesota head coach George Hauser refused to accept the trophy and it was taken back to Wisconsin and subsequently misplaced, the winner of the game was given the “Slab of Bacon.” The Slab of Bacon is a chunk of black walnut that has a football in the middle with an emblem on top that is a W or a M, depending on which side it is hung from. It also has the word “Bacon” carved on either side, with the significance that the winner of the game will have brought home the bacon.

The Slab of Bacon, the former trophy given to the victor of the Wisconsin-Minnesota football game, after being lost for over 50 years, was found in a storage closet at Camp Randall Stadium. It now displayed at the Camp Randall Stadium Football Offices. Photo courtesy of user Gopherbone on Wikimedia Commons.

The Slab of Bacon, the former trophy given to the victor of the Wisconsin-Minnesota football game, after being lost for over 50 years, was found in a storage closet at Camp Randall Stadium. It now displayed at the Camp Randall Stadium Football Offices. Photo courtesy of user Gopherbone on Wikimedia Commons.

Minnesota won the Slab of Bacon 11 times during its 14-year tenure. After the disappearance of the trophy, neither team was awarded anything for winning until 1948, when the Paul Bunyan Axe was created and given to the victor.

The trophy-less years (1944-1947) saw three Minnesota victories and a single victory for the Badgers. The Big Ten would also go back to being the Big Nine as the University of Chicago left the conference. The Gophers would then go on to win the Axe, which was created by the National W Club (the Wisconsin letter winners Association) for the first two years of its existence.

1949 was the Gophers’ final win for six years, as they defeated Wisconsin 14-6. The Big Nine also re-became the Big Ten as Michigan State University joined. The conference would retain the same ten members until 1990.

The 1950’s would see Wisconsin begin to show some dominance as the Badgers won six of the ten games in the decade. Minnesota would only win once during this time, and there were three ties (’52, ’53, ’56). The 1956 game would be the last tie the series has seen.

The series went 6-4 in favor of the Golden Gophers in the 1960s, and 5-5 in the 1970s. The last two years of the ’70s saw the Badgers begin a six-game winning streak that would last until 1983. Minnesota responded with a four-game winning streak of their own, and the series would then see Wisconsin win 9 of 13 between 1988 and 2000, a time period that also saw the Big Ten add their 11th team, Penn State.

The 21st century has not been nice to the Gophers, as they have only won twice in the last 12 years (2001, ’03). Currently the Badgers are on a nine-game winning streak that began in 2004 and has equaled Minnesota’s longest winning streak in the series (1933-1941). The Big Ten has also added a 12th team, Nebraska, and has plans to expand to 14 teams next season, when Rutgers and Maryland join the conference.

Not only is the Minnesota vs. Wisconsin game the oldest rivalry in the FBS, it is a rivalry that has been vital in the history of the Big Ten Conference. Both teams are charter members and their rivalry has kept the conference exciting for years. Sadly, due to the recent decline in the Minnesota football program, this rivalry has gone to the back of many fan’s minds. But, with Minnesota on the rise and Wisconsin having been to three straight Rose Bowls, hopefully this rivalry can regain some of its lost notoriety and won’t be forgotten.

(Both teams are also currently ranked (Minnesota [8-2, 4-2 Big Ten] is No. 25 in the BCS rankings and Wisconsin [8-2, 5-1 Big Ten] is No. 19) and will battle for the Paul Bunyan Axe on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The game will kickoff at 3:30 p.m. EST and will be broadcast on ESPN.)


The Battle has Been Won, but the Holy War Rages on Between Utah and BYU

Now the Holy War would be a title that most would think would be affixed to a rivalry between two schools of competing religions, say Notre Dame, America’s preeminent Catholic university, and Brigham Young University, a Mormon University located in Provo, Utah, but that would only be half-right. That title actually belongs to the rivalry between the Utes of the University of Utah and the Cougars of BYU.

It is not clear how the name originated, but what is clear is why this rivalry has earned that name. The annual, well at least it was annual, game between the Utes and Cougars has earned this title because, BYU is the flagship university of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and Utah is the state school. That’s right. This game is a battle of church vs. state. 

The two adversaries first met on the gridiron on April 6, 1896 when BYU, then known as “Brigham Young Academy,” took a trip up north from Provo, Utah to Salt Lake City to take on the Utes in a scrimmage. Utah ended up winning the game 12-4, but the real news came after the game when, according to, a group of Salt Lake locals surrounded fans of BYA and began to harass them. The BYA fans eventually had enough, and a brawl began. And thus, so did the Holy War.

The Cougars and Utes met five more times during the 1890s, two more times in 1896, twice in 1897 and once in 1898, with the schools splitting the series at three games apiece. It would be 24 more years, and a name change for BYA before the two teams would meet again.

The University of Utah Utes and the Brigham Young University Cougars square off in the 2007 Holy War at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah. BYU won the game 17-10.

The University of Utah Utes and the Brigham Young University Cougars square off in the 2007 Holy War at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah. BYU won the game 17-10. Picture courtesy of Cortney Smith on Flickr.

In 1903, BYA was dissolved, and reformed as two separate institutions, Brigham Young High School, which dissolved in 1968, and BYU, which.

From 1899-1921, BYU did not field a football team, and the rivalry was put on hiatus. In 1922, the Cougars fielded a team once more, and the rivalry resumed with a 5-0 Utah victory, which would be the first of 20 straight years that Utah would leave the field without losing to the Y.

From the 1898 meeting through 1927, the Utes won seven straight games, outscoring BYU 191-13, but in 1928, the Cougars held the Utes scoreless. The trouble was, the Utes did the same to BYU. That game ended in a 0-0 tie. That would not derail Utah, however, as the Utes began another win streak the next year, this one lasted nine years, from 1929-37.

There would be two more ties and two more Ute victories before the Cougars would notch their forth win in the now 47-year-old rivalry. At this point the teams faced each other  27 times.

In 1942, the Cougars finally ended their dry spell and beat Utah, 12-7. This would be the final game until 1946, as BYU did not field a team from 1943- 45 due to America’s involvement in World War II.

When the feud resumed again in 1946, the Utes also resumed winning, as it would be 12 straight years that the series would see either a Utah victory or a tie. BYU won in 1958, but they wouldn’t experience victory again until 1965. Between those two dates, Utah won six straight games.

1965 began the Cougars’  luck began to change, they were able to rattle off three straight victories from 1965-67, but Utah would respond with four straight wins of their own. So far, Utah had completely dominated the series with a record of 41-8-4.

That advantage that Utah had felt for so long, would become a rare and cherished feeling, over the next 21 years, the Utes would only taste victory twice, thanks to legendary BYU head coach LaVell Edwards who was able to completely turn the program around.

During those 21 years, the Cougars were able to win six, nine and four straight games.  The rivalry’s streaky past continues to this day. Utah was able to achieve a four-game winning streak twice and also a three-game winning-streak, and BYU has had a couple of back-to-back wins. Utah currently holds a 23-game advantage in the series, with a record of 57-34-4.

This rivalry, which has seen its fair share of crazy games, including a game in 2012, when Utah fans twice rushed the field at Rice-Eccles Stadium, the home of Utah football, prematurely, has been put on hiatus until 2016, due to Utah scheduling the University of Michigan for a home-and-home series in 2014 and 2015.

Fans, however, are not upset about this.

“I, along with the majority of Utah fans, am happy with the rivalry going on hiatus,” Spencer Jack, a sophomore at Utah, said in an email. “Utah is making a statement by not playing BYU. To us, they’re just another mid-major comparable to the Mountain West Conference. The rivalry is taking a break because Utah decided it was more to our advantage to schedule a series with Michigan. It’s showing the Y (BYU) how far ahead of them we are in the football aspect of things and disrespecting the product they put on the field.”

Cougar fans are not upset about this either.

“I am stoked its not going to happen for two years,” David Beckstead, an account executive at a marketing firm in Irvine, Calif., who has been a BYU fan since he was 19. “There is just too much hatred it has gotten way out of hand.”

Beckstead described one game in particular that went too far.

“When we beat Utah in OT (in 2009), there were two guy Utah fans that were so annoying that were sitting in our student section.  This one girl BYU fan wasn’t taking their lip and they kept jawing at each other.  BYU scored the OT touchdown and I look over and one of the Utah fans grabbed that girl’s hair and ripped it back as she was cheering and not even saying anything to them.”

However, that doesn’t mean the two teams will suddenly start enjoying each other.

“The Holy War is so much more than a football game,” Jack said. “The implications are prominent all year. The hate is real. It isn’t just that BYU and Utah fans don’t get along, but we absolutely despise each other’s culture and how each other lives their life.”

With as much hate as these two schools have for each other, and how some fantastic games have happened because of the Holy War, let’s hope that the brief hiatus does not diminish the Holy War and lead to it being forgotten.

Crack the Egg: Ole Miss-Mississippi State Rivalry Fights On

In the Southeast United States, many college rivalries are evident.

The Iron Bowl (Alabama-Auburn), Florida State-Florida, The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (Florida-Georgia), and the Governor’s Cup (Kentucky-Louisville) all come to mind. But one very intense rivalry plays on without the national attention that other rivalries in the South receive.

The University of Mississippi Rebels, commonly known as Ole Miss, and the Mississippi State University Bulldogs have met 109 time over the last 112 years, typically in late November, for each teams’ final game of the regular season. From 1901 until 1926, this rivalry was heavily dominated by Mississippi State, which was then called Mississippi A&M.

A&M and Mississippi first met on the gridiron in 1901, when Mississippi State’s mascot was known as the Aggies and Ole Miss’s mascot was the Flood. The Aggies dominated the rivalry, and that’s putting it nicely, in the early years winning 17 out of the first 24 games played between 1901 and 1926. (The Flood and Aggies did not meet on the field from 1912-1914) But that 1926 game changed the rivalry forever.

In 1926, the Flood, who would be renamed the Rebels in 1936, beat the Aggies, who would be renamed the Maroons when A&M became Mississippi State College in 1932 and then renamed again to become the Bulldogs in 1961, three years after the school became known as Mississippi State University, 7-6 for the team’s first victory in the rivalry since 1910.

After the victory, the Ole Miss fans stormed Scott Field (now known as Davis-Wade Stadium at Scott Field, and is still home to Mississippi State’s football team) and made an attempt to steal A&M’s goal posts.

According to, “Irate Aggie supporters took after the ambitious Ole Miss group with cane bottom chairs, and fights broke out. The mayhem continued until most of the chairs were splintered.”

The goal posts stayed put, and injuries were reported, but the Flood and their fans were still extremely excited. In the last 13 games, all victories for A&M, Ole Miss had been outscored 327-33 and by an average of 25-3.

Due to the mayhem that erupted in Starkville, members of Sigma Iota, an Ole Miss honorary society, proposed the idea of a trophy that the winning team could take home with them, instead of the winning team’s fans going after the goal posts. The trophy that was proposed and later accepted was modeled after a football from the time period covered in gold and placed on a pedestal. Up close, stitches are even visible. Fans noticed that the trophy essentially looked like a golden egg and beginning in 1927, the game between Mississippi State and Ole Miss became officially known as the “Battle of the Golden Egg.”

Since the institution of the Golden Egg, the domination of the rivalry has switched sides. Ole Miss leads Mississippi State by a record of 54 wins for the Rebels to 25 wins for the Bulldogs and 5 ties. There have been many defining moments for the series in the years since the institution of the trophy.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs celebrate after defeating the Ole Miss Rebels in the 2009 Egg Bowl, 41-27. Photo courtesy of Roger Smith on Flickr.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs celebrate after defeating the Ole Miss Rebels in the 2009 Egg Bowl at Davis-Wade Stadium at Scott Field in Starkville, Miss., 41-27. Photo courtesy of Roger Smith on Flickr.

In 1978, the game became colloquially known as the “Egg Bowl” after Steve Doyle of the Jackson, Miss., Clarion-Ledger declared that that year’s Battle of the Golden Egg would serve as a de-facto bowl game for the two schools as the Bulldogs owned a 6-4 record and the Rebels had a 4-6 record and neither team would make a trip to a bowl game that season.

Five years later, in 1983, the Rebels claimed a hard fought 24-23 victory over Mississippi State, in a game that was affected by 40 mph winds that knocked down a potential 27-yard game-winning field goal by Bulldog kicker Artie Cosby. This game has come to be known as the “Immaculate Deflection.”

In 1999, the Bulldogs entered the fourth quarter down 20-6, but rallied to tie the game. With 20 seconds left on the clock, Ole Miss decided to pass the ball instead of taking a knee to send the game to overtime. The pass from quarterback Romero Miller was deflected by the hands and foot of Mississippi State cornerback Robert Bean and then intercepted by defensive back Eugene Clinton and returned to the Rebel’s 34 yard-line. Bulldog kicker Scott Westerfield then came out and knocked in a 44-yard field goal to give the Bulldogs the victory, their first in three years. This game has come to be known by the name “The Pick and the Kick.”

Those are just two of the many exciting games that have come out of this intense rivalry, and it doesn’t look as if there will be any boring moments in this year’s Egg Bowl, which will take place on November 28. Just look at Mississippi State’s uniforms. Hopefully, the profile of this rivalry will continue to increase and it will never be forgotten.

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The Border Showdown: the Kansas Jayhawks vs. the Missouri Tigers

In all of the Midwest region of the United States, there may not have been a more intense rivalry than the one between the University of Kansas Jayhawks and the University of Missouri Tigers.

The rivalry between the schools that stand two-and-a-half hours apart on Interstate 70 in Lawrence, Kan., and Colombia, Mo., began in an unconventional way, far away from the football fields and basketball courts that made it famous.

“It (The Border Showdown) actually has historically significant roots that go all the way back to the Civil War, when militias from the two states fought each other and raided towns in both states,” Will Heckman-Mark, a senior at the University of Missouri, said.

Although never meeting on the battlefield, the militias, which were aptly named the Jayhawkers and the Tigers, were fighting over whether or not to let a state decide if it would become a slave or free state, a concept known as “popular sovereignty.”

The animosity began in 1854 when the Kansas-Nebraska Act was signed and created the Kansas and Nebraska territories and the concept of popular sovereignty. This angered the people of Missouri, who believed that the decision of whether or not a state would allow slavery was better left to the Missouri Compromise, which was signed into law in 1820, and repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

The animosity between the state of Missouri and the Kansas Territory led to bloodshed during the time known as “Bleeding Kansas,” right before the Civil War, when the pro-slavery Missourians journeyed into Kansas and killed around 40 people and injured many others.

When the Civil War began, the Jayhawkers struck back, ransacking six towns in Missouri, including Osceola, and plundering and razing large parts of western Missouri.

The animosity between the two states never ceased and 30 years after the Civil War began, on Halloween in 1891, the University of Kansas and the University of Missouri met for the first time on the gridiron in what would come to be known as the Border Showdown.

For 16 years, the Tigers and Jayhawks only expressed their contempt for each other when they would meet on the football field. But, in 1907, the schools’ men’s basketball teams met for the first time on the hardwood, where it has shined.

There have been many times when the hate that these two schools have for each other has boiled over.

There’s the Brawl at Brewer Fieldhouse, Missouri head basketball coach Norm Stewart having his players stay in hotels in the Missouri side of Kansas City and refusing to let them spend money on the Kansas side, Kansas head football coach Dom Fambrough saying “I’ll die first!” when talking about a physician from Missouri, and so many more.

In terms of the actual play between the two schools, Missouri has a slight edge in football (57-54-9) and Kansas has absolutely dominated in men’s basketball (172-95).

Kansas center Jeff Withey jumps for the ball against Missouri forward Ricardo Ratliffe at the beginning of the game between the #8 Jayhawks and #4 Tigers at Missouri's Mizzou Arena in Colombia, Mo., on Feb. 4, 2012. Missouri beat Kansas 74-71. Photo courtesy of Taylor Bennett on Flickr.

Kansas center Jeff Withey jumps for the ball against Missouri forward Ricardo Ratliffe at the beginning of the game between the #8 Jayhawks and #4 Tigers at Missouri’s Mizzou Arena in Colombia, Mo., on Feb. 4, 2012. Missouri beat Kansas 74-71. Photo courtesy of Taylor Bennett on Flickr.

In 2011, the series met its end when Missouri announced it was leaving the Big 12 Conference, the conference that, along with its predecessors, Kansas and Missouri had always both occupied, for the Southeastern Conference starting in the fall of 2012.

That doesn’t mean that the hate for either school has ceased.

“I don’t like Missouri and I never will root for them but rather, cheer against them even when they’re in the SEC now,” Brad Robson, a senior at the University of Kansas said. “We (the Kansas student body) felt like they were doing a disservice to not only the Big 12, but to both states. It was a selfish move that they made because of the money.”

The hate hasn’t relented in Colombia either.

“I don’t really follow KU sports too closely except for their basketball team, who I continue to actively root against,” Heckman-Mark said. “I still hate (Kansas head men’s basketball coach) Bill Self and absolutely love when that team loses. I know a lot of my friends and classmates feel the same way here, and I’m sure the people over in Lawrence don’t like us very much still either.”

The hate from both sides is still palpable, but a return to play between the two universities does not seem to be on the horizon anytime soon.

“I believe that the series may resume someday,” Robson said. “But the game won’t mean anything since we’re in different conferences.”

Fans should hope that one day soon the two schools can come to an agreement and this once intense rivalry that dates back to the Civil War will never be forgotten.

Tell me what you think about the rivalry and if you think it should come back in the comments below!

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