One of the best rivalries in the Midwest belongs to the Minnesota Golden Gophers vs the Wisconsin Badgers. The rivalry is one of the closest in terms of wins with Wisconsin owning 62 victories and Minnesota owning 61 victories. The two programs also lay claim to one of the coolest rivalry trophies in the country. Minnesota and Wisconsin play for Paul Bunyan’s Axe every season. Some of my earliest college football memories are of the two programs celebrating with the trophy on the field. With just one week until the start of college football, number seven in 99 Things is Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
Minnesota and Wisconsin first met during the 1890 season. The two schools have met a total of 131 times ranking as the most played college football rivalry in FBS and fifth most in division one. Minnesota won the first game 63-0 which is still the most lopsided victory in the the rivalry’s history. From 1933 to 1982, the two programs met in their regular season finale. This tradition was was resumed in 2014. One of the biggest matchups between the two schools occurred in 2019. Minnesota and Wisconsin were playing for an opportunity to go to the Big Ten Championship game. Wisconsin defeated Minnesota 38-17 sending them to the Big Ten Championship against Ohio State. The rivalry also determined a conference champion in 1962 when #3 Wisconsin defeated #5 Minnesota to go to the Rose Bowl.
One of the most unique and awesome trophies belongs to Paul Bunyan’s axe. The trophy was created in 1948 after the original trophy went missing. Wisconsin and Minnesota used to play for a trophy known as the “Slab of Bacon” which might be the most midwestern trophy to ever exist. Two other Big Ten West teams should lay claim to this trophy and create a new one. Paul Bunyan’s Axe is six feet long and has the score from each game engraved into the handle. A new trophy was created in 2000 as they ran out of space for the scores.
The coolest part of the tradition is how the teams are awarded the trophy. There is no formal presentation for the axe. The winning team runs to whichever sideline had the trophy last and either steals the axe or retains the axe. Then the team runs to one of the endzones and “chops” down the goal posts. Minnesota nearly started a fight after the 2014 matchup as they blocked Wisconsin from approaching their goal post. The tradition continued again in 2015 without any conflicts.
Wisconsin and Minnesota both have an opportunity to make noise in the Big Ten this season due to their running backs. Braelon Allen is Wisconsin’s workhorse running back who burst onto the scene as a freshman. Many expect Allen to follow in the lineage of the Badger running backs of the past 20 years. Minnesota is led by Mohamed Ibrahim. Ibrahim only played in one game last season due to a season ending injury in their opener against Ohio State. He was one of the best players in the Big Ten for his junior season scoring 15 touchdowns in only seven games. Wisconsin and Minnesota will be playing old school Big Ten football this season leading up to a clash of their running backs. Make sure to keep an eye on this game as it is one of the most underappreciated rivalry games in college football.