On Saturday, the most-contested rivalry in college football will take place again at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison--as the Wisconsin Badgers play host to the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Big Ten West Division title will be on the line--along with a berth in the Big Ten Championship against Ohio State. But more importantly--yes more importantly--Paul Bunyan's Axe will also be on the line.
If you've never seen it, The Axe is six-feet long--has the Badgers' colors on one side of the blade and the Gophers' colors on the other. It has been kept with the winning team (or the current holders in the case of a tie) since 1948 after the original trophy The Slab of Bacon disappeared (it was found years later in the Wisconsin storage room). And part of the great tradition within the tradition is the winning team running to the sideline--removing The Axe from its case and running around the stadium to celebrate with their fans. The players then use The Axe to "chop down" the goalposts.
Unfortunately, that part of the tradition won't happen tomorrow at Camp Randall. Last year, after the Badgers won The Axe for the TENTH CONSECUTIVE YEAR, members of the Gophers decided they were not going to let the Badgers chop down the goalposts. That led to a skirmish (but no punches thrown) before the Badgers continued on their victory lap. Hoping to avoid a similar incident this year, Badgers Head Coach Gary Andersen announced a new "tradition" for the awarding of The Axe.
The Axe will be brought out to midfield for the opening coin flip--and then will disappear to an undisclosed location away from the field for the rest of the game. After the contest is over, the winning team will have to head into their locker room, where The Axe will be presented to them--out of site of the fans who want to win it just as badly as the players do. The team will then have the option to return to the field to celebrate--after the opponent has left.
Needless to say, I hate this "new tradition". If the Golden Gophers were so "hurt" by seeing the Badgers chop down the goalposts for the TENTH CONSECUTIVE YEAR perhaps they should have put more effort into keeping Melvin Gordon out of the endzone during the game and less effort into gathering around the goalposts after the game. If you can't handle losing, then you shouldn't be playing organized sports at this level. Go coach youth soccer where nobody keeps score and everyone goes home with their own Axe at the end of the season. Seeing your opponent celebrate a victory of you should instill within you a burning desire to be better so you don't have to experience that again for an ELEVENTH CONSECUTIVE YEAR. I was at the Metrodome the last time the Gophers won The Axe--and the site of their English kicker Rhys Lloyd sprinting to the Badgers sideline to grab The Axe after his last second field goal is still burned into my mind and I can feel the rage building inside of me.
And the fact that it was Gary Andersen and Barry Alvarez that concocted this "we don't want to rub it in" scheme that chaps my hide even more. I know that Barry took great pride in winning The Axe and really raised the level of intensity in the rivalry again. The one thing that I liked the most about Bret Bielema is that he took every opportunity to run it up against Minnesota--once going for two while up by 25 late in the 4th Quarter. That is the type of attitude you have to have when you are playing your most-hated rival for the coolest trophy in college sports. Not some "we are almost ashamed to win this and boy we really feel sorry for those other guys who haven't won in ELEVEN CONSECUTIVE YEARS" crap that we are going to see (or not see) on Saturday.