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The history of Gophers football trophy games

The Gophers have four active trophy rivalries, more than any other college football program.
The Badgers celebrate winning back the Paul Bunyan Axe after defeating the Gophers 38-17 at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019.
Image by Sydni Rose
The Badgers celebrate winning back the Paul Bunyan Axe after defeating the Gophers 38-17 at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019.

The Minnesota Golden Gophers have one of the oldest programs in college football. Founded in 1882, the Gophers were an original member of the Big Ten conference in 1896. Minnesota has won three national championships thus far, in 1934, 1935 and 1936.

The Gophers have a well-known rivalry with Wisconsin, but Paul Bunyan’s Axe was not the first trophy the Gophers fought for. Minnesota has four official and one unofficial trophy game.

With these four official trophies, Minnesota football has more trophy games within the Big Ten than any other program.

Minnesota vs. Michigan: Little Brown Jug

The story of the Little Brown Jug takes us to 1903, when Michigan’s Wolverines were heading to Minneapolis with 29 straight wins under their belts. The Gophers were also undefeated in the season thus far, so the match was highly anticipated. 

Fielding Yost, the Michigan head coach, feared their rivals would tamper with their water during the game. He sent Tommy Roberts, a student manager, to go purchase a water jug for his team. The five-gallon jug was 30 cents at the local store.

The teams fought hard, holding each other to a stalemate going into the second half. Michigan was the first to score, taking a 6-0 lead. With two minutes left in the game, Minnesota found their way into the endzone to tie up the game.

The 20,000 or so fans who crowded the stadium jumped off their seats and stormed the field. The action forced refs to call the game early and deemed the result as a tie.

The morning after the game, Minnesota custodian Oscar Munson found Yost’s jug. Excited about the tie, the head of the athletics department, L. J. Cooke, wrote on the jug: “Michigan Jug — Captured by Oscar, October 31, 1903, Minnesota 6, Michigan 6.”

Cooke painted Minnesota’s six larger than Michigan’s.

The rematch was set a few years later in 1909. Before this game, Yost asked for the jug back, to which Cooke suggested the teams play for the jug. Thus, the oldest college rivalry trophy was born.

Since that game in 1903, Minnesota holds a losing record of 25-76-3 against Michigan.

Minnesota vs. Iowa: Floyd of Rosedale

Each year since 1935, the University of Minnesota has played for the Floyd of Rosedale, a trophy of a bronze pig.

A year prior, in 1934, the Gophers faced the Hawkeyes in Minneapolis. There was much racial tension heading into the game, as Iowa rostered one Black player: Ozzie Simmons. Simmons was knocked unconscious three times and had to leave the game before halftime. None of these hits were penalized.

The next year, tensions continued to rise as the match was set to be played in Iowa. Then-Iowa Gov. Clyde Herring famously said before the match, “If the officials stand for any rough tactics like Minnesota used last year, I’m sure the crowd won’t.”

Then-Minnesota Gov. Floyd B. Olson decided to de-escalate the situation by placing a bet with Herring. Olson bet Herring one hog on the football game. The game was clean and Minnesota won 13-6. 

Herring brought the hog donated from Rosedale Farms in Iowa. A bronze trophy was created to honor this bet and is fought for as a reminder sports can help ease tensions in the community. 

Since 1935, Iowa has led the Floyd of Rosedale series with a record of 44-42-2.

Minnesota vs. Wisconsin: Paul Bunyan’s Axe

The rivalry between Minnesota and Wisconsin is the longest and most played in Division I football, and both schools decided they needed a trophy to compare to the Little Brown Jug. 

In 1930, the two teams played for the Slab of Bacon, a wooden trophy with a W or M inscribed in the center that changed depending on the way you held it. The winning team would bring home the bacon.

By 1943, the trophy went missing in Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium.

To replace the Slab of Bacon, Paul Bunyan’s Axe was created. In 1948, the Gophers were awarded the Axe as the first winners. The Axe has gone back and forth since then.

In 1994, the Slab of Bacon was found in a storage room in Camp Randall Stadium. On the trophy, the scores had been mysteriously updated up until 1970. The Slab of Bacon currently lives in the Wisconsin Football Office and is not passed to the winner. 

The prestigious Border Battle with Minnesota’s rival to the east has not been favorable for the Gophers, who hold a record of 27-45-3 throughout the trophy series. However, including the matchups predating the Axe, the series is even at 62 wins and losses and paired with 8 draws.

Minnesota vs. Penn State: Governor’s Victory Bell

The year was 1993 and Penn State had just moved to the Big Ten conference. Penn State was set to play Minnesota in their first game in their new conference.

Also created from a bet from the then-Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson and Pennsylvania’s then-acting Gov. Mark Singel, the Governor’s Victory Bell was created to commemorate Penn State’s entry to the Big Ten.

The Nittany Lions went on to win the first four games, then followed by the Gophers winning the next four. Since the trophy’s inception, Penn State has rung the bell ten times compared to Minnesota’s six.

The bell will sit quietly for another year in State College as the two programs are not set to play each other in 2023.

Minnesota vs. Nebraska: $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy

In more recent years, Minnesota and Nebraska have unofficially established the $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy to share between the winner of each matchup.

Starting in 2014, Goldy Gopher’s Twitter account (@GoldytheGopher) exchanged a few words with a parody account of then-Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini (@FauxPelini). FauxPelini made a bet for the upcoming game.

The parody account asked Goldy, “How about if we win you give me $5, if you win I get to smash a wooden chair over your back.” A trophy was designed and created. 

The Gophers won in 2014, proudly displaying their win. In 2015, the Huskers won the $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy. In 2016, the trophy went missing.

Today, there is no official trophy that gets passed between the teams and the universities do not participate in this tradition. Instead, Gophers and Huskers fans have turned the competition into a fundraising race.

Gophers fans donate to the University of Minnesota M Health Fairview Masonic Children’s Hospital while Huskers fans donate to the Team Jack Foundation, which focuses on research for childhood cancers.

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