Paul Bunyan's Axe (current)
Slab of Bacon (former)
Minnesota leads, 59–58–8 (.504)
Minnesota, 63–0 (1890)
Wisconsin, 12 (2004–present)
Wisconsin, 12 (2004–present)
The Minnesota–Wisconsin football rivalry is an American college footballrivalry between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Wisconsin Badgers. The longest-played rivalry in what is now the NCAA Division IFootball Bowl Subdivision, it has been contested almost every year since 1890. The winner of the game receives Paul Bunyan's Axe, a tradition introduced in 1948 after the first trophy, the Slab of Bacon, disappeared after the 1943 game. Minnesota leads the series 59–58–8.
The rivalry was first played in 1890 on Wisconsin's campus in Madison, resulting in a 63–0 Minnesota victory. Theron Lyman led Wisconsin to its first win over Minnesota in 1894. The game became a conference rivalry with the creation of the Western Conference (later the Big Ten Conference) in 1896. In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt suspended college football rivalry games for safety concerns, due to player injuries and fatalities on the field. It is, to date, the only time that the two teams have not played each other.
The rivalry's first trophy was the "Slab of Bacon", in use from 1930 to 1943. Created by R. B. Fouch of Minneapolis, it is a piece of black walnut wood with a football at the center bearing a letter that becomes "M" or "W" depending on which way the trophy is hung. The word "BACON" is carved at both ends, implying that the winner has "brought home the bacon." The trophy's tenure ended when Minnesota's 1943 victory in Minnesota led to the fans rushing the field. Wisconsin student Peg Watrous was to bring the trophy to a Minnesota representative after the game, but could not find her in the commotion, and subsequently lost track of the "bacon". Reportedly, the trophy was sent to Minnesota's locker room, but coach George Hauser refused it, suggesting such traditions be held off until after World War II. It was subsequently lost; a new trophy, "Paul Bunyan's Axe", was introduced in 1948.
The trophy was lost for over 50 years. In 1992, Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez joked that "we took home the bacon, and kept it." In 1994, Wisconsin intern Will Roleson found it in an old storage closet at Camp Randall Stadium. It had evidently been maintained for some time, as game scores through 1970 were painted on the back. It is now displayed at the Camp Randall Stadium football offices.
Badgers celebrating their win by carrying Paul Bunyan's Axe around Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium after the 2009 game
Badgers chopping down the Golden Gophers goal post after their 2012 win at Camp Randall
The Paul Bunyan Axe was created by the Wisconsin letterwinners' organization (the National W Club) and would be instituted as the trophy in the series in 1948. The scores of each game are recorded on the axe's handle, which is 6 feet long. The original axe was retired to the College Football Hall of Fame after the 2003 game. A new axe was created for the 2004 game.
Until 2014, when the game ended, if the team holding the trophy won, they would run to their own sideline, take the axe and carry it around the field and "chop down" one or both goal posts. If the team not holding the axe won, they were allowed to run to their opponents' sideline and "steal" the axe. The tradition was changed in 2014, with the Axe now kept off the field until the conclusion of the game. This change was in response to a near skirmish in 2013 in which the Minnesota players surrounded their goal post and would not permit the Wisconsin players to ceremonially chop it down.
For many years, it was traditionally the final game of the regular season for both schools. It has resumed being a season finale as of 2014, following the Big Ten's new divisional alignment and schedule for the final weekend of conference play.