The life of a Big Ten trophy can't be an easy thing.
A book chronicling the Big Ten's greatest football rivalries reveals that schools have not always been vigilant in safeguarding items like a brass spittoon, a slab of bacon, a cigar store Indian, a Paul Bunyan statuette and other trinkets for which they compete.
In Todd Mishler's "Blood, Sweat and Cheers: Great Football Rivalries of the Big Ten" (Trails Books, 2007), we learn that when it's a trophy that travels, it may be hard to keep it ensconced in a display.
For example University of Michigan officials not once but twice recovered the Brown Jug (which it shares with the University of Minnesota) from under a clump of bushes. The Paul Bunyan trophy of the Michigan-Michigan State match up has been battered and defaced over the years and was once kidnapped by a fraternity.
Some trophies disappeared only to be replaced by new trophies: the Paul Bunyan Axe of the Minnesota-Wisconsin series was a substitute for a slab of bacon carved from walnut; the University of Illinois and Northwestern University now play for the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk rather than a wooden Indian that was stolen from Northwestern's showcase in the 1940s.
Mishler writes of several instances in which victorious Big Ten schools were unable to reclaim a trophy because it never traveled to the stadium. Indiana University coach Lee Corso was irate when the Purdue squad forgot to bring the Old Oaken Bucket to their 1976 contest. In 1991 Indiana, then coached by Bill Mallory, was again disappointed when they learned after beating Michigan State that the Old Brass Spittoon had been accidentally shipped to Iowa.
The Big Ten's traveling trophies not only add color to intra-conference gridiron feuds, but can also motivate teams even when there's not much else to play for according to Mishler. "If you're Indiana, and you're 0-9-1 and you're playing Purdue, you're playing for the bucket," Mishler told OnMilwaukee.com in a telephone interview.
Of the 10 rivalries detailed in the book, it's a forgone conclusion that the one between Michigan and Ohio State University is tops according to Mishler. "It was the ‘Big Two' for quite a long time," says Mishler referring to the period of several decades in which the two schools dominated the Big Ten in football. "They are head and shoulders above the rest."
Yet, the Ohio State-Michigan contest is the only one in Mishler's book that lacks a trophy. The rivalry, which rose to national prominence in the 1960s, hardly needs a prize to distinguish itself or to fire up the teams, and indeed Mishler says Michigan has rebuffed past attempts to introduce a trophy to its series with Ohio State.
Ohio State coach Woody Hayes stands out as one of the villains to the rest of league in "Blood, Sweat and Cheers." Mishler writes that Hayes ordered going for a two-point conversion late in the game during a 50-14 drubbing of Michigan. If this didn't anger Michigan fans enough, Hayes explained after the game that he went for two points only because he couldn't go for three. In a blow-out of Illinois, Hayes brought his first-stringers back in the game well after the game had been decided. Its no surprise to learn that "Wipe Woody" novelty toilet paper was once available for sale in Ann Arbor, Mich.
"Woody Hayes was just somebody people loved to hate," Mishler explained to OnMilwaukee.com. "He wore his emotions on his sleeves, he ripped into officials, he wasn't always sportsmanlike. I don't think he had many in the Big Ten who liked him and part of it really was the fact that he was spanking them every week."
Outside of the Ohio State-Michigan pairing, Mishler considers Wisconsin's match up with Iowa to be one of the league's best. He points to it being the most evenly matched of the rivalries (Wisconsin has a 41-40-2 advantage) and the fact that both programs were revitalized at roughly the same time (Iowa when Hayden Fry arrived to coach the team in 1979 and the Badgers to some degree under Dave McClain in the 1980s and more so in the 1990s under Barry Alvarez). He also points to the Iowa provenance of both Alvarez (who coached at Iowa and brought many of his assistants from there) and current coach Bret Bielema (who played for the Hawkeyes) as adding to the rivalry's intensity
But has the Wisconsin-Iowa series surpassed its rivalry with Minnesota, which is one of the oldest in Division 1, and has the most games played of any other match up? Mishler says the Iowa rivalry has gained considerably on Minnesota for the Badgers, but has not quite exceeded it in significance. And for him it may still come down to what they play for.
"The trophy's only three or four years old," says Mishler of the Heartland Trophy, a brass bull which Iowa and Wisconsin now face off for. "Raising the axe, I think that's a big deal to both Wisconsin and Minnesota. I think that maybe still puts them above Iowa."