By Allison Campbell-Jensen
Tales of Minnesota’s pigskin rivalries do involve one pig. But where did that axe come from? Why a jug? And who decided on a pig made of bronze? With help from UMedia, University Archives, and Wikipedia, we tell the tales of three trophies.
On Nov. 20, Minnesota’s Golden Gophers beat the Wisconsin Badgers 23-13 in Division 1 college football and reclaimed Paul Bunyan’s Axe. The Axe was introduced in 1948 by Wisconsin’s letter-winners’ organization; game scores were recorded on its 6-foot-long axe handle. The Libraries’ UMedia has an image of that original axe. A new axe was created in 2000 and the original was donated to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003.
The teams have been meeting annually since 1890, missing only 1906 when President Theodore Roosevelt suspended all college football because of player injuries and fatalities. Before there was an axe, the winner would claim a Slab of Bacon — actually a chunk of black walnut with an M or W inscribed, depending on which way it was hung. It disappeared after the 1943 game and was re-found in a Wisconsin stadium closet in 1994, according to Wikipedia.
A reclaimed jug
Minnesota also has a college football rivalry with the Michigan Wolverines, symbolized with a trophy, the Little Brown Jug, inaugurated in 1903.
“In those days,” Tim Droogsma wrote in the Minnesota Daily (Oct. 18, 1980), “it was not uncommon for a little skullduggery to take place among competing teams. … [Coach Fielding H.] Yost was leery of water that Minnesota would supply to his team during the game. And so, when his squad reached Minneapolis, he sent some of the boys downtown to buy a large jug that he could fill with water he knew to be pure.”
The 35-cent jug became an icon.
After the exciting tie game in 1903 — Minnesota’s touchdown amounted to the only points scored against Michigan that season — the Wolverines left the water jug behind. The Golden Gophers equipment manager found it and, when the teams were to meet again in 1909, Minnesota’s athletic director wrote to Michigan: “If you want [your little brown jug], you’ll have to win it.” And so they did.
Minnesota has not played Michigan as regularly as they have Wisconsin and now the two are in different regional divisions. Michigan currently holds the jug after a 49-24 victory over the Gophers on Oct. 20, 2020.
In 1909, Minnesota’s athletic director wrote to Michigan: “If you want [your little brown jug], you’ll have to win it.” And so they did.
A pig named Floyd
The University of Iowa Hawkeyes and the Minnesota Gophers also have a special trophy — a bronze pig named Floyd of Rosedale. The name has nothing to do with the Roseville mall, however.
After a 1934 game in which Iowa’s sole black player, Ozzie Simmons, was roughed up and knocked out, Iowa’s fans were feeling feisty prior to the 1935 re-match. Minnesota Gov. Floyd Olson tried to lighten the mood with this offering to the Iowa governor: “I will bet you a Minnesota prize hog against an Iowa prize hog that Minnesota wins.”
After Minnesota won 13-6, the owner of Rosedale Farms in Iowa donated a pig; he was named Floyd after Minnesota’s governor.
The next week, the pig was delivered to Olson in the Minnesota State Capitol by Gov. Herring of Iowa. An Iowa fan, however, had sworn out a warrant charging him with gambling. Olson offered him asylum but Herring declined, saying, “I might have to go home and write out a pardon for myself.”
Floyd of Rosedale died on a Minnesota farm a year later. Olson commissioned a St. Paul sculptor to replace the live pig with a 98-pound bronze trophy representing Floyd of Rosedale. The trophy has contributed to such memorable headlines as 1998’s “Gophers bring home the bacon, 49-7.” Iowa currently hosts Floyd, having won 27-22 on Nov. 13, 2021.
You can see images of these trophies, find much more of the U’s history and investigate the Libraries’ other digitized holdings on UMedia. For those who want to visit the “real” thing, Paul Bunyan’s Axe is currently held by the football team and will be on public display in the coming months.