Menacing Matchups


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Elliott Schleicher, Staff Writer

Americans have many interesting and unusual traditions for many of our holiday’s and sporting events. But some of the most unusual traditions and trophies can be found in college football rivalries. The two main rivalries I’ll be focused on in this article are USC v. Notre Dame and Minnesota v. Wisconsin. 


USC v. Notre Dame: How it Began

The origin story of the rivalry between USC and Notre Dame is a disputed, yet interesting one. The most famous and widely accepted story of the birth of this classic rivalry is titled a conversation between two wives. As the story goes, the USC football team was looking for a rival and they decided to ask Notre Dame. The USC head coach, Gwynn Wilson, originally didn’t want to make the trip to snowy Nebraska to play every year. So, Mrs. Rockne, the head coach for Notre Dame’s wife, talked to Mrs. Wilson to convince her to ask her husband if they could play in sunny California on USC’s field instead of the freezing conditions at Notre Dame. Rockne agreed and the two teams created one of the best rivalries in college football. 


The Trophy


Since this game is such a classic in college football it needed a unique trophy to accompany it. That’s where the mythical Jeweled Shillelagh comes into play. A shillelagh is a, “Gaelic war club made of oak or blackthorn saplings from Ireland. Those are the only woods used because, it is said, they are the only ones tougher than an Irish skull.” (USC This club is embellished with either a Trojans helmet with red jewels or a shamrock with green jewels depending on which team wins. The concept idea for the shillelagh came from Vern Rickard and the original was designed by John Groen. There have been two shillelaghs throughout this rivalry because the first one didn’t have any more room for embellishments after the 1989 game. But both were authentically made in Ireland. The retired trophy is now permanently displayed at Notre Dame.

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The Record

Notre Dame leads the classic series with 48 wins. But, USC is not far behind with 36 wins. The teams have tied only 5 times throughout the series. The first matchup of these two teams in an official rivalry match was on December 4, 1926, with the most recent game played this year on October 23. 


Wisconsin v. Minnesota: The Most Played Rivalry in College Football

This next rivalry is a timeless one and the headline is true. It is the most played rivalry in college football. With 131 games played in total, the first was played in 1890. The current standings of this rivalry are Wisconsin with 62 wins, Minnesota with 61 wins, and 8 ties.


Origin and the First Trophy

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This rivalry’s origin is not as disputed or as interesting as Notre Dame v. USCs’ but its trophies are much more unique. This game became a rivalry when the Western Conference (later named the Big 10) was created and the teams needed a game to fill their schedules. But their first trophy was called The Slab of Bacon. Now I know it’s disappointing but this trophy isn’t an actual slab of bacon. It’s made of black walnut wood with a W or M carved on it depending on which way you hung it up. The word bacon is also inscribed on both sides of the trophy legible either way you hang it. This trophy was used from 1930-1943 before it was lost by a student tasked with giving it to the Minnesota coach. It later turned up buried in a storage closet after a 50 year absence. 


The Second Trophy

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However this rivalry could not continue on without a trophy equal to the mythical slab of bacon; that’s when Paul Bunyan’s ax was introduced in 1948. This trophy was introduced by the Wisconsin letterwinners’ organization (also known as the National W Club) in 1948. There are also two axes as there were shillelagh because there just wasn’t enough room on the ax. The axe had a 6 foot long handle and a massive ax head painted either yellow if it was the original or red for the currently used version. The original version is retired in the college football hall of fame. Engraved on the handle are the scores of the past games played. The original tradition was that the winning team would run out onto the field and “chop” down one or both of the goal posts. If you won and didn’t currently hold the ax you could run over to the other teams’ sideline and take the ax from them. However this tradition was shortly halted after a fight broke out in 2013 when Minnesota refused the ceremonious chop from Wisconsin. But, in the end they resumed the tradition of keeping the ax on the field. 


Final Thoughts

In conclusion, we as Americans have a lot of strange traditions concerning a lot of different holidays, topics and sporting events. But as strange as they might be, like pretending to chop down a goal post in victory, they’re fun to watch and I imagine to do.