It was the second weekend in October, and you couldn’t have found a better day. The sky was blue as far as you could see, the air was filled with the premonitions of the oncoming winter and the warmth of the outgoing summer, and if you squinted just hard enough, you could see the beginnings of our traditions coming into focus. As the Minnesota football team prepared to take on Purdue, little did they know that 122 years later, we would still be excited by the same things.
But, we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. Sure, football had been played before this point - Rutgers fans will remind you of this point, no doubt - but there was something more on the line this time. In January of 1895, members from the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois, the University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin, Northwestern University, and Lake Forest College met to determine how college athletics should be organized. A year later, the University of Michigan would take the place of Lake Forest, and the roots of the Big Ten were established. In what would become our fair conference one day, the Western Conference was born.
Now it’s worth remembering that football was crazy at this point. The University of Chicago would finish that inaugural season with a 15-2-1 record, while the eventual Champions - The Wisconsin Badgers - were a measly 7-1-1. Both teams played more than their fair share of high schools, but we’re not really here for the end, are we. No, this is a story about beginnings.
Minnesota and Purdue met on October 17, 1896 in the first official Western Conference matchup. The only article I could find on the affair described it as such:
“From start to finish the game was closely contested, and the number of killed and wounded showed the earnestness with which both sides worked for the honor of the institution they represented. Football played that way is the best game on earth, to the opinion of the average college boy or girl.”
Now, I could not confirm that there were people actually killed, but the more I thought about this, the more “Minnesota takes on Purdue in a game that would be the only win for either team in conference” was the perfect start to the Big Ten. Not Michigan, not UofChicago. No, it was a mediocre Minnesota team taking on Purdue, who was not so good. When the final whistle blew, it was 14-0 and away we went.
If you haven’t ever been here before, I’d like to introduce you to B1G 2018, Off Tackle Empire’s exhaustive week-by-week preview of each Big Ten team. In what started as a way for Graham and Jon to reach as many B1G fans as possible for a little known site called The Rivalry Esquire, B1G 2018 really captures the heart of what we do here on OTE. From introductions to each team to large heaping spoonfuls of your favorite casserole*, from rants about your least favorite institution to google results for your school, we have it all.
Starting next week, we will go - more or less - in reverse order of finish. Starting with Illinois, we will spend one week on each team and get into as much trouble as we possibly can. We will laugh a lot, argue some more, and probably try and stab somebody with a trident, but in the end, we hope you’ll go on this journey with us because I think we’ll all learn a little more.
For me personally, this is the seventh year I’ve been writing for this site, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say this is what all draws me in. I started with a story about beginnings, and this is what it’s all about to us. Sure, Wisconsin won the first B1G Conference Championship ever because they managed to only play three conference games and avoided the best teams. And yes, it seems like Minnesota-Purdue represented the worst possible first game ever, but that’s what makes this conference - and by default those of us who write about this conference - so special. It’s imperfect. But, it’s a lot of fun. We’re going to have a great Summer writing for you and I can’t wait to share our ideas. Get ready because B1G 2018 is here.