One thing the Big Ten has in abundance is their many fierce and storied rivalry games. And any great rivalry game needs a rivalry trophy. Without a trophy to play for, everyone knows your game is meaningless and uninteresting. The Big Ten has 16 rivalry trophies that are played for and 12 of those are played for every year (except for 2020 because 2020 sucked). Some of these trophies are relics of the civil war era, some are deadly weapons, some have interesting back stories, and some are abominations that should never have been created.
But which trophies are the best? Which are the worst? And more importantly which trophy best represents your team after week 7 in 2021? Read on to find out.
Full disclosure: I workshopped this idea among the other “writers” and received input on how to rank the trophies. Then I ignored that input because your favorite trophy is terrible.
No. 1: The Ohio State Buckeyes - Floyd of Rosedale
First Place Votes: 11; High: 1; Low 3; Last Week: 2 (+1)
Our first trophy on the list is the storied Floyd of Rosedale trophy. The bronzed pig weighs in at 98.3 pounds which is probably the reason you don’t see a lot of quarterbacks or kickers ever holding it.
Floyd has its roots in the unacceptable behavior of Minnesota players and Iowa fans (some things never change). During the 1934 game between the teams, the Gopher players made many late hits and took several cheap shots at star Iowa halfback Ozzie Simmons during Minnesota’s 38-12 victory. The following year Gophers’ coach Bernie Bierman saw an influx of threatening letters from Iowa fans in the lead up to the game in Iowa City. The day before the game Iowa’s Governor Clyde L. Herring got involved and threatened that fans would take things into their own hands if the rough tactics of the previous year were used again against Simmons. Minnesota’s attorney general responded by stating that the Iowa Governor’s statement to reporters was “... a breach of your duty as governor, and evidences an unsportsmanlike, cowardly and contemptible frame of mind.” In an attempt to lighten the mood, Minnesota Governor Floyd Olson sent a telegram on gameday to Governor Herring betting a Minnesota prize hog vs an Iowa prize hog on the outcome of the game. Minnesota won, the pig was donated by Rosedale farms in Iowa, and nicknamed Floyd.
Various attempts to charge the Iowa and Minnesota governors with illegal gambling were made in the courts, but dismissed due to jurisdictional issues or not prosecuted by lenient U.S. Attorneys. It’s also important to note that Minnesota’s governor argued that it could not have been illegal gambling because it wasn’t a true bet since Herring had no chance of winning. Following the death of the pig from cholera 8 months later (Floyd was not vaccinated because Iowa neglected to do so before handing the pig over), sculptor Charles Brioschi was commissioned by Governor Floyd to capture pig Floyd’s likeness. The result is the beautiful bronze pig that has been contested every year since with Minnesota winning Floyd most of the early years and Iowa stealing Floyd most of the recent years. The scores of the games are inscribed on the trophy and the trophy series is tied at 42-42-2.
Much like Floyd, the Buckeyes are too much of a heavyweight to move off their pedestal at the top of the conference very easily. You could kick Floyd or Ohio State but all you are going to get for your animal cruelty or righteous hatred of Ohio State is a bruised foot. If you want to take down this pig (or Ohio State team), I suggest dropping them in a Harbor. Although most pigs are strong swimmers, Floyd’s feet are stuck to a heavy bronze base that would definitely sink him. Although people forget, Ohio State is most vulnerable to defeat when they have to play in a harbor.
No. 2: Michigan Wolverines - Paul Bunyun’s Axe
First Place Votes: 6; High: 1; Low 4; Last Week: 3 (+1)
Paul Bunyun’s Axe was created in 1948 as a replacement trophy for the missing Slab of Bacon. And by missing I mean kept in a locked room at Camp Randall and updated every year with the scores of the game. The Axe trophy continued the tradition of painting the scores of each game on it and the scores are painted on opposing sides of 6 foot long handle depending on who won. Unfortunately for the Gophers, the Wisconsin side of the handle has many more scores painted on it since Wisconsin leads the trophy series 45-25-3 including 16 of the last 17 years. Minnesota fans surely wish they could go back to the era of the Slab of Bacon when they went 11-3. I would also like a slab of bacon right now.
After a victory the winners of the Axe ceremoniously “chop down” the opposing teams goal posts. In 2013 angry Gophers surrounded their goal post to prevent the Badgers from continuing this tradition. Wisconsin players kidnapped Goldy and then threatened to behead him with the Axe if the tradition was not allowed to be continued. Negotiations with the hostage team resulted in Goldy being freed and the tradition of Wisconsin “chopping down” the Minnesota goal posts was continued in 2015.
Like the trophy history between Minnesota and Wisconsin, Michigan was missing from the Big Ten for years when they were kicked out of the conference in 1907. Although they allowed back in 1916, many people are saying this was a mistake. The Axe is a formidable weapon just like the Wolverines this year. The 6 foot long handle gives the Axe decent attack range but it can be slow and cumbersome to wield making it a weapon that leaves you vulnerable on the defense much like the Wolverines who gave up 29 points to Nebraska. It is also no match for Floyd as the Axe isn’t cutting thru bronze anytime soon. Every attempt to do so results in breaking the Axe’s divisional hopes.
No. 3: Michigan State Spartans - Little Brown Jug
High: 2; Low 5; Last Week: 5 (+2)
The oldest rivalry trophy in the Big Ten owes it’s existence due to the fears of Michigan head coach Fielding Yost of being poisoned by Minnesota. That’s right we are three trophies in and we have preventing a riot, theft replacement, and preventing poison as reasons for existence. Quite a wholesome history in the Midwest. In 1903 Yost and the Gophers came into Minneapolis having won 28 straight games. Yost instructed student manager Thomas B. Roberts to purchase something to carry water so that he wouldn’t be poisoned. Roberts purchased a five gallon beehive jug for 30¢. Late in the 2nd half the Gophers scored to tie the game at 6. Not realizing there were two minutes left, Minnesota fans stormed the field in celebration. The game would be called and officially ended as a 6-6 tie.
After the game was over the jug was left on the field as it had served it’s purpose and the confusion of the field storming distracted Roberts and Yost from caring very much about the 30¢ investment. The following day Minnesota custodian Oscar Munson carried the jug to Gopher athletic director L. J. Cooke and they proceeded to paint the jug brown and write the words “Michigan Jug –; Captured by Oscar, October 31, 1903” on the side along with the score “Michigan 6, Minnesota 6”. When the schools met in 1909, Cooke and the Minnesota captain decided to propose that it become a trophy for the winner of the game. Yost and the Michigan captain agreed. Michigan leads the trophy series 72-23-2.
Sadly, due to the irresponsible conference expansions undertaken by Jim Delaney the trophy is no longer contended for annually and is now only played for twice every six years. Like the Jug, Michigan State’s football team isn’t all that exciting at first glance but they have gotten the job done. The Spartans job is to win football games and so far they’ve done that every week. The Jug’s job was to prevent Minnesota from poisoning Fielding Yost and it did that successfully. Even though the jug was the first rivalry trophy in existence for the Big Ten, it’s prominence has fallen slightly as time marches forward and new trophies have been created. Spartans fans will have to hope that they won’t also fall from being in first place as the season goes on and they face new teams.
No. 4: Penn State Nittany Lions - Old Oaken Bucket
High: 2; Low 6; Last Week: 4 (-)
The Old Oaken Bucket is my personal favorite and a trophy for the Indiana-Purdue game was first proposed at a joint meeting of the Chicago alumni associations of Indiana University and Purdue University in 1925. Indiana alumnus Dr. Clarence Jones and Purdue alumnus Russel Gray were appointed to determine a trophy. At a subsequent meeting Jones’s and Gray’s recommendation was passed in the following resolution:
an old oaken bucket as the most typical Hoosier form of trophy, that the bucket should be taken from some well in Indiana, and that a chain to be made of bronzeblock ”I” and “P” letters should be provided for the bucket. The school winning the traditional football game each year should have possession of the “Old Oaken Bucket” until the next game and should attach the block letter representing the winning school to the bail with the score engraved on the latter link.
Finally a trophy with a peaceful beginning! Purdue alumnus Fritz Ernst and Indiana alumnus Whiley J. Huddle were assigned to find a bucket and did so at the Bruner family farm in southern Indiana. The farm had been settled in the 1840s and legend has it that the bucket and the well had been utilized by
General traitor John Hunt Morgan as his band of Confederate cavalry traipsed thru southern Indiana. Morgan’s raid achieved no tactical advantages for the South and resulted in the surrender of his troops in Ohio. Like all Union property, the bucket was not kept by the Confederacy.
The first Bucket game in 1925 resulted in a tie and the forging of an I-P link for the chain. Since then the Purdue has added 60 more P links, Indiana has added 32 I links, and 2 more IP links have been added while the universities have had two children (IUPUI and IPFW). Fort Wayne of course realized that they loved Purdue more as a parent and swore off Indiana University by renaming themselves as PFW. In typical COVID fashion, the annual series was interrupted due to high cases on both squads in 2020, so Purdue fans were mercifully sparred another game of Bob Diaco. I look forward to watching Purdue add another P link in 2021.
Earlier this year Penn State saw an invasion of rowdy southerners who came to claim what wasn’t theirs (a victory). Although it briefly looked like the southerners might steal what wasn’t theirs, the victory - like the Old Oaken Bucket - stayed in the north. Unfortunately for Penn State, when you take away their quarterback (the I and P links), they are left with just a defense (a bucket). It can carry water for the team for awhile, but it is no longer flashy enough to entice the college football playoff to recognize it as a beloved object of desire. Here’s hoping Penn State can get healthy and prove themselves worthy of the Old Oaken Bucket with the links included.
No. 5: Iowa Hawkeyes - Land Grant Trophy
High: 3; Low 8; Last Week: 1 (-4)
bowling trophy of mismatched items Land Grant Trophy is an OTE favorite and likely the most discussed trophy on the site (just like Iowa the past two weeks! - most discussed, not favorite). Gaze upon the majesty that is this trophy. You too can have one in your house* by following the instructions provided at https://www.roarlionsroar.com/penn-state-football/2018/10/4678/DIY-land-grant-trophy
The actual Land Grant Trophy was created to honor the history of Michigan State and Penn State as the pioneering land grant universities in the United States. Never mind that they are now just two of 70+ land grant universities in the United States. Created in 1993 for what would be their season ending game each year up until Leaders and Legends, the trophy consists of a piece of poorly cut wood with strange shelves, pictures of the schools glued to the wood, two separate trophy statues, a marble lion, and yet another picture. In addition to this are plaques with the name of the trophy and the scores of each contest. You can tell this trophy was designed for two land grant schools by engineers at the schools with no sense of aesthetics. Don’t be offended by me mocking engineers, I’m allowed to since I am one. The trophy is very appropriate since land grant schools prioritized engineering education. Penn State leads the trophy series 16-9.
Iowa is awarded the Land Grant Trophy for two reasons. First, the trophy partially represents Penn State and Iowa fans were so happy to beat Penn State and take their happiness this season. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Iowa’s football team is the living embodiment of the Land Grant Trophy. Iowa football is uncreative and uninspiring but functions as a useful team just like this trophy serves the purpose of technically being a trophy. But when the lasers (defense) isn’t functioning by causing fumbles and interceptions, the rest of the trophy just isn’t that impressive. Unfortunately for Iowa, they played Purdue this past week and Jeff Brohm was able to utilize Purdue’s engineers to scheme up a simple concept that made their defense just as ineffective as mirrors can make lasers: throw the ball to your All-B1G wide receiver.
*Lasers not included
No. 6: Purdue Boilermakers - Illibuck
First Place Votes: 1; High: 1; Low 7; Last Week: 11 (+5)
Back in 1925, when the University of Illinois still fielded a football team, Illinois and Ohio State decided they would play for something besides bragging rights. They selected a turtle as turtles have a long lifespan and it was anticipated that the then rivalry would also be long lasting. [Spoiler Note: It wasn’t.] Ohio State and Illinois used to play at the end of every season from 1919 to 1933 and at the time this was considered each schools biggest rival.
As we all know though, college students should not be entrusted with the lives of animals and so the turtle died in April of 1926. As a result of the turtle’s death, wooden replicas have since been carved with scores painted on their backs until the back is full and a new replica is carved. To date, ten wooden replicas have been carved all named Illibuck. Unlike most other trophies which are taken from the opposing sideline immediately after the game, the Illibuck is presented at the following game between the two schools. The ceremonial smoking of the peace pipe between honor societies of the two schools at halftime has fallen out of style in recent years and is no longer practiced. Despite being an annual game up until 2003, the series saw an interruption in 2003 and 2004, before being banished to the back pages of B1G history in 2014 with the eradication of the Leaders and Legends for East/West divisions. Ohio State leads the trophy series 63-23-2.
Much like the majestic Illibuck, Purdue football is often forgotten about by Ohio State to their detriment. Despite being their only trophy game and their only competitive B1G football rival, Illibuck and Purdue are not on the collective minds of the Ohio State fanbase very often. Turtles are not the most dangerous animal in the world and are often seen as weak due to their slow speed. But overconfident teams ranked in the top 2 of the AP poll are much like the proverbial hare in its race with the
tortoise turtle. The turtle wins and then eats the hare.
No. 7: Minnesota Golden Gophers - $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy
High: 5; Low 9; Last Week: 8 (+1)
The best thing to come out of conference expansion, the $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy grew out of a twitter exchange between the Minnesota mascot and twitter personality FauxPelini. The two schools would pick up the idea and run with it, getting the trophy made before their 2014 meeting. Minnesota won the 2014 game and proudly displayed it at a basketball game. The last Nebraska coach to make a bowl game, Mike Riley, gladly hoisted the trophy in celebration in 2015.
Then disaster struck in 2016, as both schools had decided they hated fun and abandoned the trophy. This fun new trophy’s existence had been snuffed out after only two years. In 2017, it was reborn as dedicated fans of the Chair rebuilt it and began using it as a vehicle for raising money for Chairity. This tradition and great work continues to this day, although the schools have yet to fully embrace the Chair again. Minnesota leads the trophy series 5-3.
Like the Chair, Minnesota is not seen as legitimate. Even our OTE “writers” ranked Minnesota down in 7th, despite them being the top team controlling their own destiny in the West. Minnesota is currently in the division lead, but the loss to Bowling Green means that they are not taken seriously. The Gophers and the Chair keep plugging away to gain recognition and respect. Perhaps one day they will both get their just recognition.
No. 8: Wisconsin Badgers - Old Brass Spittoon
High: 6; Low 11; Last Week: 7 (-1)
The Old Brass Spittoon was purchased from an antique store in Lansing in 1950 an award for the Indiana game. The idea being that it would motivate the Spartans. The Hoosiers accepted the challenge of playing for the Spittoon. It costs $25 which means that despite being more than 80X more expensive than the Little Brown Jug (inflation isn’t real, don’t @ me), it is maybe a quarter as cool. I’m not entirely sure why the then #13 ranked Spartans needed extra motivation to play a team they hadn’t seen since 1940 that would finish tied for last in the conference but it apparently worked as Michigan State won 35-0. I also appreciate the fact that Wikipedia claims that the 1950 game was a “rivalry game” at the time. Michigan State leads the trophy series 49-14-1.
If you are interested in more on the Old Brass Spittoon - which was won again by MSU this past weekend - go read the article written by BuffKomodo and Green Akers last week: https://www.offtackleempire.com/2021/10/11/22684577/trophy-week-the-old-brass-spittoon
Like the MSU student class president who bought the Old Brass Spittoon, Wisconsin walked into a store and bought a discount offensive line this year. We are all used to Wisconsin running for 650 yards a game and beating up on Purdue and Illinois by 50 points every year. And while Wisconsin still has a good defense and still beat Illinois and will still run for 729 yards against Purdue in a win this upcoming Saturday, they aren’t quite the Wisconsin Badgers of years past. They are semi functional in that they can play defense, run the ball, and never pass. The Spittoon is semi functional in that you can spit in it and it never does anything else. Most other trophies don’t require a deep cleaning every year. Both the Wisconsin style of football and the Spittoon are outdated items in the year 2021.
No. 9: Indiana Hoosiers - The Hat
High: 7; Low 13; Last Week: 9 (-)
The Hat - officially known as the Land of Lincoln trophy or some such bullshit - was created in 2009 following a fan vote. I’m disappointed it’s not named Hatty McHatHat. The Hat resembles President Abe Lincoln’s hat and was cast by Wisconsin foundry. Apparently Northwestern’s butlers thought it would be funny to outsource the work to another state but realized that their own home state of Iowa wouldn’t be able to handle the work.
The Hat replaced the second of trophy between the two schools: the Sweet Sioux Trophy. The Sweet Sioux trophy was a replica tomahawk given to Northwestern in perpetuity following the Illini decision to disassociate all connections to Chief Illiniwek. The tomahawk series was won by Illinois 33–29–2 and the tomahawk had replaced a carved wooden “cigar store” Indian trophy which served as the first trophy in the series. Northwestern leads the era of the Hat series 9-3.
Indiana is tired of playing top 10 ranked teams. Good thing they got all of those out of the way. Let’s take a look at their upcoming schedule - Ohio State. Oh dear.
A hat can be a nice accessory to an outfit. But it doesn’t make the outfit by itself - or at least it shouldn’t when you are out in public. Indiana football in 2021 is a nice accessory to their athletic department. But let’s be honest: Indiana fans are ready for basketball season and Mike Woodson to lead them to the their 6th national championship in the spring of 2022. The hat is a nice little trophy that tries hard. 2021 Indiana is a team that tries hard to beat those teams ranked in the top 10. Indiana fans (and the rest of the B1G) are hoping the Hat manages to blindfold Floyd this weekend.
No. 10: Maryland Terrapins - Purdue Cannon
High: 8; Low 12; Last Week: 12 (+2)
For the full history of the Purdue Cannon, go reread this excellent article written by a very talented “writer” on this site: https://www.offtackleempire.com/2021/9/23/22686542/the-purdue-cannon-purdue-boilermakers-illinois-fighting-illini-football
For the TL;DR version, back in 1905 some mischievous Purdue students took a cannon to Champaign in hopes of firing it in celebration, hid it in a field near the game, and were discovered before they could fire it after the victory. It was captured by fun hating Illini fans and resided in an Illinois barn for a few decades before being donated as a trophy for the renewed Purdue-Illinois football series in 1943. Yes, it is a really small cannon. It’s not about the size of the cannon but how you use it. Following their victory this year Purdue now leads the trophy series 38-30-4.
Terrapins Turtles of Maryland are having a rough season. But they are a technically a Big Ten football team. The Purdue Cannon is technically a cannon. Both are undersized and outgunned compared to most of their competition. Maryland hasn’t done a lot of damage against their conference opponents, but they have a QB that is still capable of firing TDs all over the field if someone will just let them out of the farmhouse barn that is the Big Ten East.
No. 11: Nebraska Cornhuskers - George Jewett Trophy
Last Place Votes: 1; High: 9; Low 14; Last Week: 6 (-5)
The George Jewett Trophy is a brand new trophy that has never been played for. It recognizes George Jewett, the first African-American football player for both Michigan and Northwestern (he transferred back before transferring was cool). Jewett played in the 1890s and this trophy is the first college football trophy representing an African-American. Pictures of this trophy online have been difficult to find, but hopefully they will show up later this week as Northwestern and Michigan contest it for the first time. It is being said that the statue of Jewett on the trophy will be able to rotate towards the jNU or Michigan side of the trophy depending on who has won most recently. That’s a pretty cool detail and it’s possible this trophy rises in the ranks once we get to actually see it.
Nebraska on the other hand doesn’t seem all that likely to make a late push in the power rankings. Sure they are probably better than their record as they’ve kept a lot of games close but at the same time they are 3-5 with a pretty difficult schedule left and a coach that needs to thaw out quickly.
Nebraska is given the George Jewett Trophy in these rankings for a variety of reasons. It’s a new trophy for B1G fans to get used to, and after this year Nebraska fans will have a new coach to get used to. Jewett and Nebraska also played their best football in the 90s. It may have been a completely different game in the 1890s than the 1990s, but I’m told history is a cycle or something and these are both things that peaked in the 90s. Finally, there are very few photos of either the George Jewett trophy or Scott Frost winning football games.
No. 12: Northwestern Wildcats - Paul Bunyun Trophy
Last Place Votes: 1; High: 10; Low 14; Last Week: A (+2)
I’m not really sure what to say about the Paul Bunyun trophy. The creators of it certainly tried something. This four foot tall wooden statue of a lumberjack was presented in 1953 to commemorate Michigan State beginning football in the Big Ten.
Michigan’s coach in 1953, Fritz Crisler, planned to refuse the trophy if Michigan had won the game. Of course that didn’t matter as the Spartans won the contest and Governor G. Mennen Williams awarded it to them. The following year, the Wolverines won the game and left the trophy on the field for 30 minutes. Eventually they would store it in a Michigan locker room equipment closet. When the Spartans won the trophy back in 1956 they discovered that Michigan had not engraved the scores of their victories on the trophy like they had in ‘53. The Spartans dutifully did so.
In 1958 both teams decided they didn’t want the trophy. Following a tie, the Spartans were so embarrassed they tried to refuse to keep the trophy. But the Wolverines refused as well and the Spartans had to eventually relent. Lloyd Carr said it best when he called the Paul Bunyun trophy: “the ugliest trophy in college football.” Michigan leads the trophy series 38-28-2.
It’s fitting that Northwestern is awarded the Paul Bunyun trophy since they have
the ugliest uniforms in college football. are also very different than their peers. A small private school with mandatory butlers sticks out like a sore thumb in a conference consisting of very big state universities. On the football field Northwestern looks relatively harmless and at times (ie: vs Nebraska) they have been the ugliest team in the Big Ten to watch play. But despite their relatively harmless manner, they still have a miniature axe that unwary opponents like Rutgers can cut themselves on.
No. 13: Rutgers Scarlet Knights - Heartland Trophy
Last Place Votes: 3; High: 11; Low: 14; Last Week: 10 (-3)
Iowa and Wisconsin first played football against each other in 1894. The Heartland Trophy was created in 2004 and consists of a brass bull on pedestal. There is no further information available on this trophy as it is a piece of junk and a cheap knockoff of Floyd. Iowa and Wisconsin fans know they should be ashamed of it. It’s only redeeming quality is that is isn’t the worst rivalry trophy for either school.
Although Rutgers began playing football in the same year Purdue was founded, they didn’t join the preeminent college football conference until 2014. Much like Iowa and Wisconsin didn’t become a real rivalry for their first 100+ years of playing each other until they got a trophy, Rutgers didn’t become a real football team for their first 100+ years of playing until they joined the Big Ten (and started beating great Big Ten teams like Illinois, Purdue, and Michigan). Rutgers is also a cheap knockoff version of Ohio State. They play football in the same conference and both teams wear
red scarlet, but past these superficial similarities they are as alike as a pig and a bull. Floyd was a prize winning pig and so famous that it got a name. The Heartland trophy is of some random unknown bull who probably lost a bull fight to a blind matador.
No. 14: Illinois Fighting Illini - The Game (No Trophy)
Last Place Votes: 13; High: 11; Low 14; Last Week: 13 (-1)
This is my power poll and I’m not handing out participation trophies to everyone. The Illini football team has not been deserving of a trophy this season other than their game against Nebraska. The Illini fans were already given a nice thing in this article when I gave them a photo of Illini players holding the Hat. Two nice things aren’t happening. Instead they get the Michigan-Ohio State game, which has been as uncompetitive in recent years as Illinois football. It takes a special type of person to care about Illinois football or the Michigan-Ohio State game.
- Governor’s Victory Bell - Penn State-Minnesota isn’t really a rivalry. It might have made the list anyway if it was just the bell and not the giant casing around it.
- Heroes Trophy - what the hell Nebraska and Iowa? Is this why your two fanbases obsess about each other?
- Freedom Trophy - what the hell Nebraska and Wisconsin? For showing up on the not good enough list twice, Nebraska has been court ordered to extend Scott Frost’s contract for another year at $6million.