Top 5 Moments in Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe

It's Axe Week and the litany of jokes between the two sides is long and notorious, but so is the history between these two teams. After all, this is a series that's about to be played for the 122nd time on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. Since 1890 these teams have gone against each other every season except 1906 (for obvious reasons of the sports ban) and while it's not always been for Paul Bunyan's Axe or heck, even for the Slab of Bacon, there's been many memorable moments on both sides of this rivalry.

That got us to thinking, what are the greatest moments in the last 121 years of this game? It wasn't easy coming up with the list because amazingly some of the greatest moments in Badger football history are also the greatest moments in this Battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe. But, we aren't here because we take the easy way out, right? So, we've put our brain trust together once again and come up with our Top 5 Moments in the Battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe. 

Now before we get to the list, the criteria we used was simple, it had to be a play, player, or result from either side. Let's face it, Wisconsin isn't the only one with history in this game, otherwise why is it a rivalry, right? Let's get to the list, shall we?

No. 5: Wisconsin Wins 12-6 in 1905

Yes, we are traveling into the way, way back machine. Back to a time when the game we know as football probably wouldn't be recognizable to today's players, but also to one of the biggest upsets in the history of this rivalry. Minnesota was coming off of the 1904 "National Championship" that they are now claiming after Billingsley used computer matrix's to come up with whom he thought would be the rightful owners of a true national championship. 

Anyway, the Badgers were ironically led by Phil King, whom could be passed as the 2nd winningest head coach in Badgers history by Bret Bielema on Saturday with a win, in what historically could be the heyday of Wisconsin football before the modern era from Alvarez on. However, the Badgers had struggled going into the season against already hated rivals, Minnesota, losing the last three games coming into the 1905 battle. 

Wisconsin would head up to Northrop Field in Minneapolis as complete underdogs, after all they had failed to even score against the Gophers in those last three losses and Minnesota was undefeated and ranked at the top or near it in the myriad of polls out at the time. Instead King was back for one last season at the helm of Wisconsin and the Badgers shocked the Gophers 12-6.

It was Wisconsin's only win in the Big 9 (the predecessor to the Big Ten) that season as they went 8-2-0 overall and just 1-2 against teams in the conference (can you imagine only playing three Big Ten games a season? My have times changed). The Gophers were left stunned and the loss would be the only one they suffered that season as the Badgers spoiled their chances to win a 2nd national championship in a row. That alone makes it one of the most important games in the history of this rivalry.

No. 4: Gophers Hand Badgers Lone Loss in 1993

There are a ton of upsets, but this might be the biggest one in the history of the series. Wisconsin came in undefeated and hoping to clinch themselves a birth in their first Rose Bowl in some 30 years or so. It's not just the upset, as Minnesota came in with a sub .500 record, but the fact that this also was one hell of a football game as the Gophers won by just 7 points, 28-21, after being up 21-0 to start the game.

Wisconsin quarterback Darrell Bevell played a huge role in this one as he throw a bunch of costly interceptions, including one returned by a name that still ticks off a lot of Badger fans, Jeff Rosga, to put the Gophers up 21-0. He also threw for 423 yards, which still to this day is the single most yards in a game by a Badger QB. Brent Moss added two touchdowns in the losing effort.

What stands out to me in the loss are two very distinct things – those god awful Gold helmets of the Jim Wacker era and Gopher fans chanting 7-1 at Badger fans despite their four losses already that season. Memo to Gopher fans, celebrating a win is one thing, but if you're going to chant the teams record at them you might want to make sure your record is better yourself, just saying.

No. 3: Billy Marek Runs Over Gophers in 1974 Victory

Marek.jpegIf you're a Badger fan lucky enough to remember that we weren't always terrible before the Barry Alvarez era it's quite likely that the 1974 49-14 Wisconsin victory in the Axe series stands out to you, or at least it should. Why? Well two reasons really. First, the Badgers broke another losing streak in emphatic fashion and two because of one name only – Billy Marek.

Marek is perhaps the best player of the 1970's and in my opinion it's not even close, but he proved that point in the 1974 game as he set a then record for most yards rushing in a game with his 304 yards. It wouldn't be broken for 22 years until Ron Dayne set it at 339 yards in 1996. It might well have been the single best performance by a single player in Badger history against Minnesota and that's worth a top three spot alone.

Not only were his 304 yards a single game record at the UW, Marek also scored 5 touchdowns which to this day is still the single game record for TD's by a running back at Wisconsin. He also averaged 7.1 yards a carry in the win.

Additionally the Badgers 49 points were the most they had ever scored against the Gophers to that point, so this was one of the greatest games Wisconsin has ever played in the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe, no question about it.

No. 2: Anthony Davis Sends Badgers Bowling in 2002 Victory

This one is both great on paper and in my personal life. I was in attendance for this one, sitting with some of my best college friends my first Badgers game in history and boy was it historic. We saw the 3rd best running game in Wisconsin history as Anthony Davis went for 301 yards and 5 touchdowns. Wisconsin won the game 49-31 and with it became bowl eligible for the year.

One of the greatest things about this was the reaction of the goph fans sitting in front of us not understanding why the Badgers student section was chanting safety school at Minnesota. Seriously, they honest to goodness didn't get what a safety school was or why it applied to them in this rivalry. It was simply priceless before being priceless became a punch line.

What should be really telling is that Davis' 301 yards rushing wasn't something most fans were paying attention to, in fact I remember a lot of us looking around in amazement that Davis had put up those numbers. We all thought he had put up big numbers, but not that big of numbers. He would tie the all-time single game TD record that day with 5 TD's as well.

However, what seems to have been lost in all the talk of what Anthony Davis did, is that it was really the performance of quarterback Brooks Bollinger that won the game for Wisconsin. Let's not forget they were down going into the 4th quarter and didn't break the game open until Bollinger pounded home his TD to make it 35-31 and Davis would salt it away with two final TD's for the victory.

No. 1: "Simply Shocking"

Minnesota was up 34-31 and all they had to do was punt the ball away for a huge win in the Battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe, what happened next would go down in not only rivalry history, but as one of the craziest plays of the last 10 years in college football. I don't need to say anything that this video doesn't say:

It's easily the greatest moment in this rivalry, I don't care what side of it you are on. Either it brings sheer joy or dispaire and that's how you know it's the best.

Do you have your favorite moments or something we've missed badly on? Let us know by leaving a comment below and we leave you with this swing at the Gophs:

A young man who was a walk-on scout team player at Minnesota found an old lamp in the locker room. He rubbed it and a Genie appeared, and offered him 3 wishes. First he asked to be a starter on full scholarship. The genie said "Done" and sure enough he became a starter. For his second wish, he said "I want to be even better, I want to be the best player in the history Gopher Football." The genie said "Done" and sure enough, the young man became the best player to do the Maroon and Gold. For his third wish, he said "I want to be an even better football player." The genie thought about it for a bit, and after a pause said "Done" and sure enough, the young man became a walk-on scout team player at the University of Wisconsin!

Andrew Coppens

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He is the Managing Editor of MadTownBadger and associate editor of Bloguin's World Cup site, as well as Publisher of Big Ten site