Badgers, Gophers grinding the axe
Badgers, Gophers grinding the axe
By Marc Morehouse
The Wisconsin-Minnesota game is primed for a bit of ugliness.
For the uninitiated, the two teams battle it out for the Paul Bunyan axe, a super-sized axe that would likely fit an eight- or nine-foot lumberjack. If there’s a transfer of axe, the winning team sprints to the loser’s sideline and then runs around the field with it. This is running with scissors times 10.
This is a match-up between two of the most type-A coaches in the Big Ten.
Of course you know Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema, the former Iowa defensive tackle. He sometimes coaches as though he’s still a defensive tackle. And then there’s Minnesota Coach Tim Brewster, who last season reportedly told a group of Minnesota fans the Gophers would beat Wisconsin and he would be the first member of the team to sprint across the field and retrieve the axe.
Bielema caught wind of this. When the Badgers won, 41-34, he sprinted across the field and greeted Brewster with a handshake that was more bleep-you than thank-you.
During last season’s game, Minnesota receiver Eric Decker, who’s sitting out this week with a high-ankle sprain, punched UW cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu in the groin at the end of a running play.
The UW-UM game is a border battle, but it’s also a battle for recruits. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Bielema talked in a radio interview last year about being able to recruit any Minnesota kid he wanted. One of the best offensive weapons the Gophers will defend Saturday is sophomore David Gilreath, the all-purpose player from Armstrong (Minn.) High School. He de-committed from Minnesota and went to Wisconsin shortly after former coach Glen Mason was fired.
“Stuff like that happens when it is a nasty rivalry like that,” UW sophomore wide receiver David Gilreath, a Minnesota native who chose the Badgers over the Gophers during an intense recruiting battle, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this week. “When you get a nasty rivalry . . . scratching, clawing, punching, grabbing . . . things like that happen to try and get the win.”
Brewster, whose high-octane intensity makes for great sideline camera shots, isn’t placing bounties on heads. He is putting the Bunyan Axe at the top of the Gophers’ list of trophy games, which includes the Floyd of Rosedale Trophy, up for grabs when the Hawkeyes visit the Metrodome next week in the final UM game there.
“The feeling is not underplayed between the states,” Brewster told Minneapolis-area reporters Sunday, referring to Wisconsin. “All our trophy games are big games, important games. This one is more important than the rest of them.”
Iowa fans might’ve been the first ones to see this coming.
After the Hawkeyes dispatched Iowa State, 21-7, during Bielema’s senior season in 1992, he met Cyclones coach Jim Walden during the postgame handshake and said, “You’re a big prick. It’s been a pleasure kicking your ass the last five years.”
Iowa officials later reprimanded Bielema and sent letter of apology to Walden and Iowa State. Bielema sent a telegram.
Fast forward to last season, after beating Minnesota, Bielema’s most pointed comment after the game: “You want a rivalry, you got one.”
This year, Bielema is a little less emotional. But hey, it’s only Thursday.
“It’s a rivalry game, and it’s a border game,” Bielema said. “We don’t have an in-state rival, just the same as Minnesota doesn’t. This game represents tremendous history and it’s really not a hard sell to convince our players how important it is for us to keep the axe on our sideline.”
If history serves and the Gophers lose, Brewster might want to avoid Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, a Wisconsin native who did nothing to hide his hatred for Minnesota.
“Minnesota is my most despised team,” the sophomore said. “If I want to win against anyone, it is them.”
Interference or not?
Penn State Coach Joe Paterno declined to criticized Big Ten officiating for a costly pass interference penalty called against his defense in Saturday’s 24-23 loss at Iowa.
The call was against senior safety Anthony Scirrotto. He was flagged after running into the back of wide receiver Trey Stross on a third-and-15 play from Iowa’s 24. The penalty gave Iowa a first down at its 39. The drive eventually turned into Daniel Murray’s 31-yard field goal with one second left on the clock.
The loss knocked the Nittany Lions (9-1) from national title conversation.
“I thought it was a bang-bang call … it could have gone either way,” Paterno said. “The pass interference, I don’t know, that would be a tough call.”
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz didn’t have much to say about the penalty.
“They had one, we had one,” he said. “It’s part of football. If a team has a penalty, it’s a penalty.”