Gophers place importance on trophy games

MINNEAPOLIS — The Golden Gophers football team’s trophy case has been a bit sparse over the last several years. Minnesota and several of its Big Ten rivals battle each other in trophy games every season, but the Gophers haven’t won many lately.

The only trophy Minnesota currently owns is Floyd of Rosedale, a bronze pig that is awarded annually to the winner of the Gophers’ game against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Minnesota has beaten Iowa twice in the past two years — both at TCF Bank Stadium — to maintain possession of the prized pig.

Now, the Gophers head to Iowa City with Floyd in tow. They’re hoping he’ll make the return trip to Minneapolis after Saturday’s game.

“Just the fact that the trophy’s a pig, that’s a silly thing,” said Gophers defensive lineman Ra’Shede Hageman. “But the pig has a lot of history behind it. It kind of pumps us up. We obviously have to do what we can to keep it. It’s obviously a tradition here, so we want to keep it here.”

The Gophers’ other rivalry trophies are the Little Brown Jug, given to the winner of their game against Michigan; Paul Bunyan’s Axe, awarded to the winner of Minnesota-Wisconsin; and the Governor’s Victory Bell, which goes to the winner of Minnesota’s game against Penn State. The Axe is part of the longest-running rivalry in college football, but the trophy itself has only been a part of the border battle since 1948.

Floyd of Rosedale, on the other hand, has been passed back and forth by Iowa and Minnesota since 1935. During the 1935 season, however, it was an actual prize-winning pig, not a bronze replica that was awarded to the Gophers when they beat the Hawkeyes 13-6.

The current Floyd of Rosedale may not be a real pig, but members of the Gophers are treating it as such.

“It’s in the locker room right now downstairs, so we always get to see it and pet it,” Hageman said. “We have the trophy right now, so we might as well have fun with it.”

For Gophers tight end John Rabe, Saturday’s game against the Hawkeyes will have extra significance aside from playing for a trophy. The senior is a native of Iowa Falls, which is a few hours northwest of Iowa City.

As a kid, Rabe saw the significance that Floyd of Rosedale had on the Big Ten rivalry between his home state and Iowa’s neighbors to the north. Last year, his first year with the Gophers after transferring from Ellsworth Community College, Rabe was part of the Minnesota team that paraded around TCF Bank Stadium carrying the heavy bronze pig.

“Growing up, I wanted to play in these Big Ten games, and that’s all you hear about is Big Ten rivalry games,” Rabe said. “Playing in it last year, it was one of the best sports experiences of my life. It’s going to be fun again. I’m excited. I’m really excited. I just want it to be Saturday right now. We’ve got to put in our work and time will be here and we’ll be ready to go.”

Before the Gophers began fall camp, they held a meeting to talk about rivalries in which they discussed the importance of these games on the state, the school and the team. While second-year coach Jerry Kill insists he doesn’t change the way his team practices during the course of the season, there’s no doubt that rivalry games bring out a different intensity for all parties involved.

“I think that rivalry games are great,” Kill said Tuesday. “It’s important in recruiting. It’s important in the history of football. And so you know, we don’t approach anything differently, but we certainly talk about we’re going to play a huge game. It’s important to the state and so forth, and they do the same thing. And that’s why they call it a rivalry.”

Minnesota enters Saturday’s game with a perfect 4-0 record, while the 2-2 Hawkeyes are reeling after losing at home last weekend to Central Michigan on a last-second field goal. Iowa also lost a home game to Iowa State in the non-conference season.

Still, in a rivalry game, the old cliché is that the records get thrown out the window. Minnesota knows the Hawkeyes want Floyd back, and the Gophers are expecting to have to fight to keep him.

“We can’t really sleep on the fact that we’re 4-0,” Hageman said. “We can’t count our chickens before they hatch. We have to go against Iowa and play them. Obviously they’re going to bring their A-game.”

Minnesota hasn’t held claim to Paul Bunyan’s Axe since 2003. It last won the Little Brown Jug in 2005, and hasn’t won the relatively new Governor’s Bell since 2004. But after back-to-back wins over the Hawkeyes, the Gophers feel Floyd has found a somewhat permanent home in Minneapolis.

“Of course, we want to win the Axe, but this is a big rivalry game,” Rabe said. “We’re not even playing Iowa, and week one people are chanting in the stands, ‘Who hates Iowa? We hate Iowa.’ It’ll be fun. The crowd’s going to be ready to go. It’s going to be a fun environment down there.”

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