The 10 Best Traveling Trophies in College Football
First of all, this slide show is not about who has the best or most intense rivalries. This strictly concerns the trophies.
Yes, it could be argued that the appeal of the trophy affects the rivalry. On the other hand, two of arguably the best rivalries in college football—Michigan vs. OSU and Florida vs. Georgia—do not have any hardware attached to them.
Still, there aren't many better experiences in college football than beating a rival, grabbing your trophy, and carrying it up and down the field.
And there aren't many better experiences for fans than watching your team do just that.
With that said, my criteria for picking the best trophies concerned three things: history of the trophy/rivalry, trophy aesthetics, and the rivalry itself.
In effect, trophies like Iowa and Wisconsin's Heartland Trophy were not considered.
The rivalry is real enough. The trophy, a bull, looks appealing. However, said trophy is somewhat contrived; it has no real history. It was put in place just to improve upon the Big Ten's already impressive cache of trophies.
Meanwhile, Georgia and Georgia Tech play in one of the most intense rivalries in the country. Furthermore, that rivalry includes a trophy: The Governor's Cup.
However, The Governor's Cup is one boring-looking trophy. It looks like a big version of what a 10-year-old gets for coming in second place in Pop Warner League.
Therefore, the following are the best traveling trophies in college football. They are the trophies with the most history. They are trophies with intriguing rivalries.
Above all, they are trophies that are memorable for their aesthetic uniqueness.
The Platypus Trophy
Who: The Oregon State Beavers and the Oregon Ducks
What: A two-foot wide, 18-inch long platypus carved out of maple
All-time record: (non-trophy) Oregon 57-46-10
Last 10 years: (non-trophy) 5-5
Year of inception: 1959
Current holder: Oregon
The Story: In 1959, Oregon art student Warren Spady was chosen to create a trophy commemorating the teams' annual Civil War rivalry game.
The trophy was to be in the form of a platypus due to the animal's duck-like bill and beaver-like tail.
Spady had a month to complete the project. However, when the time came, he had not yet finished the feat.
Nevertheless, when the 1959 game was played, Oregon State won and took home the trophy. Here begins a story of thievery that would make "The Great Train Robbery" look licit.
Between the 1959 and 1962 games, the trophy was stolen multiple times until it was eventually forgotten.
Then, in 1986, the original artist, Spady, who was now working as an art teacher in Eugene, spotted the trophy in a case at Oregon's Leighton Pool. It had apparently been given a new use as a trophy for the schools' annual Civil War water polo game.
Spady was unable to convince anybody to take back the trophy for the football game, so the trophy sat in the case by the pool until 2000, when the pool and the trophy case were demolished during a renovation project.
In 2004, local sportswriter John Cazano wrote a column lamenting the fact that the Civil War had no trophy. Spady read the column and informed him of the Platypus Trophy.
The two then began a search for the hardware that ended in 2005 when the prize was found in a closet in Oregon's McArthur Court. It was promptly given back to the Oregon Alumni Association.
Unfortunately, both schools' athletic directors declined to use the abstract piece as an actual game trophy. In effect, since 2007, it has been presented to the winning schools' alumni association.
Personally, if I were a Duck or a Beaver, I would immediately petition the school to have the trophy put back into the game.
The Fremont Cannon
Who: UNLV Rebels and the Nevada Wolfpack
What: A 545-pound cannon painted to match the winning school's colors
All-time record: Nevada 20-15
Last 10 years: 5-5
Year of inception: 1969
Current holder: Nevada
The Story: In 1967, Bill Ireland, an alumnus and former coach of Nevada, was hired by Nevada Southern University—the predecessor to UNLV—to become their first football coach.
In 1969, he came up with the idea to have a trophy as the symbol of the two schools.
The cannon is the heaviest and most expensive trophy in college football. It is a replica of a howitzer cannon used by explorer John C. Fremont on an 1843 expedition in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Following a 1978 victory by Nevada, Coach Chris Ault convinced airport security to let his team disassemble the cannon and carry it on to the plane back to Reno.
In 2000, the cannon was refurbished after it got damaged during a UNLV victory celebration.
During the refurbishment, officials found inscriptions inside the cannon including such slurs as "University of Notta Lotta Victories."
The cannon, which used to be fired after each team scored, has been inoperable since 1999.
The Indian War Drum
Who: The Missouri Tigers and the Kansas Jayhawks
What: A bass drum with the team's logos on opposite sides
All-time record: Missouri 39-31-3 (disputed)
Last 10 years: 5-5
Year of inception: 1937
Current holder: Missouri
The Story: In 1937, the schools' alumni associations decided to present an authentic Native American tom-tom drum to the winner of the annual rivalry game.
After finalizing this, it was decided that the drum would be built by the Osage tribe, as it was considered most representative of the two states.
The tradition was forgotten briefly during World War II, but was resumed in 1947. It continued unabated until the 1980s when the trophy was lost. It was later found in a basement in Columbia under a pile of boxes.
However, before it was found, the Taos tribe of New Mexico built a new drum. This served as the trophy until 1999, when Kansas insisted on the building of an even newer bass drum, which has served as the winning team's trophy since.
The Wagon Wheel
Who: The Akron Zips and the Kent State Golden Flashes
What: A blue and gold wagon wheel
All-time record: 19-19-1
Last 10 years: Akron 8-2
Year of inception: 1946
Current holder: Akron
The Story: Legend has it that John C. Buchtel was searching for a place to start a college in 1870. He was in an area near present day Kent State when his wagon got stuck in the mud.
The horses pulled the wagon apart and one of the wheels got buried.
Eventually, he settled on a site in Akron for Buchtel College, which ultimately became the University of Akron.
In 1902, while digging for a pipeline in Kent, the wheel was discovered and was given to the Kent State dean of men. In 1945, he suggested that the wheel be used as a trophy in the annual football game between the universities.
At the beginning of the rivalry, Kent State dominated to such a degree that the game was scrapped in 1954.
It started back up in 1972 and has been played annually ever since, with the wheel going to the winner.
The Old Oaken Bucket
Who: The Purdue Boilermakers and the Indiana Hoosiers
What: A bucket that is more than 100 years old, out of which come bronze block "I" and "P" letters
All-time record: Purdue 56-26-3
Last 10 years: Purdue 8-2
Year of inception: 1925
Current holder: Purdue
The Story: The original idea for a trophy for these teams to play for came about during a joint meeting of the Chicago alumni organizations of both schools.
It was eventually decided that the most appropriate symbol for the two largest public universities in Indiana was an old oaken bucket taken from a random well.
The bucket that ultimately became the trophy came from a farm in southern Indiana that was owned by the Bruner family.
Though the exact age of the bucket is not known, family lore claims that the bucket may have been used by Gen. John Hunt Morgan during the Civil War.
"I" or "P" links are added to the chain based on who wins the annual game.
The Paul Bunyan Trophy
Who: The Michigan State Spartans and the Michigan Wolverines
What: A four-foot tall wooden statue of Paul Bunyan
All-time record: Michigan 34-21-2
Last 10 years: Michigan 7-3
Year of inception: 1953
Current holder: Michigan State
The Story: There isn't really much of a story. In 1953, Michigan governor G. Mennen Williams put the trophy into circulation.
It is a wooden statue of the legendary Paul Bunyan standing astride the state of Michigan. Two flags, one with the letter "S" for MSU and the other with the letter "M" for Michigan, are planted on either side of Bunyan.
He is supported by a five-foot stand.
No, there is not much of a story, but it is quite a handful for the winning team, and quite a sight for the winning team's fans.
The Golden Hat
Who: The Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners
What: A gold cowboy hat mounted on a block of wood.
All-time record: Texas 59-40-5
Last 10 years: Oklahoma 6-4
Year of inception: 1941
Current holder: Texas
The Story: Beginning with the 1929 season, both universities signed a contract to play their annual game at the Texas State Fair.
The deal was for 10 years, but when the contract ended, both teams continued to play at the fair. To show its appreciation, the fair donated the Golden Hat Trophy to the rivalry, to be given to the winner.
Originally, it was known as the Bronze Hat, as it was bronze in color. However, in the 1970's, the hat was reworked and came out gold.
Since that time, it has simply, and appropriately, been called the Golden Hat Trophy.
The Little Brown Jug
Who: The Michigan Wolverines and the Minnesota Golden Gophers
What: A brown, earthenware jug
All-time record: Michigan 66-22-3
Last 10 years: Michigan 7-1 (teams did not play in 2009 or 2000)
Year of inception: 1903
Current holder: Michigan
The Story: In 1901, Fielding Yost took over coaching the Wolverines. They proceeded to win 28 straight games heading into the 1903 contest with Minnesota.
Meanwhile, the Gophers assembled one of the better teams in school history. In effect, everybody was very excited about the matchup.
As Yost and his team came into Minneapolis, the coach was worried about Minnesota fans contaminating his water supply. Right before the game he dispatched a student manager to buy him a water container.
Said manager purchased a five-gallon, 30-cent jug from a local variety store, and Yost used it during the game.
Michigan held a 6-0 lead heading into the final few minutes when Minnesota finally got to the end zone and tied it. However, after the score, Gophers fans stormed the field in celebration despite there being two minutes left on the clock.
Due to this, the game was prematurely ended and the jug was left behind in the locker room.
The next day, custodian Oscar Munson brought the jug to Minnesota athletic director L.J. Cooke and, in a thick Scandinavian accent, declared, "Yost left his jug."
Munson and Cooke proceeded to have a bit of fun with this memorabilia, painting it brown and writing the score as well as, "Michigan Jug – Captured by Oscar, Oct. 31, 1903."
As is the case in the competitive world of sports, Yost later decided he wanted the jug back. However, Cooke's response was, "We have your little brown jug; if you want it, you’ll have to win it."
The following season Michigan proceeded to do just that, and the teams have played for the jug ever since.
Floyd of Rosedale
Who: The Iowa Hawkeyes and the Minnesota Golden Gophers
What: A 15.5-inch high, 21-inch long bronze pig
All-time record: Minnesota 39-34-2
Last 10 years: Iowa 8-2
Year of inception: 1935
Current holder: Iowa
The Story: The 1934 game between the Hawks and the Gophers was filled with controversy.
Iowa was infuriated over the Gophers' treatment of its star halfback, Ozzie Simmons, who was one of the few African-Americans playing college football during that era.
Apparently, the Gophers were piling on Simmons, coming at him with knees high, taking late hits, etc.
The following year, Iowa governor Clyde Herring told reporters, "If the officials stand for any rough tactics like Minnesota used last year, I'm sure the crowd won't."
When this news reached Minnesota, Gophers coach Bernie Bierman was furious and threatened to break off athletic relations between the schools.
In order to lighten the mood, Minnesota Governor Floyd Olson sent a telegram to Gov. Herring in which he bet a prize Minnesota hog against a prize Iowa hog that the Golden Gophers would win. Herring agreed.
The game was played and there was no trouble. Minnesota won and Simmons was unharmed.
Gov. Herring obtained a prize pig from Rosedale Farms. The pig was named Floyd after the governor of Minnesota. Herring personally delivered "Floyd of Rosedale" to Gov. Olson's St. Paul office.
A few years later, Floyd of Rosedale caught cholera and died. As the schools could not continue to wager a live pig—I have no idea why—Gov. Olson commissioned St. Paul artist Charles Brioscho to capture Floyd's image.
The end result is what the schools have played for ever since.
Paul Bunyan's Axe
Who: The Wisconsin Badgers and the Minnesota Golden Gophers
What: An axe that is over six feet long.
All-time record: Wisconsin 35-24-3.
Last 10 years: Wisconsin 8-2
Year of inception: 1948
Current holder: Wisconsin
The Story: The axe is the symbol of the oldest rivalry in college football, dating to 1890.
Originally, the Badgers and Gophers played for the slab of bacon, a piece of wood that had an M or W on it, depending upon how one looked at it. The slab was "lost" in 1943 and resurfaced again in 1994.
Meanwhile, the Wisconsin letter winners' organization created the axe and it was instituted as the official trophy of the teams' game in 1948.
The score of each game is recorded on the handle. The original axe was retired in 2003 and a new axe was broken in for the 2004 game.
Whether one is a Badgers fan or not, there isn't a much more exciting sight than seeing more than 80 players swarm to the opposing team's sideline to "steal" the humongous axe and parade it around the field.
Furthermore, it is remarkable how many great trophies Minnesota has access to; yet lately, their trophy case always seems to be empty.