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The Voice: Throw out assumptions with Axe on the line

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It's Homecoming Week in Madison, and what better opponent to play than Minnesota?  Here comes the annual Battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe, an item that has been in the Badgers' trophy case for the last six years.

One word of caution to those who simply assume the prize will stay in town for another season -- never underestimate the power of a rivalry.

While the Badgers are eager to prove they are better than what they showed last Saturday in East Lansing, the Gophers are smarting in a big way after losing four straight home games, including a gut-wrenching setback to Northwestern at TCF Bank Stadium.

Having already lost to South Dakota, USC and Northern Illinois, the assumption, dangerous as it might be, is that the Gophs will just punch out between now and Thanksgiving weekend. A rivalry such as this suggests otherwise.

In the Badgers' 1993 Big Ten championship season, the only loss was to Minnesota. Darrell Bevell threw for a school-record 423 yards, but turnovers proved costly in a 28-21 defeat to a team that finished 4-7 overall and 3-5 in the conference, good for eighth place.

The next year figured to be a payback game. Homecoming at Camp Randall. No way would the Gophers be so lucky again, right?  

Wrong.

An interception late in the game helped Minnesota leave town with a 17-14 win. It was the Gophers' only conference victory that season.

In Wisconsin's current winning streak in the series, there have been close shaves. In fact, four of the last five have gone down the wire, including last fall's 31-28 squeaker in Minneapolis. Two years ago, the Badgers had to rally from a two-touchdown deficit to outscore their rivals, 35-32.

If I'm sitting in the heart of Gopher Country right now, I would probably be saying "What better team to be playing this week than Wisconsin?" Tim Brewster's bunch might be reeling, but imagine what a victory against Wisconsin would mean to that program?

This is a rivalry that stirs plenty of emotion, and fans of both teams love to talk smack. These days I find it difficult to truly dislike the Gophers. Why? In no particular order, those reasons would include: Kevin Cosgrove, Ronnie Lee, Jeff Horton, Tim Davis, Thomas Hammock and Josh Sternquist. Each was once a member of the Badgers' staff (Sternquist as an assistant with recruiting and football operations). During their time in Madison, I found all of them friendly and very cooperative.

Of that group, I have known Cosgrove the longest. From 1990-2003, "Coz" was one of Barry Alvarez's assistants, most of that time as the defensive coordinator. These are challenging days for the Cosgrove family, and most of that has nothing to do with the Gophers' record.  

A few weeks ago, Kevin's son, Connor Cosgrove, was diagnosed with leukemia. Connor is a redshirt freshman receiver at Minnesota, and like his father is a pretty tough nut. Word is Connor is handling the treatments well, and I am sure he knows there are a ton of people in the Madison area and beyond who are thinking about him every day.

On Saturday, feel free to yell like crazy for the Badgers to keep Paul Bunyan's Axe. But remember there is a coach wearing Maroon and Gold who is helping his son with another battle. It is a battle that I will openly cheer for the Gopher to win.

4 Comments

Nice article, Matt. Thanks for adding some perspective.

Coach Cosgrove is a class act! Thanks for sharing. Our thoughts and prayers are with Coach, Connor and the entire Cosgrove family.

Is there any way we can show support to Coach Cosgrove's family and especially to their son? I am a cancer survivor. Support is the number one need when you or a family member is diagnosed with cancer.

Please, I would like to somehow show support to this young man and his family and respect the family's right to privacy. Would it be possible to send a card to your attention and you could relay them to the family? I am certain that if you would do that, Madison will come through with an outpouring of support.

Nobody can do everything but everyone can do something......

From the folks at Minnesota:

If anyone would like to reach out to Connor Cosgrove, please direct all mail to -

Football Offices
Gibson-Nagurski Bldg
600 15th Ave SE
Minneapolis MN 55455

ON WISCONSIN