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The Voice: Badgers not in giving mood with Axe on the line

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgTo some, trophy games might seem a little silly. When we hear the cliche "Throw out the records," we are inclined to chuckle.

Silly, humorous, whatever -- the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe means a ton. Just ask anyone who ever has played or coached in this game. I have said it before and I will say it again -- this is college football's most underrated rivalry. It certainly is not underrated in Wisconsin and Minnesota, where bragging rights, and a victory lap for the players with Axe in hand is part of what makes winning so sweet, and losing so painful.

Wisconsin has won the last seven meetings, but Minnesota leads the all-time series 58-54-8, so yes, this remains very much a rivalry.

For the last two decades, part of the tradition has been the close games in Minneapolis. Wild and crazy tussles were the norm at the Metrodome, and the close encounters continued two years ago at TCF Bank Stadium, as Wisconsin held on for a 31-28 victory.

It is a series where kickers have delivered in the clutch -- Rhys Lloyd for the Gophers (2003) and Vitaly Pisetsky for the Badgers (1999).

Sometimes the big name players make the big plays. In 1995, the Badgers snapped a two-game skid in the series with a 34-27 victory in Minneapolis. Defensive lineman Jason Maniecki had a huge sack in the closing minutes, taking out an offensive lineman and the quarterback in one fell swoop. After the game, linebacker Eric Unverzagt told reporters that the defensive call in the huddle was for "Maniecki to just kill everybody."

Sometimes players who might not be household names emerge. In 1991, it was Melvin Tucker saving the day for Wisconsin by breaking up a pass in the end zone to preserve a 19-16 Badgers victory. It gave Barry Alvarez his first conference win as the Badgers head coach.

The Gophers have had their share of heroes as well. From 1995-97, Tutu Atwell averaged 126 receiving yards a game against Wisconsin. In the 2005 "Miracle at the Metrodome," when the Badgers won on a blocked punt in the final minute, Laurence Maroney ran for 258 yards, including a 93-yard touchdown sprint.

Fans from both sides have seen plenty of amazing performances and dramatic finishes. It makes me wonder what we will see this Saturday.

The Badgers are big favorites to keep the Axe. Those who understand the rivalry are aware that in a series such as this, it is best to take nothing for granted.

This year's Gophers are 1-4 in the Big Ten and just 2-7 overall. However, under first-year coach Jerry Kill, the Gophs are improving. Two weeks ago they rallied from 11 down in the fourth quarter to beat Iowa. Last Saturday in East Lansing, they gave Michigan State all it wanted.

With three games remaining, the Badgers remain very much in the Leaders Division race. Fans will watch the Badgers and the scoreboard, knowing if a few things break the right way, a trip to Indianapolis can happen.

Yet as far as the Wisconsin Badgers are concerned, it is all about the Axe, as well it should be. They have had it for awhile, and the Gophers want it back. My guess is they believe they are playing well enough to take it.

From this side of the border, here is hoping the Badgers are not in a giving mood.