UW Health Sports Medicine 

Former Badgers Recall Axe Rivalry


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Without a doubt, the University of Wisconsin football teams biggest rival is Minnesota. Former players and coaches shared their memories of the annual battle for the Paul Bunyan Axe.

Darrell Bevell (QB, 1992-95; current offensive coordinator for NFLs Minnesota Vikings):

I know I was the first person to get the axe. I then went over to the goalposts to try and cut them down. What a great feeling.

Brooks Bollinger (QB, 1999-2002; current QB for NFLs Minnesota Vikings):

Coach (Jim Huber) always used to give us the tradition speech and said you cant take for granted an opportunity to play in such a rich tradition. I think its the longest ongoing rivalry in college football with the border war and everything like that. Everybody involved with it knows people on the other side. Its a great rivalry to be apart of, its always fun to carry that axe around at the end of the game.

My senior year is my fondest memory of the rivalry. We got it (the win) and I just remember trying to time it up and be the first one over there at the end of the game to grab that axe.

Even when we played in the Dome wed have a lot of fans (up here) too. It was my freshman year and I think we beat them (Gophers) in overtime up here in another great game. When coach Alvarez had surgery and couldnt be here, we pulled it out late, Vitaly Pisetsky hit a field goal. Its fun to chop the goal posts down in the Metrodome.

Owen Daniels (TE, 2002-05; current tight end with NFLs Houston Texans):

What sticks out in my mind is the big comeback last yearthat was a nice win. Everything worked out perfectly. The game was over; Minnesota had it won. After we forced that three-and-out, I was excited to get back on offense if they had gotten that punt off. The win was awesome.

Rufus The Roadrunner Ferguson (RB, 1970-72):

The series was significant to me because I knew (Minnesota QB) Craig Curry, who was a year older and had played at a rival high school (in Florida). We were very close. My sophomore year, we beat them. My junior year, they beat us. I had 211 yards rushing in that game (in 1971). (Curry and I) finished our rivalry at 1-1 before he graduated. That game my senior year was significant, too, because back then Minnesota was always the last game of the season. I had missed four games due to injury, and I needed 100 yards to become the first Wisconsin running back with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. I got my 100 yards [112 yards], but we lost that game, which put a damper on it. Still, every time I think about the series, I always think back to those games.

Jim Hammond (1949-51, member of the Hard Rocks defense):

(Minnesota) had guys that were in the Hall of Fame. I was a defensive right half back in 1949, and Ed Withers was on that team, too. Pat ODonahue played defensive end. We were all sophomores in Ivy Williamsons first year as coach. Bud Grant was playing their defensive right end. After the first quarter, we decided we werent going to run left anymore. He was so strong, there was no way to run in that direction. He was a man among men. Later in the game, Bob Petruska threw a pitch out to the left side, but that lateral was intercepted by Leo Nomelini. It took four of us to take him down! Those were things that stood out in my mind. I met Leo recently at a restaurant in California and told him I had bounced off him so many years ago. We had a good laugh about that.

In 1950, we beat (Minnesota) in Madison. I played both offense and defense. The big thing about that game that I didnt realize at the time was that it was Bernie Biermans last game as coach for Minnesota [he led the team to the national title in 1941]. I scored a touchdown and prevented another.

Jake Sprague (DL, 1998-2002; current defensive graduate assistant coach for UW):

The days leading up to the game, the coaches show previous games to charge us up. But my biggest motivation was the feeling of grabbing that axe, either from their sideline or ours, right after the game. When I was here, (Minnesota) was the last game of the year a few times, so there was extra motivation. We lost the axe once in my five years, and to walk by that empty case in the locker room was a bad feeling.

Randy Wright (QB, 1981-03; current television color analyst):

It was 1981, and we were playing in the last game ever at the outdoor stadium in Minneapolis (Memorial Stadium). I was the backup quarterback. We were behind with 1:54 to go in the game and I get put in. We marched down the field and scored a touchdown with 1:06 left to win the game. We got a bid to play in the Garden State Bowl, Wisconsins first bowl appearance in 18 years. Those 48 seconds changed my life completely. I became the starter for the next two years and went on to play in the NFL. I have a special place in my heart for Minnesota games.

Barry Alvarez (former coach 1990-2005, current UW Athletic Director):

Last years game was by far the best game that I can remember between Wisconsin and Minnesota. There have been some great ones, including my first Big Ten conference win, which also happened to be my first Big Ten road win, but nothing tops last years game. The last sequence of that game was so unbelievable that none of the other games came close to an ending like that.

Brad Childress (assistant coach, 1991-98; current head coach for NFLs Minnesota Vikings):

When you first get into that Battle for the Axe, you never realize exactly what that means until they come and take it off your bench. Its like they stole something from you, so from that very first game on for the Paul Bunyans Axe, everybody understood what that meant and how bad they wanted to get it back and go over to their bench and take it from them.

Pat Richter (1960-62, former UW Athletic Director):

In the last game of my junior year (1961), we played at Minnesota. That was always an interesting trip as the team stayed overnight after the game and came back on the train on Sunday morning. Minnesota had already clinched the Big Ten title and a trip to the 1962 Rose Bowl game in Pasadena. On the first play of the game, Minnesota QB Sandy Stephens looked toward his wide receiver, Tom Hall, who was waving his arms wildly. No defensive back was covering him as we only had 10 men on the field. Stephens threw the ball to Hall and he went 80 yards for a touchdown. But the Badgers rallied to beat the Gophers 23-21. It was an evening of celebration in Minneapolis for all the Badger fans.

That 1961 game was a springboard for the Badgers 1962 season when we defeated the Gophers in Madison in a highly controversial last game of the season that sent us to the 1963 Rose Bowl. The controversy centered on a late hit by Minnesota lineman Bobby Bell on Wisconsin QB Ron Vander Kelen. Minnesota coach Murray Warmath was irate and threw a fit on the sideline. He was flagged for another 15 yards. The Badgers subsequently scored to go ahead and in the following drive by Minnesota to regain the lead. Wisconsin defensive back Jim Nettles intercepted a Gopher pass in the end zone to preserve the Badger victory and a trip to the Rose Bowl.


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