Importance Of The Axe Isn't Lost On Wisconsin

Importance Of The Axe Isn't Lost On Wisconsin

Football

Importance Of The Axe Isn't Lost On Wisconsin

MADISON, Wis. – Playing in big games with championships on the line was a common occurrence for Wisconsin freshman cornerback Rachad Wildgoose.

Playing in heated rivalries with a brass bull, bronze stadiums and a wooden Axe on the line, well, that’s something completely different.

“I’m a Florida kid, so I really didn’t know about the rivalries that we had here,” Wildgoose said. “When I got here, rivalry week is very serious. Every week is serious, but when we play for one of those trophies, it means that much more.”

That mindset has evidently worked wonders for Wisconsin against three of its Big Ten West opponents. Including victories over Iowa (Heartland Trophy) and Nebraska (Freedom Trophy) earlier this season, Wisconsin has won 10 straight trophy games. Dating back to 2010, the Badgers have won 19 of their last 20 games with a rivalry trophy on the line.

Ask any player, however, and there’s no bigger prize for Wisconsin than earning Paul Bunyan’s Axe after beating Minnesota, something the Badgers (7-4, 5-3 Big Ten) will look to do for the 15th straight time when the two teams meet Saturday afternoon in the regular season finale.

The Badgers have won 14 straight meetings with the Golden Gophers, the longest win streak by either team in the history of the rivalry

With over 25 true freshmen on the roster having only watched the longest-running rivalry in the FBS on television or from the stands (or in cases like Wildgoose, not at all), the Badgers make sure everyone understands the importance of this weekend

On Monday, the LED boards outside the UW locker room said three simple words: Keep The Axe.

After practice, a UW student assistant holds the Axe – red-side out – in front of the exit. It’s an unspoken rule that the Axe needs to be touched before heading to the locker room.

“We hit on it every day,” head coach Paul Chryst said. “What’s most powerful is when your players, those who have played in those games, hit on it. There’s no question that all of our players at the end of the week will know how powerful this game is.”

UW has no shortage of people to speak on the topic. UW will honor 16 seniors before the game who have never lost the rivalry game. The Badgers also have a host of assistant coaches and graduate assistants who have won or lost games in the rivalry.

Of course, none since 2003, the last time Minnesota won the Axe thanks to a 35-yard field goal on the final play of the game, give the Gophers a 37-34 victory in the Metrodome.

During the 14-game winning streak, UW has outscored Minnesota, 499-272, an average score of 35.6 to 19.4. Only three games over that stretch have been decided by fewer than seven points and none since 2009.

Chyrst has been a part of the games in a multitude of ways. The son of a coach, Chryst and his dad, George, always went to the Minnesota-Wisconsin game, home or away, because his father’s coaching season was over. Chryst went on to watch his dad coach in the rivalry, he played against the Gophers, coordinate an offense in the game and has now been the person calling the shots.

He’s won one as a player (1988), an assistant coach (2002), an offensive coordinator (2005-11) and the last three years as the head coach.

This year’s result won’t alter much in terms of the Big Ten race, but it would keep the Gophers from being bowl eligible for the second straight season. That’s just a little bit of extra motivation.

“Getting a chance to play in this game, it’s always been meaningful,” Chryst said. “It’ll be especially meaningful for our seniors, a group that has played really good football individually and collectively on the teams they’ve been a part of. It’s always big.”

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