In trying to create demand for a product, scarcity is a wonderful tool.
For Gophers athletics, it’s an unfortunate byproduct of a football reality — but one administrators are taking full advantage of nonetheless with Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
The department announced this week a plan for a revamped “Coaches Caravan” at which several high-profile coaches will make four stops around Minnesota.
As part of those ticketed events in Owatonna (May 21), Dellwood (May 22), Chaska (May 28) and Alexandria (June 12), fans can take pictures with Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
The Axe will also make a separate nine-stop tour in greater Minnesota throughout June as the U attempts to reacquaint the state’s population with the traveling trophy awarded to the winner of the annual football game between the Gophers and Badgers.
From the fall of 2004 until late 2018, Minnesotans basically had two options for viewing it: Catch a glimpse of it as Badgers rushed to grab it at the conclusion of one of 14 consecutive victories over the Gophers, or cross the border sometime during the year to go pay it a visit.
Those choices for many are akin to, “Would you rather have your left eye or your right eye gouged out?”
That changed last Nov. 24, when P.J. Fleck scored easily the biggest win in his two-year Gophers tenure — a 37-15 shellacking of the Badgers in Madison that gained his squad bowl eligibility in the process.
The Axe has been in Minnesota’s possession since then, and it’s been busy, said Mills Armbruster, assistant director of marketing for the Gophers.
“It’s always on the move. It’s still as popular as it was the day after game,” Armbruster said. “I’ve worked probably 10 events where the Axe has been. We’ve had lines out the door. We’ve had people waiting three hours just to get a photograph with it.”
Most of those events, though, have been in the Twin Cities — hence the road trip in June to bring it to a wider audience.
All of this reminds me of 2014, when the Gophers defeated Michigan to claim the Little Brown Jug for the first time since 2005 and just the third time since 1967 — the last year, by the way, that Minnesota won all three major trophy rivalry games with Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa.
Fans were let into TCF Bank Stadium later in the week to view the Jug, and it too was later paraded around the state for all who wished to see it.
In revisiting what I wrote at the time, I found an optimistic Gophers fan quoted at the end of the story.
“We’re going to have this for a long time,” he said. “I think the tide has definitely turned.”
The Gophers lost the jug the very next year in a 29-26 heartbreaker. They also failed to get it back in 2017, the only other time they’ve played Michigan since 2014. Their next chance? Oct. 17, 2020 at TCF Bank Stadium.
But Wisconsin is on the schedule every season — this year in the Nov. 30 regular-season finale at TCF Bank Stadium, one that will break the all-time series deadlock which sits at 60-60-8.
Maybe keeping the Axe in Minnesota — and seeing it — will become more of a routine as the years go on?
“For us it’s all about reintroducing it to fans,” Armbruster said. “It’s been a long time, and we’re not hiding from that. But our plan is to hold onto it as long as possible.”