The Badgers followed rivalry tradition Saturday by pretending to chop down the goalposts with Paul Bunyan’s Axe after winning back the venerable relic in a 38-17 blowout. But Wisconsin’s celebration made an unscheduled stop that figures to inflame the intensity for next year’s game, too.
After reclaiming the Axe and swarming the posts on the west end of the stadium, Badgers players gathered at midfield and added some cheekiness to the usual revelry. Holding the Axe like an oar, the jubilant winners pantomimed rowing motion, while their teammates chanted, “Row! Row! Row!”
Was it disrespect to their hosts, who have made “Row the Boat” their slogan under coach P.J. Fleck? Well, the Badgers don’t deny that they had, well, an Axe to grind with the way the Gophers behaved after capturing the trophy 12 months ago.
“We just felt like they disrespected the Axe by renting it out to people, [letting] any and everybody touch it,” said the ironically named Chris Orr, Wisconsin’s senior linebacker. “It means more than that. … It’s not a commodity or something that you can just rent out for money or whatever, trying to make a profit off it.”
After the Gophers ended Wisconsin’s 14-game winning streak last year with a 37-15 victory in Madison, Fleck made it a priority to share the trophy with thousands of fans around the state, a practice he defended last week.
“That wasn’t a rub in anybody’s face. There are people who are very emotional when they [see] it,” Fleck said. “We had people rent it out all over, at weddings, anniversaries, parties. That’s what rivalry trophies are. That’s why [fans] are so passionate.”
But one person’s passion is another’s outrage. In the same stadium just six years ago, Minnesota players took offense when the Badgers rushed the east goalposts with the Axe before the Gophers had finished singing the alma mater in front of the student section, creating a standoff that coaches rushed over to diffuse.
The war of words, however, goes on. So even as Orr explained why the Badgers were sending a sarcastic message to their rivals, he good-naturedly managed to tweak them even more.
“I mean, I guess I understand it. They haven’t had [the Axe] for a while. There are classes of Minnesota football players that have never seen the Axe unless they took a visit to Madison,” Orr said. “I understand they had to take advantage while they could. They held it in captivity for a while, it was time to get it back. They didn’t know what it looked like with their own two eyes, unless they googled it or something.”