The game between the Gophers and Badgers is the longest consecutive running rivalry in college football. They have played every year since 1890. Since 1948, they have played for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, which has the scores of every game between the two teams carved into the handle. The last time Minnesota visited Camp Randall Stadium, they shocked the Badgers with an upset. This year, the Badgers looked to erase the memory of that disaster with a dose of revenge.
Dayne was the medicine and Minnesota opened wide. Wisconsin’s offensive line blasted open passageways for running back Ron Dayne to cruise through. By the fourth quarter, the score had reached 42-13 and the Badgers were finally experiencing their most comfortable Big Ten game of the season. Dayne ran for 294 yards – absolutely phenomenal. I sat in the student section absorbing the action on this overcast and teeth-chattering day. On the field, Minnesota head coach, Jim Wacker, was on the hot seat with his job. The athletic department had told him that anything less than a five-win season would result in termination of his position. Wacker believed in football philosophies that did not adhere to the smashmouth type of play the Big Ten required. Although his players loved him, many fans throughout the Big Ten viewed him as a weaker head coach. Thus, the Badger student section began voicing their opinion by chanting inappropriate phrases intertwined with the use of his last name (Use your imagination there). He was a good coach who often got a bad rap.
But, that day Minnesota got whacked around with a final score of 45-28. The Wisconsin players circled the stadium parading with the axe. Like most college football rivalries, these trophies are serious business. The axe means a lot between these two states. As for Wacker, he would go on to lose his last two and he was let go.
For Wisconsin coach, Barry Alvarez, the criticism he was feeling earlier in the season was beginning to vanish. Two more victories on the schedule would result in a return to the bowl season. The Badgers were equal to the task as they knocked off Illinois and Hawaii. The Hawaii game was particularly impressive as Ron Dayne racked up 339 yards by the third quarter! The staff pulled him out at that point. Wisconsin went on to defeat Utah in the Copper Bowl. It was the beginning of another Alvarez turning point.