The Gophers had a shot at something they haven’t achieved since 1967 – a Big Ten title. Of course, that would mean defeating Wisconsin in Camp Randall Stadium, a feat undone since 1994. It would also include beating Ohio State the following week, an accomplishment only realized twice since that magical 1967 season. Minnesota’s 2014 edition, however, could put a challenge into both the Badgers and Buckeyes. Today would be for the Big Ten West Division title. Paul Bunyan’s Axe was also at stake. This highly coveted trophy awarded to the winner of this border battle has been in Wisconsin’s trophy case for ten straight years -more incentive for Minnesota.
A strong contingent of maroon and gold in the stands would try to help their Gophers end that embarrassing streak. The Big Ten Network, proud to be covering the West Division title, set their anchor booth on the field for all access coverage. Dave Revsine, lead broadcaster for the network and author of the newly released book, The Opening Kickoff, gave me a wave of appreciation after I shouted my praise for his latest release. The broadcast desk was set up right in front of our seats, giving me the opportunity for the interaction.
All the pregame distractions helped calm the anxieties swirling in the championship-flavored air. Minnesota appeared far from flustered as they came out flexing their rodent muscles and scoring rapidly – a few blinks and Wisconsin fans were looking up at a 17-3 deficit. The contingent that traveled along I-94 east roared with excitement as their chance for a title grew tangible. That roar was not well received by the packed throng of Axe grabby Badger backers. The team must have sensed the crowd’s dismay. Heisman candidate Melvin Gordon took charge in what most likely had been his last game in Camp Randall. QB Joel Stave chipped away through the air while Gordon took to the ground, and Wisconsin held off a pesky Gopher gang with a 34-24 finish.
Casual observers may not feel as though the Big Ten West Title was the grand prize, as Bucky Badger emerged from the tunnel hoisting Paul Bunyan’s Axe to be awarded to Madison’s team for the 11th straight year. This broke some tradition as the Axe is typically kept on the sidelines. But, last year’s on-field scuffle prompted the Axe to be removed from the field until the losing team had exited. Badger players “chopped down” the goal posts and celebrated a division title in one swing. Wisconsin now would have to sharpen every tool they have to chop down the Buckeyes for the Big Ten title in Indy.