The roads leading from Minneapolis to Madison and back have been traveled with sullen expressions for the Gophers – five consecutive years and five consecutive thuds of Paul Bunyan’s Axe through their figurative hearts. Wisconsin has dominated the series over Minnesota for half a decade and need to file today’s game under the win column to maintain momentum and keep the signs pointed toward a bowl engagement.
Is Wisconsin for real? Most critics labeled the Badgers as the worst undefeated team in the country due to their 98th ranked and rather feeble schedule. Nevertheless, a mythotical offense and suffocating defense has resulted in a slow and steady climb to the top ten.
The Badgers had popped into the top 25 with their six game win streak. But, a stumble at Purdue last week dropped them from the elite. I chose to drive up to Minneapolis with my parents on their annual road trip to a Wisconsin game. The Metrodome holds dark memories for me. 1993 was my last visit and we witnessed a Badger loss – their only one of that season. I was hoping to take something positive away from the Twin Cities this year.
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.
The Badgers fell from the rankings with their TIE to Purdue. But, that was not the focus this week. All eyes were on revenge as the Gophers came to Madison. Last season, Minnesota was the only team keeping the Badgers undefeated. On top of that, all the relatives we went to visit in Minneapolis last year were coming to Madison for the rematch. Our chests were stuck out again believing that THIS time it would be different since Camp Randall was the venue. Throw in homecoming to the mix and Wisconsin seemed unbeatable.
At this point, I have witnessed five games for Wisconsin and five Badger victories. My interest level was on the rise and I was actually excited to sit in the van for six hours to see my beloved team on the road for the first time. We went to visit relatives in Minneapolis and they got us a skybox in the Metrodome. All of the Wisconsin relatives were completely confident that the Badgers (6-0) would succeed, as it was our chance to show off our new national power against the lowly Gophers (3-4). My father displayed his confidence the most overtly as he paraded our Wisconsin flag up and down the driveway upon our arrival.
I didn’t even realize that this was my first college football game until I was digging through old photos and came across a dated image of my mother, brother, and me soaking up the action and the rain in Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. These were the pre-Barry Alvarez days in “The Camp” where the few points on the board matched the few people in attendance.