SPORTS

Are 'trophy runs' an endangered species in the Big Ten?

There's no concerted effort to end the postgame celebrations, but winners, losers need to know their roles

Iowa center James Ferentz makes a run for the Floyd of Rosedale after the Hawkeyes’ victory over Minnesota at Kinnick Stadium in 2012. (Gazette file)
Iowa center James Ferentz makes a run for the Floyd of Rosedale after the Hawkeyes’ victory over Minnesota at Kinnick Stadium in 2012. (Gazette file)
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ROSEMONT, Ill., — This all started when Wisconsin chopped down Minnesota’s goal posts. OK, the Badgers fake chopped down the Gophers’ goal posts with an oversized and fake ax.

This is a story with a lot of props — axes, pigs and bells — but with real emotions.

After the Badgers won at Minnesota in 2013, UW players trotted the Paul Bunyan Axe around UM’s TCF Bank Stadium and eventually started fake chopping down the goal posts. The Gophers didn’t like this and surrounded the posts and prevented Wisconsin from what had to have been interpreted as disrespect. UM coach Jerry Kill said in the postgame a policy was needed to avoid confusion. UW coach Gary Anderson, who has since left Wisconsin for Oregon State, took it upon himself to act.

For last season’s Bunyan Axe game, Anderson announced that instead of staging the Axe in the team’s bench area it would be presented in the end zone that was closest to the winning team’s lockerroom.

“If I remember correctly, Gary made that decision,” Wisconsin athletics director Barry Alvarez, also the Badgers former head coach, said Wednesday. “I’ve always felt part of the tradition was to run across the field, the other team knew it and made their way out of there and then the winning team celebrates with the Axe. But Gary made that decision without talking to me and it was because of the incident the we had the year before.”

The Badgers tried the end zone strategy a few weeks earlier, staging the newly adopted Freedom Trophy in the end zone closest to the winning team’s lockerroom in its victory over Nebraska (UW and the Huskers began the trophy tradition last season).

“It is important for us to maintain the traditions of our trophy games while also doing what we feel is in the best interests of the student-athletes,” Anderson said in a statement last fall.

Minnesota athletics directory Norwood Teague said he didn’t even discuss it with Alvarez.

“It (trophy runs) doesn’t both me,” Teague said. “What happened at our place, maybe it went a little awry. Maybe it’s something Barry looked at and decided to change.”

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Is the “wonderful but, yeah, maybe not the smartest idea” tradition of “trophy runs” under fire in the Big Ten? There doesn’t seem to be any organized movement to ban them and try to avoid any unpleasantness, but they do seem to be slipping away.

The day before the Badgers beat Minnesota for the 11th straight season — maybe that has something to do with some frustration — Iowa fell to Nebraska in overtime at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes and Huskers play for the Heroes Trophy. Instead of it being staged on Iowa’s sideline, either gameday management or football operations decided to place the trophy in the south end zone, near where the visitors go up the tunnel and into their locker rooms.

For a few seconds, the Huskers’ sideline didn’t know where the trophy was. They did eventually find it.

“I really haven’t thought about it,” Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said at the Big Ten athletics directors spring meetings. “At the end of the day, you want to make sure no one gets hurt in re-capturing the trophy, so maybe that’s behind it. We haven’t spent any time on our campus or had any detailed discussions. Maybe my game ops (operations) people talked about it and came up with that. Really, most of our discussion is winning the game.”

Iowa did whiff in all four trophy games last season, including a dismal 51-14 loss at Minnesota. The Gophers piled on to the Iowa sideline in the rush for the Floyd of Rosedale bronze pig trophy.

“It’s very spur of the moment,” Teague said. “All in all, it’s been good. We broke the Governor’s Trophy at home when we beat Penn State. I think the spur of the moment nature of it is pretty cool.”

But Iowa hasn’t been one to shy away from the joy or pain of a trophy run. It’s a huge part of the Iowa-Iowa State Cy-Hawk Trophy game. The winning team rushes the loser’s sideline and gathers the trophy. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has often mentioned his first experience in the Iowa-Minnesota rivalry in 1981. The Gophers won and stormed the Iowa sideline for the trophy. Ferentz was a first-year offensive line coach and it made quite the impression.

Throughout the 2013 season, Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle positioned empty trophy cases in high-traffic areas — on the way to Kinnick Stadium and outside the weightroom — to remind players that they were empty.

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Yes, you bet motivation is a factor. Having to watch your rival storm your sideline, that’s as good as it gets for motivational ploy.

“Coaches always try to find anyway to motivate their team, whether it’s the type of emphasis you put on the trophy, whether it be a display case with the trophy in it and when it’s not in it you have a year to see the vacated spot, so anyway to motivate your team,” Alvarez said. “If it’s the agony of seeing the other guys celebrate and taking it right from your sidelines, then you should use that as motivation.”

Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith doesn’t have to worry about too many trophy runs with the Buckeyes, but when he was Iowa State’s athletics director in 1998, he was on the sidelines when the Cyclones snapped a 15-game losing streak to Iowa with a 27-9 victory.

“It was unbelievable at Iowa State because we weren’t getting it a lot,” Smith said.

Still, it does open the possibility of melee, something no one wants. The idea for the Heroes Trophy relocation might’ve been to completely avoid any intersection between the celebrating team and the disappointed team that was headed to the lockerroom after losing its home finale. If you put the trophy in the end zone, it allows the victors a chance to celebrate without literally stepping on the loser’s toes.

Despite the fact that the cause for shift in the Axe celebration happened on his turf, Teague is fine with trophies remaining on the sideline. The 2013 incident is in the past.

“You want your kids to do it the right way and you just hope they will,” Teague said. “My first year at Iowa when we lost the pig (2012), I was standing next to the pig and not paying attention. All of the sudden, the whole Iowa team starts running at me and I literally ran to get out of their way. I’ll never forget that.”

So, will the Paul Bunyan Axe return to the sideline in 2015? Paul Chryst begins his first season as Wisconsin’s head coach. He’s a Madison native, a three-time Badgers letterwinner and served as an assistant coach for eight seasons at Wisconsin.

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“I think Paul is a traditionalist,” Alvarez said. “I think he and Jerry should discuss that or Norwood and myself. The four of us could sit down and talk about it and decide how we want to do it.

“I do know one thing, the last couple of years I don’t think it’s been explained well enough to all of the kids, so it’s been very close to having an altercation. I think we have to be proactive, so that we don’t. The winning team celebrates, the other team lets them do their thing and exits the field.”

That seems reasonable. And, frankly, the time to have your say in which team gets to make the run is during the game, not in the aftermath.

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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