Bielema touts history of Wisconsin-Minnesota rivalry

Updated: November 12, 2007, 5:09 PM ET
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin Coach Bret Bielema might sound more like a history professor than a football coach at times this week.

Bielema said Monday he will emphasize the long and colorful history of the Wisconsin-Minnesota football rivalry to his players leading up to Saturday's game in Minneapolis.

The Badgers have played the Golden Gophers every year except one dating back to 1890, which makes the rivalry the most-played in Division 1 football.

Saturday's game will be the 117th of the series. The teams skipped the annual game only in 1906, when President Theodore Roosevelt suspended college football rivalries out of safety concerns.

"There's a lot of history and we'll educate our players during the course of the week," Bielema told reporters at his weekly news conference on Monday.

The teams started playing for the "Slab of Bacon" in 1930. But the traveling trophy made of black walnut vanished during a game in the 1940s.

Nearly 50 years later, an athletics department intern discovered it while cleaning out a storage room in Camp Randall. Although it had been "lost," somebody had written the scores of every game on the trophy through 1970.

With the slab missing, the two teams started playing for Paul Bunyan's Axe in 1948. The winner gets to keep the axe on campus until the next game. Wisconsin has had it since 2004.

During a meeting with players on Sunday, Bielema said he "talked about how long the series has been here, how many consecutive games in a row and how it was suspended because of a policy to cancel rivalry games by Theodore Roosevelt."

He said the history lessons would continue Tuesday, when he will review the middle of the series, which includes three straight ties in the 1920s.

Coaches will go over the last 15 years or so of the rivalry on Thursday night, he said.

Minnesota leads the series 59-49-8 overall but recent history and the odds are on Wisconsin's side.

No. 24 Wisconsin (8-3, 4-3) has won the last three games in the series and the Badgers are big favorites Saturday, the regular season finale for both teams. Minnesota (1-10, 0-7) is trying to win its first game in the Big Ten Conference.

Bielema said he will dwell on the series' recent history with players as the week wears on. That includes a dramatic 38-34 victory at the Metrodome in 2005 and last year's 48-12 blowout at Camp Randall.

"Last year in the Minnesota game, they came out with an attitude and played well for the entire game," he said. "And that set the history."< Notes:  Wisconsin tailback P.J. Hill is expected to start practicing Tuesday and play on Saturday. He missed the Ohio State game and only carried the ball five times against Michigan because of a leg injury ... Bielema said junior wide receiver Marcus Randle El has decided to quit the team because of knee injuries ... Offensive lineman Eric Vanden Heuvel is expected to play against Minnesota after missing the Michigan game with an injury ... Junior defensive end Matt Shaughnessy was named Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Week after making seven tackles against Michigan.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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