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Building the perfect college football rivalry

Illustration by ESPN

Welcome to that most glorious time of the year, when we gather with family, stuff ourselves with food and then ungather from that same family, angrily stomping off to our own private corners of the house because we refused to endure the treasonous slander that our supposed loved ones just spoke about a place and a people that they damn well know we hold near and dear to our hearts.

Thanksgiving? No. Rivalry Week!

When teams play the latest edition of games in which they have competed for a century or more. When schools fight for cups and buckets and other brass mementos that look like they came from the back shelf of a junktique store. When thousands of people pay hundreds of dollars to sit in the snow and lose their voices as they watch all that happen. And during this high holiest of college football weeks, that makes all the sense in the world.

But what really makes a rivalry a rivalry? What factors combine to take an annual game to a whole different level of intensity and fun? As it turns out, there are many to consider, and we've documented a few here.

So what's the best and strangest of Rivalry Week? Grab a turkey leg, read on and find out.

Jump to:
Bad blood | Geography | Tradition
Iconic plays | Bizarre moments
Title implications | Bands and game-day atmosphere
Trophies and game names

BAD BLOOD

Florida State-Florida

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Florida, FSU players have to be separated before game

Florida and Florida State players nearly break out into a scuffle on the field prior to their heated rivalry match.

There's the Choke at Doak, 1994. First, the setup. Earlier that year, multiple Florida State football players went on a shopping spree at Foot Locker, paid for by an agent in violation of NCAA rules, leading to one of the all-time great quips from Florida coach Steve Spurrier.

"You know what FSU stands for, don't you? Free Shoes University," Spurrier said. Needless to say, those connected to Florida State were not amused.

Then, the game. Florida held a 31-3 lead after three quarters. Easy going from there, right? Not so fast. Florida State stormed back to tie the game at 31, leading to one of the greatest nicknames ever given to a game anywhere. Period. After the game, late Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said, "It is a pretty dang good win ... I mean tie."

In 1996, Florida State handed the Gators their first loss of the season, and Spurrier accused Bowden and his players of taking "cheap shots" and trying to injure quarterback Danny Wuerffel. Bowden said his team would "hit until the echo of the whistle." The teams played a rematch in the 1997 Sugar Bowl for the national championship, where the Gators stomped the Noles 52-20.

But there was more to come. In 1997, Florida used a two-quarterback system to shock No. 1 Florida State to ruin the Seminoles' undefeated season and national championship hopes. In 1998, there was a pregame brawl in which Florida quarterback Doug Johnson nearly hit Bowden in the head with a football (Johnson later apologized and said he was not aiming at Bowden). Star safety Tony George was ejected for throwing a helmet after two walk-ons taunted him.

In 2001, Spurrier and running back Earnest Graham accused Darnell Dockett of intentionally injuring Graham. The following year, Mo Mitchell admitted to chop blocking a Florida State player, injuring his knee. Dockett believed it was retaliation for the previous year. Then in 2003, Florida State players celebrated a win in Gainesville by jumping up and down on the Florida logo at midfield, leading to a brawl.

While the animosity between the schools reached its greatest heights in the Bowden-Spurrier years, the bad blood extends to 1947, when Florida State went from being an all-girls school to co-ed and shortly thereafter decided to play collegiate athletics. As the flagship public university in the state, Florida was less than thrilled and refused to play Florida State. The animosity grew so heated Florida governor LeRoy Collins had to broker a deal to get the schools to begin playing each other. Their first game was in 1958, and they have played every year since except 2020 (due to the pandemic).

"There was an overriding feeling of disrespect from the Gator program and fan base as looking down on Florida State's program through the years," said Mark Richt, who was Florida State offensive coordinator for 14 years under Bowden, and is a Miami graduate and former Georgia head coach. "From my personal experience, being at Florida State, Miami and Georgia, it was hard to find any love for the Gators."

"I think there is a big brother-little brother dynamic that exists in the state," former Florida receiver Chris Doering said. "It's kind of like a mini Alabama-Auburn vibe. Even though FSU has grown to an equal in college football, that dynamic has been passed along from the older generations to the next. FSU focuses on UF because they don't really have any other true rivals. We have rivalries with UGA, [Tennessee] and LSU that are at least as important to us as the FSU game is. The difference is that there is an underlying respect that exists for those SEC rivals. We don't respect our little brother a bit. It's just complete disdain."

"From my experience, there's a level of healthy bad blood," former Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel said. "Being an implant from Virginia, I didn't feel the weight of the rivalry until I played in the game. Simply put, [there were] in-state bragging rights that would be remembered for a lifetime." -- Andrea Adelson

HONORABLE MENTION

Ole Miss-Mississippi State: A big Mississippi State fan and owner of a website covering the Bulldogs, Steve Robertson, was involved in exposing some of the phone calls to escort services that was the last straw in bringing down former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze in 2017.

Alabama-Auburn: There's a lot of ground to cover here, but it can be summed up with one name -- Harvey Updyke, the Alabama fan who did prison time for poisoning the iconic oak trees at Toomer's Corner in 2010.

Michigan-Ohio State: Don't dare wear anything that's remotely red in or around the Michigan football complex or dare say the word "Michigan" in or around Ohio State's football complex, or you could find yourself doing pushups. And of course there's Woody Hayes' famous quote when he explained that he went for two against Michigan late in the 1968 game while leading 50-14 "because I couldn't go for three."

Clemson-South Carolina: In 1992, South Carolina quarterback Steve Taneyhill drew the ire of Clemson fans by pretending to autograph the famed Tiger paw at midfield at Death Valley after throwing a touchdown pass. Clemson fans still fume any time it's brought up.

Georgia-Georgia Tech: The tradition of Georgia Tech players tearing up some of the hedges around Georgia's Sanford Stadium and parading around with pieces in their teeth following wins over the Bulldogs would qualify in this category, but for these rivals, the bad blood extends even into the record books. The Georgia records reflect two fewer Bulldogs losses in this series than the Tech record book, thanks largely to longtime UGA sports information director Dan Magill. In 1943 and '44, during World War II, Georgia Tech was used as a training school for the U.S. Navy, and its student body included officer candidates and prospective sailors. Georgia's teams, however, had to draw primarily from students who were too young or physically unable to enter the military. Tech posted lopsided wins both years, 48-0 in '43 and 44-0 in '44. After the war, Magill decided to remove those games from the series record because he thought the Bulldogs were at an unfair disadvantage, and those games are still marked with an asterisk in the Georgia media guide.


GEOGRAPHY

NC State-UNC

Carter-Finley Stadium, home of the NC State Wolfpack, and Kenan Memorial Stadium, home of the North Carolina Tar Heels, are only 22 miles apart. That stretch of Tobacco Road serves as the DMZ that divides one of the nation's most under-appreciated rivalries. It doesn't have a trophy or a name (it's just "Carolina-State") and only recently was it finally moved to its rightful scheduling slot here amid Rivalry Week.

It also isn't a basketball game. But spend an afternoon driving along those 22 miles, through Cary, Morrisville, and even the southern edge of Durham, and you can feel the tension of rubbing all of that red and black up against all of that light blue. You can see it in BBQ joint parking lots via the opposing bumper stickers on pickup trucks and BMWs ("That ain't tar on those heels"), neighboring but not neighborly yard signs, opposing porch flags flapping in the fall Piedmont wind or even -- gulp -- mixed marriages!

Since 1894, when the schools first played and did so twice in one week, Carolina and State have represented the two dueling personalities of the state known as Carolina, the tech and agricultural giant in Raleigh repping the country and the lawyers and bankers of Chapel Hill symbolizing the city folk. Is that a gross oversimplification of two diverse universities? Absolutely. But did that keep UNC quarterback Drake Maye from joking "people who go to State just can't get into Carolina" or Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren describing an interaction with a Heels fan as they waited in line to pick up their dry cleaning as "you know, typical, in his khakis, shoes and a fancy belt with UNC things on it and a light blue shirt with the collar up." Absolutely not. -- Ryan McGee

HONORABLE MENTION

Oregon-Oregon State: 36 miles from Eugene to Corvallis

Georgia-Georgia Tech: 61 miles from Athens to Atlanta

Louisville-Kentucky: 70 miles from Louisville to Lexington

Kansas-Kansas State: 73 miles from Lawrence to Manhattan

Ole Miss-Mississippi State: 75 miles from Oxford to Starkville

UCF-South Florida: 77 miles from Orlando to Tampa

Purdue-Indiana: 89 miles from West Lafayette to Bloomington

Source: distance-cities.com


TRADITION

Notre Dame-USC

For the nearly 100 years the USC-Notre Dame rivalry has been played, there has been plenty of memorable moments on and off the field. This is a rivalry that began when teams were still traveling by train -- famously, Knute Rockne argued for keeping the rivalry despite the long travel times in anticipation that air travel would soon be ubiquitous -- once had 120,000 fans in attendance at Soldier Field, won eight national titles combined from 1960 to 1982 and features a trophy that is a bejeweled club made of oak from Ireland.

But no discussion of the rivalry can begin or end without a mention of the 2005 "Bush Push" game (more on that in the "Game-Changing Plays" section). Games when Rockne and Howard Jones patrolled the sidelines were legendary in their own right, even as scores sometimes barely cracked double digits, but in the modern era, no matchup between the teams is as memorable as this one.

This game marked a stretch of USC dominance in the rivalry throughout most of the 2000s when players like Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, LenDale White, Carson Palmer and Mark Sanchez fueled the Trojans to an eight-game winning streak from 2002 to 2009. The Irish, however, have the overall edge in the game, with a 56.7% winning percentage.

There's little to no reason a yearly game between a Pac-12 team and an independent should exist, let alone be this big of a rivalry, but the fact that it is underlines the kind of national prominence both teams have. There is no regional connection, just two teams who won a combined 11 national championships each. In other words, the history and tradition is in the winning. -- Paolo Uggetti

HONORABLE MENTION

Minnesota-Wisconsin: The real granddaddy of them all. This rivalry has had 131 meetings and was first played in 1890.

Purdue-Indiana: 123 meetings; first played in 1891

Oregon-Oregon State: 125 meetings; first played in 1894

Kansas-Kansas State: 119 meetings; first played in 1902

South Carolina-Clemson: 118 meetings; first played in 1896

Ole Miss-Mississippi State: 118 meetings; first played in 1901

Michigan-Ohio State: 117 meetings; first played in 1897

Georgia-Georgia Tech: 115 meetings; first played in 1893

Washington-Washington State: 113 meetings; first played in 1900

North Carolina-NC State: 111 meetings; first played in 1894

Virginia-Virginia Tech: 103 meetings; first played in 1895

Arizona-Arizona State: 95 meetings; first played in 1899


ICONIC PLAYS

Auburn-Alabama

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Auburn wins Iron Bowl on kick-six

On Nov. 30, 2013, Auburn improbably beats Alabama as Chris Davis returns a field goal attempt for a touchdown as time expires.

"Chris Davis is going to drop back into the end zone. A single safety. I guess if this comes up short, he can field it and run it out."

Rod Bramblett, Auburn radio's play-by-play announcer, remarked on what few others had noticed in real time when Adam Griffith lined up a potential game-winning 57-yard field goal with 1 second left in the 2013 Iron Bowl. Alabama's kicking team certainly wasn't prepared for the possibility of anything other than a win or the game going into overtime.

"All right," Bramblett said right before the snap, "here we go."

The rest is history. The kick fell short, defensive back Chris Davis caught it and took off, veering left and then hugging the sideline. Once he got past the holder, Cody Mandell, he was home free.

Pick your favorite Bramblett line after that. Here are a few:

"There goes Davis!"

"They're not going to keep them off the field tonight!"

"Holy cow! Oh my God! Auburn wins!"

Stan White, Bramblett's partner as color analyst, was astonished. Listen closely, he said, and you can hear the sound engineer turn down his volume because he was shouting too loudly, "Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!"

White has witnessed some incredible Iron Bowls. He was Auburn's starting quarterback in 1993 when the Tigers knocked off the defending champs and secured an undefeated season. But 2013 stands alone.

White said Bramblett's call of Davis' return has to be among the best in sports history -- alongside Al Michaels and the "Miracle on Ice."

What makes it especially poignant is how it has become a reminder of the life and legacy of Bramblett, who died alongside his wife in a car crash in 2019. Bramblett was beloved and respected at Auburn and throughout the SEC before that night in 2013. But voicing the "Kick Six" made an entire country aware of his gift for finding the right words, at the right decibel, at the exact right moment.

White remembers being at the SEC championship game the week after the Iron Bowl when someone knocked on the door. It was Kirk Herbstreit. Then another knock. It was Verne Lundquist. Both came to congratulate Bramblett.

Lundquist's CBS television partner, Gary Danielson, came to Auburn for a memorial held for Bramblett and his wife years later. Before the service ended, Bramblett's call of the Kick Six was played in Auburn Arena. Hearing the joy in his voice -- rising as Davis passes midfield -- you couldn't help but smile.

If they had played video from the booth, they would have shown White hugging Bramblett in celebration.

"It's rare to have that type of call and that type of moment in a broadcaster's lifetime," White said. "And he captured it so eloquently and he relayed the energy that everyone was feeling, but he was so professional about it.

"When you think about that play, you have to think about Rod. It's a call that will stand the test of time." -- Alex Scarborough

HONORABLE MENTION

Notre Dame-USC: With seven seconds to play in the 2005 game, USC trailed 31-28 but was on the Irish 1-yard line. Trojans coach Pete Carroll appeared to call on quarterback Leinart to spike the ball so USC could go for a tying field goal, but that was a decoy. Instead Leinart attempted a QB sneak but was stopped cold -- until running back Reggie Bush gave him a forceful nudge around the end of the goal-line pileup, which was illegal but not called. Hence the "Bush Push" was etched into the rivalry's lore.

Michigan-Ohio State: Desmond Howard's 93-yard punt return and celebratory Heisman pose in 1991 remains the most famous play from one of the sport's greatest rivalries.


BIZARRE MOMENTS

Ole Miss-Mississippi State

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Penalty leads to dramatic loss for Ole Miss

Elijah Moore's touchdown cuts Ole Miss' deficit to one point, but an unsportsmanlike penalty pushes the Rebels' extra-point attempt back and it's missed by Luke Logan.

In 2019, Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral, who had completed a fourth-and-24 play from the Rebels' own 14 to start the final drive, threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Elijah Moore with four seconds left to ostensibly tie the game against Mississippi State.

But Moore celebrated his touchdown by mimicking a dog urinating in the end zone in a nod to DK Metcalf, who did the same to the Bulldogs two years before. Moore was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, forcing Ole Miss to attempt a 35-yard extra point.

The Rebels missed, of course, losing the game 21-20 and falling to 4-8 on the season. The fallout was swift as Rebels coach Matt Luke was fired, followed shortly after by MSU coach Joe Moorhead, who was fired after a loss in the Music City Bowl and a 6-7 finish.

"It just happened spur of the moment," Moore told ESPN in advance of the 2020 Egg Bowl. "It wasn't planned. A lot of people thought it was planned. It wasn't planned."

Lane Kiffin was hired to replace Luke, and Moore was one of the first players Kiffin sought out after taking the job.

"You hear people say, 'Well, that's not who he is,' or, 'Man, that was so out of character for him,' and maybe you think they're just making excuses for a guy, trying to have his back," Kiffin said ahead of the 2020 game. "But the moment I met him, I knew that was for real. Anyone who knows Elijah knows that's not who he is." -- David Wilson

HONORABLE MENTION

Notre Dame-USC: In 1977, Notre Dame coach Dan Devine had a plan to fire up his team. After the Irish warmed up in their traditional blue jerseys, they returned to the locker room to a surprise -- new bright green game jerseys. The players loved it, as did the fans, who roared as the team stormed out of the tunnel trailed by a giant Trojan horse. Irish receiver Kris Haines said some USC players told him years later, "We knew it was all over at that point." Right they were: Notre Dame rolled over No. 5 USC 49-19 and went on to win the national championship.

Oregon-Oregon State: In 1983, the field was swamped with rain and the game included four missed field goals, five interceptions and 11 fumbles. Oh, it ended in a tie. It's why the game earned itself the name, the "Toilet Bowl."

Washington-Washington State: A legendary snow game in 1992, an ugly incident including bottle throwing after a Wazzu loss in 2002 and a sophomore running back quitting and changing into street clothes at halftime: The Apple Cup has rarely been dull.

LSU-Texas A&M: In 2018, the teams played an epic, seven-overtime, 74-72 Aggies win, setting a record for the most points scored in a single game and the most OTs. There also was a brawl on the field after the game, with LSU offensive analyst Steve Kragthorpe saying he got punched in his pacemaker by Cole Fisher, A&M coach Jimbo Fisher's nephew.


CHAMPIONSHIP IMPLICATIONS

Michigan-Ohio State

The game that became The Game first took place in October 1897. Michigan and Ohio State began playing annually in 1918, but the introduction of the AP poll in 1936 added a new element to the rivalry. The 1941 game marked the first in which both teams were ranked. The following year, Michigan came in at No. 4 and Ohio State at No. 5.

There were three more top-10 matchups in the 1940s, but the series reached a new stratosphere when Michigan hired Bo Schembechler as coach after the 1968 season. Between 1970 and 1977, Ohio State and Michigan had five top-five meetings. Schembechler's first 10 games against Ohio State coach Woody Hayes were labeled the "Ten-Year War," where Michigan held a 5-4-1 edge. But the most memorable result came in 1973, as the teams both came into Michigan Stadium undefeated and played to a 10-10 tie.

Which team would go to the Rose Bowl? Big Ten athletic directors voted to send Ohio State, in part because Michigan quarterback Dennis Franklin sustained a broken collarbone against the Buckeyes. But Michigan had seemingly been the better team, and Schembechler lashed out, saying "petty jealousies were involved" in the decision.

The rivalry had provided just about everything except a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup, which arrived in 2006. The day before the game, Schembechler collapsed and died, adding drama to a game that needed none. Ohio State won 42-39 and advanced to play for the national title.

Ten years later, The Game came down to a controversial fourth-down spot, where No. 2 Ohio State was awarded a first down and went on to beat No. 3 Michigan in overtime. Michigan lost eight straight to the Buckeyes and 15 of 16 before shocking Ohio State in the snow last year to reach its first Big Ten championship game, followed by the College Football Playoff semifinal. And the stakes are sky high again this year. -- Adam Rittenberg

HONORABLE MENTION

Auburn-Alabama: The Tigers and Crimson Tide have met as top-10 teams eight times, including 2017 and 2013, when Auburn knocked off No. 1 Alabama. From 2009 to 2013, five consecutive Iron Bowl winners went on to play in the BCS national title game.

Florida-Florida State: No rivalry can match the high stakes of Gators-Seminoles from 1990 to 2000. In that span, the teams met 13 times, and every one was a top-10 matchup, with six of them a top-five matchup. That includes the Sugar Bowl in 1995 and 1997, which served as the Bowl Alliance's national championship game. Florida rolled 52-20 in that one, but Florida State had the upper hand overall, 8-4-1.

Notre Dame-USC: The Irish and Trojans have met as top-10 teams 18 times, the first in 1938 and the most recent in 2006. The teams staged a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown in 1988 at the L.A. Coliseum, with Notre Dame winning 27-10 en route to the national title.


BANDS AND GAME-DAY ATMOSPHERE

Grambling-Southern

It's just good planning to have your annual rivalry game a mile or so from Bourbon Street. New Orleans gives itself to the Bayou Classic over Thanksgiving weekend, and thousands make a weekend of it. The game itself tends to draw well over 65,000 to the Superdome, which is impressive enough. But Friday night's Battle of the Bands and Greek show can draw up to 30,000 by itself.

The Battle is a sight to behold. The crowd -- filling up nearly half the Superdome just to watch two bands play -- is engaged and loud. The bands, both great and both huge, are even louder. They march in to hype videos. They trade songs for over an hour. Their fans talk smack to each other, then they all wander down to fill Bourbon Street for the rest of the night. It has been a uniquely full and worthwhile weekend before the game, which is often very close, has even started.

You might remember the 2014 Classic. It went viral when a former Southern fullback, Calvin Mills Jr., proposed to his girlfriend during the halftime show with Southern's band, the Human Jukebox, spelling out "Marry Me." (The game itself was incredible, too, with Southern winning via a last-second goal-line stand.)

Afterward, he gave the best possible summary of what makes the weekend -- from the Battle to Bourbon Street to the game -- so special.

"People plan their whole Thanksgiving around the Classic," he said. "It's like one big family reunion. It's a fun rivalry. You have families with kids who have gone to both schools." And both schools have an absolute blast before, during and after the game. -- Bill Connelly

Clemson-South Carolina

Clemson and South Carolina like to kick off their rivalry week with fire. Lots and lots of fire.

The current iteration of "Cocky's Funeral" at Clemson and the "Tiger Burn" at South Carolina dates to 1902. According to South Carolina, the idea started after students from both schools had a standoff following the game that year, in which the Gamecocks upset the Tigers 12-6 -- winning for the first time since they began playing in 1896.

At issue was a poster depicting a gamecock standing on top of a tiger and holding its tail. Clemson students found the poster to be insulting, and fights between both sides broke out. They agreed to burn the poster to ease the tensions -- hence, the tradition of both sides setting their rivals' respective mascots on fire.

To accomplish this, student-led organizations at both schools spend months planning. At Clemson, there is a group of 35 students on the alumni council responsible for creating a Gamecock out of wood, chicken wire and tissue paper. This year's Gamecock is set to be 13 feet tall.

In the past, a casket has been involved and a eulogy read before they light their Gamecock on fire. (Not to worry, fire marshals are on hand to ensure everyone's safety at both schools). But this year, students have given Cocky's funeral more of a pep rally feel. It's the first time they're able to hold the event in their traditional way since 2019, before the pandemic. Anne Horton, assistant director of Cocky's funeral, has a long line of Clemson alumni in her family, dating back to her great-grandfathers in the 1930s. She always dreamed of being a part of the event.

"In my application to the alumni council, I wrote I wanted to be the one to light Cocky on fire," she said. "It always stood out to me. I've always loved the rivalry. I love that friendly competition that USC and Clemson have and how cool it is that we all get to get together on that Saturday."

At South Carolina, the school's chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers is in charge of building their large scale tiger, with the help of a few other organizations. This year's tiger is going to be its largest yet, about 32 ½ feet tall. The build started in July. The day of the burn, it is transported to a large field outside Williams-Brice Stadium, then put together to reach its full height. At this year's event, the university president, coach Shane Beamer, the band and cheerleaders are scheduled to attend.

"The whole goal in building something is for it to be strong and stand up," said Jackson Goldsmith, president of the ASME. "But there's nothing more satisfying than watching the tiger get caught on fire." -- Andrea Adelson

HONORABLE MENTION

Ohio State-Michigan: Yes, the Wolverines have an iconic fight song, but the Ohio State marching band has a "signature" move, with a veteran sousaphone player stepping out to dot the "i" of his bandmates' script "Ohio."

Notre Dame-USC: Yes, the Irish have an iconic fight song, but the Trojan marching band has a platinum album from its 1979 collaboration with Fleetwood Mac, "Tusk."

The Ramblin' Wreck, Georgia-Georgia Tech: The 1930 Ford Model A Sport coupe that leads the Georgia Tech football team onto the field adds a touch of whimsy and nostalgia. (Rumor has it Georgia fans have stolen the Wreck on at least two occasions.)


TROPHIES AND GAME NAMES

Minnesota-Wisconsin

Paul Bunyan's Axe. It wasn't the first prize at stake for Minnesota and Wisconsin. Beginning in 1930, the rivals played for a slab of bacon, but the trophy -- actually a slab of black walnut wood with a carving of a football -- disappeared after the 1943 game, only to be found in 1994 inside a storage room at Wisconsin. Needing a replacement, Wisconsin's lettermen group, the National W Club, introduced the axe, named after the mythical Midwestern lumberjack and featuring Wisconsin cardinal and Minnesota gold on each side.

Scores of all the games lined the axe's handle until filling it, prompting the first trophy to be retired after the 2003 game, and donated to the College Football Hall of Fame. In 2004, the current axe debuted with a six-foot handle. Wisconsin won it that first year and didn't relinquish it until 2018, the longest win streak by either team in a rivalry dating back to 1890.

The most dramatic axe moments come when it exchanges hands. Players sprint across the field, grab the axe, congregate around each goal post and begin to chop. In 2013, Minnesota players tried to prevent the "chop" around their goal post, leading to an altercation. The following year, the axe was not kept in the bench area, but presented in the end zone, as Wisconsin won again.

"In the celebrations, you see the creativity come out," Wisconsin interim coach Jim Leonhard, an All-America safety/returner for the Badgers who went 2-2 in Axe games, told ESPN. "It's one of those trophies that everybody recognizes. It's been fun to be a part of it. It's never a good feeling to be on the losing side, but it really is an amazing experience to keep the axe or to run across to get it back from the other team." -- Adam Rittenberg

HONORABLE MENTION

The Old Oaken Bucket, Purdue-Indiana: In 1925, the Chicago chapters of Indiana's and Purdue's alumni associations decided to introduce a rivalry trophy, and agreed that a bucket from an Indiana well would meet their vision. They found one on the Bruner family farm in southern Indiana, and created a chain with blocks in the shape of a "P" or an "I" for each team's rivalry win.

The Territorial Cup, Arizona-Arizona State: Certified by the NCAA as college football's oldest rivalry trophy, the Territorial Cup dates to 1899, when Arizona wasn't yet a state but a U.S. territory (hence the name). In that first game, the University of Arizona played the Arizona Territorial Normal School, which evolved into Arizona State. (The "Normals" won 11-2.) The trophy's whereabouts were unknown for close to 80 years until it was found in the basement of a church near the Arizona State campus. The tradition of the cup being passed to the winning team each year started in 2001.

The Egg Bowl, Ole Miss-Mississippi State: The Golden Egg trophy, a regulation-size gold-plated football -- which looks like a golden egg -- mounted on a wooden pedestal, was introduced in 1927 in an effort to calm fans and add dignity and decorum with a postgame ceremony after a chair-throwing brawl broke out following the previous year's game. What was called "The Battle of the Golden Egg" was dubbed the Egg Bowl by The Clarion-Ledger newspaper in 1978, when neither team was bowl eligible, and the name stuck.

The Apple Cup, Washington-Washington State: Why the Apple Cup? Washington state produces more than 10 billion apples each year. (Sometimes it's that simple.)

The Game, Michigan-Ohio State: If the game is known as The Game, it must be pretty important.

The Iron Bowl, Auburn-Alabama: Auburn coach Ralph "Shug" Jordan is credited with coming up with this name in 1964. It references the influence of the steel industry in Birmingham, home of Legion Field, the neutral site where the game was most often played through the early 1990s.

Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate, Georgia vs. Georgia Tech: What says Thanksgiving weekend more than clean, old-fashioned hate?