As college football increasingly resembles the pro game, it's important to take a look at the little things that set it apart: the fanfare, the spirit and, above all else, the long-standing rivalries. Some of those rivalries have the added quirk of an iconic trophy — yet another thing that makes the college game special — and some of those trophies are more interesting than others.
With rivalry week coming up, let's take a look at some of the most unusual rivalry trophies in all of college football. Spoiler alert: The Midwest will be heavily represented.
5. Old Brass Spittoon
This trophy is presented to the winner of a less-prolific rivalry, between Indiana and Michigan State. This rivalry is an annual game right now, due to the conference's alignment. But it isn't expected to be protected as the Big Ten expands, so we'll have to see just how often this trophy changes hands in the future.
The game itself has been played since 1922, but the trophy has only been presented since 1950. There were just five meetings before then, so the trophy series comprises the bulk of the rivalry; there have been 65 matchups in that time frame, of which an even 50 have been MSU wins.
Interestingly enough, this trophy was initially purchased for just $25 by MSU class president Eugene McDermott as an attempt to motivate his team. And it worked: The Spartans won 35-0, retaining the spittoon for the first time. The Spartans once again took the spittoon this year after Indiana held it for just one season; however, it's been a back-and-forth series in recent years.
4. Keg of Nails
This rivalry is at least half-Midwestern, or at least Midwest-adjacent, but it doesn't reside within the Big Ten; the Keg of Nails is awarded to the winner of the game between Cincinnati and Louisville. These neighbors are no longer in the same conference, so it hasn't been an annual series in quite some time, but Louisville was able to retain the keg in a matchup last season in the Wasabi Fenway Bowl.
The origins of the trophy are debated a bit, but the general consensus is that the tradition was started by fraternities on the two campuses. The original award was actually misplaced by Louisville, in an embarrassing turn, but the existing replica still stands as a reminder that you have to be "tough as nails" to win this iconic rivalry.
3. The Jeweled Shillelagh
From a football perspective, the rivalry associated with this trophy is undoubtedly the biggest one on this list. Notre Dame and USC fight each year for the right to hold the Jeweled Shillelagh, making this a contest between two of the very biggest programs in the country.
The Shillelagh itself, a traditional Irish club, is made of oak saplings from the Emerald Isle itself — and, of course, is adorned with jewels. It was donated back in 1952 by the Los Angeles Notre Dame alumni club, a group with a unique connection to this particular rivalry. Notre Dame leads both the all-time and trophy series, although the latter is much closer: 34 wins for the Irish, 30 for the Trojans, and three ties.
Of course, the Notre Dame-USC rivalry is not geographically motivated, making it a unique one. We'll have to see if it remains an annual tradition with USC's schedule changing as it moves to the Big Ten, but it's hard to imagine that the series will end altogether.
2. Paul Bunyan's Axe
One of the two teams that make up this rivalry will hold the honor of being included in both of the top spots on our list. You'll have to keep reading to see whether it's Minnesota or Wisconsin, which fight for the mighty Paul Bunyan's Axe each year.
The overall rivalry series is actually a dead heat, with 62 wins for each team and eight ties. But that will change this Saturday, so tune in to see who pulls ahead. However, since the introduction of the axe in 1948, Wisconsin owns a serious edge. This trophy was actually instituted after the original one, a slab of bacon, went missing back in 1943.
With 132 meetings, this is the most-played rivalry in the Football Bowl Subdivision. It's also the longest uninterrupted one as well, having been played each year since 1890. It's only ever been played in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Madison, Wisconsin, and this wonderful tradition will stay alive as it is one of the protected rivalries in the plan for Big Ten expansion.
1. Floyd of Rosedale
If you guessed that Minnesota would be the team to be represented once more, you were right! Floyd of Rosedale is a 98-pound bronze pig that goes to the winner of the Minnesota-Iowa game each season. The inspiration behind this unique trophy came in the 1934 game, which was filled with allegations of dirty play directed at Minnesota's Golden Gophers.
The uproar from Iowa fans nearly led to the cancellation of the entire series, but Minnesota Gov. Floyd Olson stepped in to save the day. He made a wager against Iowa Gov. Clyde Herring, putting up a Minnesota prize hog against one from Iowa. Minnesota won a very close but very clean ballgame, and Gov. Herring procured a pig to send to his Minnesota counterpart, after whom he named the hog.
Unfortunately, Floyd the pig died not even a year after the wager. And instead of the schools betting a live animal each season, a Minnesota sculptor built the current trophy in Floyd the pig's likeness. To this day, Floyd's memory lives on when these two classic rivals meet — Minnesota hoisted him this year after yet another defensive battle — and they'll continue to do so each year because this, too, is a protected rivalry for the next era of Big Ten football.
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