The Big Ten loves a good rivalry. If there's a trophy involved, it's all the better.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh gushed this week over his childhood memories of ''The Game'' with Ohio State. There'll be no trophy at stake when the Buckeyes visit the Big House on Saturday. That's OK. This one's so big every year, it doesn't need one.
Now consider unnatural rivals Michigan State and Penn State. They'll play for an obscure piece of hardware called the Land Grant Trophy. That's not really what's at stake, though. For the Spartans, a win sends them to the Big Ten championship game.
Then there's Indiana and Purdue. The Hoosiers can become bowl eligible with a victory, the Boilermakers can win a third game, and no one outside the state of Indiana really will give it much thought. But it's significant to the participants. After all, they'll be vying for the Old Oaken Bucket in a trophy game dating to 1925.
''It's really about this one day that determines the 365 days of the year. It really is,'' Purdue coach Darrell Hazell said. ''I've got to try to make our kids understand that, the younger kids. The older players do understand it. The younger guys need to understand how important this game really is to our program because it is about bragging rights throughout the state. It helps you get into the offseason better. This is a huge, huge football game for both programs.''
Back to Ohio State-Michigan.
Harbaugh's father was defensive backs coach for Bo Schembechler at Michigan in the 1970s, and Harbaugh was Schembechler's quarterback in the mid-1980s. Harbaugh on Tuesday reminisced about watching the 10-10 tie in 1973 from the Big House's south end zone. Both teams finished the regular season unbeaten and, to the disappointment of Michigan fans, Ohio State was picked to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl.
''In our house and community, it was as (Michigan broadcaster) Bob Ufer put it, a `dastardly deed,' and a `day that would live in infamy.' That was my first experience in the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry and one of the greatest football games I still have ever seen,'' Harbaugh said. ''From there, it was something I watched every year and anticipated it every year, that it would be the best day of the year, that it would be even better than Christmas when I was growing up here in Ann Arbor.''
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer grew up in Toledo and came of age during classic 1969-78 games known as ''The Ten Year War'' between Woody Hayes and Schembechler.
''I remember almost all of the games,'' Meyer said. ''I remember the intensity and the whole state shut down. So just great memories. I remember Archie Griffin, Cornelius Greene and Pete Johnson. Those were the guys of my generation that I enjoyed watching.''
Wisconsin and Minnesota have been playing for Paul Bunyan's Axe since 1948, and the Badgers have won the last 11. Chryst watched the rivalry as a youngster and participated in it as a quarterback for the Badgers in the mid-1980s.
''It's a real rivalry, and the rivalries and traditions make college football special,'' he said. ''Wisconsin and Minnesota can be proud of the game and the Battle for the Axe. It means a ton to the people involved and I know it means everything to our team.''
Beating Wisconsin would be doubly sweet for Minnesota this year. The Gophers would not only take back the axe, they also would become bowl eligible. Perhaps they can draw inspiration from Jerry Kill, who retired for health reasons last month but will be in attendance.
''We've been here five years and we haven't won it yet,'' new coach Tracy Claeys said. ''It's the one trophy game here at the University of Minnesota that we haven't been able to get in Coach's career. With him being at the game, it would be a huge event and very exciting for everybody involved.''
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