Badgers aim to reclaim Axe

Storied rivalry worth much more than a symbol to Wisconsin

Scott Starks remembers what last year felt like, what poured through him after a Rhys Lloyd field goal had given Minnesota a 37-34, last-second victory.

"I just kind of knelt down," Starks said. "I didn't really feel like walking off, going into the locker room, cause I knew there would be a lot more emotions built up inside the locker room so I just wanted to sit there and gather myself.

"The only thing I can really remember is just laying down there at the end of the game. I could see feet just running across my face and I could hear the whole crowd going crazy."

Pause here for a moment.

Yes, Wisconsin's players and coaches are still focused on their 1-0 mentality. But if any game this season is bringing emotions seething to surface it is Saturday's 2:30 p.m. date with Minnesota.

The Gophers come to Madison with something the Badgers desperately want back.

"We built a trophy case for that axe and it's empty, and that's not good," Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said.

Wisconsin had Paul Bunyan's Axe before Lloyd's kick.

"That's just a sick feeling to see another team run over there and just violate your sideline and take something that's been inside your locker room for a year," Starks said. "That's a bad feeling."

"That's so disrespectful to me," linebacker Reggie Cribbs said, "to rush our sideline and grab the Axe."

But isn't that part of the tradition?

"That's what it is. It still hurts," Cribbs said. "There is tradition, that's what we do, but it still hurts every time."

What is it about a symbol that punctuates a storied rivalry, in this case a trophy for the longest running rivalry in college football?

"It is more of a bragging right," senior tight end Tony Paciotti said. "Like, ‘ha we've got the Axe, try to take it from us.' I believe….the team that doesn't have it has a little more incentive to get it. It's not fun at all knowing that your rival has something that should be in your locker room and you have to go out and you have to battle for it back.

"A lot of guys have that mentality: ‘they have something that belongs to us.'"

"You can't run over to the sideline if there is nothing to get," Starks explained.

The Axe can drive players and coaches alike to childlike glee.

"When people get the Axe they turn into totally different people," Starks said. "You get like little kids, chopping down the goal posts, people riding on it. They look like kids. If you ever get a chance to do it it is just an amazing feeling."

"It hurts when you lose a trophy but there's no feeling when you win it back," Paciotti said. "When we won it back here two years ago the celebration was just amazing."

When a team wins the Axe there can be competition among teammates to get to the prize first.

"A couple years ago I didn't get a chance to actually sprint across," Starks said. "I had messed up my toe but it was fun when I finally got over there to grab that Axe and hobble around with it.

"This year I hope to be healthy and run over and grab it first."

It does not take players long to understand the game's significance, not with upperclassmen passing on the tradition and offensive line coach Jim Hueber's annual speech detailing the history of the rivalry.

"I think Coach Hueber missed his calling. He should have been a collegiate professor," said defensive coordinator Bret Bielema, who is participating in the rivalry for first time in his career. "He gave some pretty graphic and detail-oriented history that I don't think the general public knows about. Anytime you see your kids watching someone speak and they're not moving you know they've got their attention."

"It means a lot to the seniors and it means a lot to the younger guys so they can start a tradition—keep getting the Axe and seeing how long they can hold onto it," Paciotti said.

There is still a game to play.

"We want to be 1-0," Starks said. "We'll worry about running over there, getting that Axe after that.

"We've been so focused on the whole 1-0 philosophy I don't even think it would matter who we were playing against [this week]. We are just so focused on the task at hand."

Visions of Paul Bunyan's Axe do dance among the Badgers, though.

"When you get a chance to run over there and run around and chop, chop the goalposts down and have fun with it, that's a great feeling right there," Starks said.

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