Miller: Saturday is our October Day

The battle for the Paul Bunyan Axe is not just another game in the backyard. It is not a Florida-Florida State game. Nor is it an Kentucky-Tennessee game or an Iowa-Iowa State game. It is much more.

This will be my first time being a part of the Battle for the Axe.

From an outsider's viewpoint, it seems kind of funny. Then again, I am sure that Badger fans think playing for a pig is a funny thing as well. Unless you are a part of the game, you just do not understand. So, I guess it is my turn to finally 'get it'. In 2005, I actually caught the Badger bug for about 30 seconds.

The game was over. Finished. Done with. Cars were starting in the parking lot. Pick a cliche.

All the Gophers had to do was run the clock out. Well, that and gain one first down. Which, given they had scored 34 points and RB Laurence Maroney had gained over 250 yards on the ground, seemed a near certainty. I did say near. Everyone from Superior to Beloit knows what happened. Here is what Coach Barry Alvarez said about that game on uwbadgers.com:

"Last year's game was by far the best game that I can remember between Wisconsin and Minnesota. There have been some great ones, including my first Big Ten conference win, which also happened to be my first Big Ten road win, but nothing tops last year's game. The last sequence of that game was so unbelievable that none of the other games came close to an ending like that."

I had just finished my post-game routine for HawkeyeNation.com after an Iowa 38-21 victory over Indiana. I turned on the TV to watch the UW vs. UM game. Honestly, I almost turned the channel until Wisconsin stopped the Gophers on three downs to force a punt with less than a minute remaining. I always love to watch a team try and pull off the miracle. Perhaps that is what happened on a warm evening inside the Metrodome on October 15, 2005. Jonathan Casillas blocks a punt and Ben Strickland recovers it. How many times do you see a game decided on a blocked punt with :28 remaining on the clock?

I jumped out of my recliner and was screaming, "Oh my Gosh! Oh my gosh!" and then called my father in Illinois to ask if he had seen what happened. "I was just about to call you," he said. "That was incredible!" This is the same father that now tells me he is a Badger fan (on top of being the most pessimistic Iowa fan in the world) - gotta love parental loyalty.

In all, I think I have watched this game in its' entirety one or two times. But, now I get to see why everyone from Green Bay to Bemidji is glued to the TV or in a stadium chair for one day in October each year. Badger DB Joe Stellmacher was already thinking about it on Saturday.

"That is always a big game," Stellmacher stated. "There is going to be a lot of memories from last year's game still in their (the Gophers) mind(s)."

There are 13 players from Wisconsin on the Gopher roster. Wisconsin has six players from Minnesota. Minnesota has 50+ homegrowns on their official list of players. Wisconsin has 44 home grown Badgers. Most grew up not liking the other. Most hoping to pummel the other. Most glad to have the chance on Saturday.

Families will be divided. Friends will be tackling friends. Former teammates will be out for blood on each other. Co-workers will not speak for a week - or more. It has the feel of the Iowa-Iowa State rivalry to me. But, to be honest, it goes much deeper than that.

It is on the ice, the basketball court, the soccer fields, the baseball and softball diamonds, and the wrestling mat. Gophers are the hunted and the Badgers are the hunter in Wisconsin. You can John Kerry that plan for the state of Minnesota. It is going to be fun to watch in person. The Badgers will be carrying the Axe with them onto the field and I will get goosebumps watching that.

Because, like I said, this is my first time.


Badger Nation Top Stories