Gophers reclaim Paul Bunyan's Axe

Fans surround a Gopher football player carrying Paul Bunyan's Axe.

The 2021 season has been a rollercoaster ride for the Golden Gopher football team and its fans, to say the least.

After a 2-1 start, there was the almost unfathomable loss to Bowling Green—at home and on Homecoming. Then after a four-game winning streak, an improbable home loss to Illinois. Along the way, the Gophers lost their top three running backs to season-ending injuries.

Yet after that Illinois loss, the Gophers still controlled their own destiny with three weeks remaining in the season, needing only to beat Iowa and Wisconsin to win the West Division of the Big Ten conference. After losing to Iowa they still had a chance to win if the Hawkeyes fell to Nebraska the day after Thanksgiving.

That didn’t happen either, which left the Gophers with the singular task of trying to beat the Badgers in the season finale to spoil Wisconsin’s clear path to the West Division title—and to redirect a series that has skewed heavily in favor of the Badgers, winners of 16 of the last 17 contests.

On a glorious sunny and 40-degree late afternoon, in front of a raucous crowd of 49,736 fans—maroon and gold mixed with red—the Gophers were delightfully up to the task, giving fans a late Thanksgiving weekend treat before parading around the stadium with Paul Bunyan’s Axe.

Minnesota’s defense shone the brightest, keeping the Badgers offense out of the end zone and holding star running back Braelon Allen to 47 yards on 17 carries. On offense, Tanner Morgan overcame a first half interception and completed a number of key passes to help turn a 10-6 halftime deficit into the final 23-13 margin.

The win was the Gophers’ first at home over Wisconsin since 2003 in the Metrodome, when most of the current players were either yet to be born, or perhaps toddling rather than tackling.

From a [Minnesota] fan’s perspective, the best moment might have occurred a few minutes after the game ended, about the time that the number of fans on the field was exceeding the number still in the stands.

As one celebratory song ended, the public address announcer interjected, in a rather serious tone: “Ladies and gentlemen, can I have your attention, please.” Then came the first four signature notes of the House of Pain song “Jump Around”—the anthem traditionally played at Badger games at the end of the third quarter.  As the song kicked into high gear Minnesota fans laughed and jumped, while Wisconsin fans looked on in disbelief.

It was an epic dig worthy of the most-played rivalry game (131 games and counting) in the NCAA's Football Bowl Subdivision. So stay tuned for next year’s rematch at Camp Randall Stadium. And also stay tuned to learn where the Gophers will be traveling for their bowl game. An announcement is expected Sunday, December 5.