Reusse: Bacon slab mystery unsolved, but Gophers-Badgers are still served every year


Coach PJ Fleck reportedly has a Gophers side that would take possession of Paul Bunyan Ax for the second time in five seasons with a win in Saturday’s home game against Wisconsin.

This would be notable given that the Gophers had lost 13 straight games to the Badgers when Fleck was hired for the 2017 season. He went 14 straight this fall with a 31-0 bombing from the Badgers, then came the resounding Gophers victory. 37-15 at Camp Randall on November 24, 2018.

Wisconsin had pledged to bring the ax with her on Friday for a possible trade that would take place on Saturday night.

As for the other UM-UW football trophy … well, The Slab of Bacon is still sitting in the Badgers football offices under false pretenses.

The Bacon Slab was a wooden sculpture that debuted in 1930 and was featured until 1943. The Gophers were 11-3 in these games.

There have been occasional memories of this trophy printed in the Twin Cities newspapers, but no one has shown more interest lately than Mark Cota, a retired computer salesman from Eden Prairie.

“I’m an amateur carpenter and I’m trying to find something to put in competition at the state fair,” Cota said. “I heard about the bacon slab, a walnut trophy, and decided to try and make a replica.

“There were several mysteries – starting with why The Slab of Bacon was in possession of Wisconsin, when the Gophers won the game in 1943, and also won in 1947, the season before the ax became the trophy. ? “

The 1943 angle has been well documented. The Gophers won 25-13 in November. Wisconsin won the trophy of a victory in 1942, and a few student principals were ordered to bring the big chunk of nuts to the Gophers.

They couldn’t complete the task, when part of the home fans stormed the pitch to celebrate.

Badgers coach Harry Stuhldreher, famous for Notre Dame’s’ Four Horsemen ‘, told the guys to head to the house locker room and deliver the bacon to George Hauser, the Gophers’ interim coach (Bernie Bierman served in the military).

Hauser refused to accept it, stating that such pomp and trophy trading should not take place with World War II raging.

Having nothing else to do with it, the Badgers brought The Slab of Bacon back to Madison. He stayed there, even though the Gophers had won back-to-back wins before Ax’s first game in 1948.

The Badgers said the bacon slab was lost. And it wasn’t found until the early ’90s. Jim Mott had retired as Wisconsin sports information director, other employees began to browse the storage rooms he had used. and the block of bacon nuts was found in a briefcase, inside a larger case.

What raises the biggest mystery for Cota:

“If The Slab of Bacon was lost in the mid-1940s, why were the scores filled for all games until 1970? ? ”

Cota met Mike Grant at Eden Prairie. He asked if there was any chance that Mike’s dad, Bud, a notable Gophers ending from 1946-1949, had any thoughts on The Slab of Bacon.

“I was able to meet Bud twice for a total of three hours,” Cota said. “Bud had heard of The Slab of Bacon, but had never seen it. What he remembered vividly was beating the Badgers 4-0 from 1946 to 1949 and knocking them out three times. . ”

Cota’s niece, Linda Malkin, lived in the Madison area. At her uncle’s request, she went to the Badgers football offices to take photos and measurements of the actual slab – carved, adorned and donated by RB Fouch of Minneapolis in 1930.

“The State Fair judges weren’t impressed with my line, but it’s okay because it gave me the opportunity to talk to Bud Grant for three hours,” Cota said.

There was an effort by Charley Hallman, the late and unforgettable author of “Gophers Notes” in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, to get The Slab of Bacon returned to its beloved rodents.

According to a Hallman article in July 1994, a committee had been formed to decide the fate of the trophy, with Associate ADs Mark Dienhart (Minnesota) and Joel Maturi (Wisconsin) in charge.

“I remember the bacon slab committee,” Maturi said this week. “We never had a meeting. We had bigger problems in both sports departments.”

Maturi was the sporting director of the Gophers from 2002 to 2012. And a bigger Badgers-Gophers issue he faced came at the Big Ten reunion where a decision was made on how to organize these original divisions. “Leaders” and “Legends”. for the 2011 football season.

“Commissioner Jim Delany was dedicated to the idea of ​​equal competition within the divisions,” said Maturi. different division and not like our protected cross play.

“I stood up and said, ‘Minnesota and Wisconsin are the oldest rivalry in major college football. If I come home without us playing Wisconsin every year, I’m going to get fired.’

“Fred Glass from Indiana said, ‘We can’t get Joel fired,’ and we went with a model with Wisconsin as the cross-play.”


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