I would like to tell you about the worst college football rivalry trophy currently in circulation, but we should start with a pig named Floyd. Floyd's story is so inherently fascinating that it has long since overshadowed the interest in the rivalry itself. Eighty years ago, after racial tensions flared during a football game between Minnesota and Iowa -- back when people cared enough about a Minnesota-Iowa game to get tense -- the governors of their respective states agreed to wager a sow on the following season's game. This was considered a way of easing the animosity, and weirdly, it appeared to work: In 1935, Minnesota won 13-6; Iowa's African-American star, Ozzie Simmons, was not physically targeted, and a prize hog was delivered to the office of Floyd Olson, the governor of Minnesota.
The hog came from Rosedale Farms in Iowa and was dubbed Floyd of Rosedale. A few years later, Floyd was given away as the grand prize in a statewide essay contest. Then, to quote perhaps the saddest line in any Wikipedia entry I've ever read, "A few years later, Floyd of Rosedale caught cholera and died." The good news: Floyd was eventually enshrined in bronze (not literally) and is now given to the winner of the Minnesota-Iowa game each season.
Why do I bring this up now? Well, this week the Big Ten held its annual football media days, during which Nebraska and Wisconsin confirmed they were working on coming up with some sort of "rivalry trophy." They're doing this, they said, largely because pretty much every "heartland" team in the Big Ten's Western Division -- Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin -- plays for a trophy, be it Floyd or an axe once owned by a steroidal lumberjack.
Never mind, of course, that Nebraska and Wisconsin have played three times in the past 30 years, and never mind that two of those games were decided by an excess of 30 points. Never mind that there is no real history or tradition or metaphoric oomph behind a Nebraska-Wisconsin rivalry at this point; this is the Big Ten, and no conference traffics on the notion of attempting to manufacture new tradition out of old like the Big Ten does. Which brings me, finally, to the worst rivalry trophy ever conceived.
If you've never seen the Land Grant Trophy, allow me to enlighten you: Awarded to the winner of the game between Penn State and Michigan State, it appears to have been formed out of the spare parts culled from a defunct awards manufacturer in Flint. It's what would happen if Jeff Lebowski's trophy shelf and an employee-of-the-month plaque got frisky with a couple of promiscuous statuettes. The Land Grant Trophy was established in 1993, when Penn State joined the Big Ten, setting off a two-decade frenzy of conference realignment that left us perplexed and frustrated and ultimately confused. The Land Grant Trophy was meant to heighten the stakes of a season-ending rivalry between Penn State and Michigan State, since Penn State and Michigan State had absolutely nothing in common except that they are both land-grant universities, which means they allow their students to park their automobiles in remote cow pastures.
Needless to say, the Land Grant Trophy didn't stir up a ton of excitement. For a couple of years, when the Big Ten was mired in its desperate Legends/Leaders division ploy, Penn State and Michigan State didn't even play each other. They'll start up again at the end of the season this year -- at least for the next three years, until they stop playing at the end of the season again -- because the Big Ten clearly has no idea what else to do. In fact, the Big Ten is doing what every conference is doing at this point, which is essentially a prolonged experiment in generating or regenerating rivalries following this seismic period of realignment. I imagine Nebraska and Wisconsin will play for a trophy sponsored by Con-Agra Foods; maybe someday soon, Nebraska-Wisconsin could become a legitimate rivalry, but until it does, the Big Ten will do its best to make us think it is more than it really is. And those of us who are forced to bear witness to the boxy mutant that is the Land Grant Trophy will wish that Penn State could just go back to playing Pittsburgh in late November for something that felt a hell of a lot more real.