Ranking college football’s 10 best rivalry trophies, from the Iron Skillet to the Old Brass Spittoon
Information about Ranking college football’s 10 best rivalry trophies, from the Iron Skillet to the Old Brass Spittoon
Everyone loves a good trophy, right? Sure, a national championship trophy is nice and all, but why should only the national champion get to hoist some hardware at the end of the game or the end of the season?
Luckily, this being college football, cooler heads prevailed and fans of the sport have been gifted with a slew of trophies in rivalry games, both old and new, but many are just as iconic and meaningful as any other trophy up for grabs.
And even schools without rivalry trophies (ahem, UCF and UConn) tried to get it on it and create their own , even if they didn’t always catch on.
A lot of the rivalry trophies are fairly basic and feature many of the same motifs and aesthetics — either they look like a trophy, have a football on them, are a cup or jug of some kind or are just sort of plain.
But every once in a while, a trophy comes along that either has a great history behind it, is visually striking or has some other characteristic going for it that breaks the norm.
One of them — the Golden Egg — will be up for grabs on Thursday when No. 9 Ole Miss travels to Starkville to take on Missisippi State in the annual Egg Bowl. The Rebels won last year’s game and holds a 63-46-6 all-time advantage in the series.
And though this week is rivalry week in college football, not all of the best rivalries have a trophy (The Game, The Iron Bowl), nor are all of the best trophies given out during rivalry week.
With that, here’s a primer on some of the best trophies in the sport, in no particular order, and how they came to be.
1. Iron Skillet — SMU vs. TCU
- First awarded: 1946
- Most recent winner: Sept. 28, 2021 – SMU 42, TCU 31
- Series history: TCU leads 51-42-7
This is a rivalry between two Texas schools that’s been around since 1915 and has had 100 meetings, but the awarding of the Trophy — a literal iron skillet — dates back to 1946. Like several trophies on this list, the origin story varies.
One account said it was started to “prevent mutilation of school property” by raucuous fans and the skillet served as a substitute for vandalism. Another telling of the lore indicates an SMU fan was frying frog legs before the game as a joke and an offended TCU fan thought the outcome of the game should get deterime who got the skillet and the frog legs.
This year’s battle wasn’t without controversy, as then-TCU coach Gary Patterson levied several accusations against SMU , only to step down a month later. SMU coach Sonny Dykes is rumored to be the front-runner to replace Patterson.
2. Floyd of Rosedale — Iowa vs. Minnesota
- First awarded: 1935
- Most recent winner: Nov. 13, 2021 – Iowa 27, Minnesota 22
- Series history: Minnesota leads 62-51-2
A 1934 contest between the Golden Gophers and Hawkeyes became heated when Iowa running back Ozzie Simmons, one of the few Black players in the country at the time, felt he was subjected to late hits and had to leave the game three times due to injuries.
The following year when the two schools faced off, Iowa’s governor got involved and said if Minnesota players or officials treated Simmons the same way they did in the past, that the crowd wouldn’t stand for it.
So to ease tensions, Minnesota’s governor sent a telegram wagering a prize hog that the Gophers would win the game and Iowa’s governor accepted. The trophy’s name comes from Floyd Olson, then Minnesota’s governor and Rosedale Farms, where Olson got the pig.
3. Golden Egg — Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss
- First awarded: 1927
- Most recent winner: Nov. 28, 2020 – Ole Miss 31, Mississippi State 24
- Series history: Ole Miss leads 63-46-6
Another case of trying to curb vandalism, the rivalry didn’t actually get named “The Egg Bowl” until 1979 when a Mississppi sports writer Tom Patterson dubbed it as such. Prior to that, it was the Battle for the Golden Egg, which got its namesake from the trophy that’s awarded.
In 1926, Ole Miss snapped a 13-game losing streak in the rivalry, beating Mississippi State 7-6 in Starkville. As a result , Ole Miss fans stormed the field, attempted to tear down goalposts and fights broke out, leading to the creation of the Golden Egg as a means to prevent similar incidents in the future.
Though not actually golden, the egg is a football-shaped piece of brass more similar to the balls used at the time than the ones used currently, which is why it resembles an egg more than a football.
4. Jeweled Shillelagh — Notre Dame vs. USC
- First awarded: 1952
- Most recent winner: Oct. 23, 2021 – Notre Dame 31, USC 16
- Series history: Notre Dame leads. 48-36-5
The rivalry between these two schools actually began in 1926, but in 1952, the Notre Dame Alumni Club of Los Angeles decided to commemorate the series up to that point and commissioned the presentation of a jeweled shillelagh, an old Gaelic war club.
At the time, it was said the shillelagh was meant to “symbolize in part the high tradition, the keen rivalry and above all the sincere respect which these two great universities have for each other.” The shillelagh features ruby adorned Trojan heads for USC wins and emerald adorned shamrocks for Notre Dame wins.
The original shillelagh ran out of space in 1989 and is on display in South Bend. The current one is a foot longer and commemorates wins in the series dating back to 1990.
5. Wagon Wheel — Akron vs. Kent State
- First awarded: 1946
- Most recent winner: Nov. 20, 2021 – Kent State 38, Akron 0
- Series history: Akron leads 35-27-2
Though not necessarily a rivalry between two perennial football powers, this trophy is inextricably linked to both schools.
The trophy came to be when former Akron industrialist John Buchtel set out to establish a college where Kent State now is in the 1870s. En route, his wagon got stuck in the mud and when horses eventually pulled it free, but not before losing a wheel to his wagon.
The wheel was discovered in 1902 and in 1945 was decided as the trophy to give to the winner of the battle between the two MAC schools.
6. Paul Bunyan’s Axe — Wisconsin vs. Minnesota
- First awarded: 1948
- Most recent winner: Dec. 19, 2020 – Wisconsin 20, Minnesota 17
- Series history: Wisconsin leads 62-60-8
Created in 1948 to replace the lost “Slab of Bacon” trophy by Wisconsin lettterwinners, this trophy is one of the most iconic, and certainly among the biggest in college football.
At over six feet long, the scores of each game in the rivalry are recorded on the handle, with one side painted red and white for the Badgers and the other maroon and gold for the Golden Gophers. A new one was crafted in 2000 and the original axe was donated to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003.
Typically, the winner of each game will take the axe and run around the field with it and “chop down” the oppnents’ goal posts.
7. Little Brown Jug — Michigan vs. Minnesota
- First awarded: 1903
- Most recent winner: Oct. 24, 2020 – Michigan 49, Minnesota 24
- Series history: Michigan leads 76-25-3
The oldest rivalry trophy in college football, the Little Brown Jug when Michigan traveled to Minnesota and brought its own five-gallon jug because then-Wolverines coach Fielding Yost didn’t trust that his team’s water supply wouldn’t be tampered with.
The jug was first awarded after the two schools tied 6-6. In the pandemonium of Minnesota fans celebrating the comeback and storming the field, Yost left the jug in Minneapolis amid all the confusion.
Due to the physicality of that game, the Wolverines and Gophers didn’t play each other again until 1909, with the jug going to the winner of each game since then.
8. Golden Hat — Oklahoma vs. Texas
- First awarded: 1941
- Most recent winner : Oct. 9, 2021 – Oklahoma 55, Texas 48
- Series history: Texas leads 62-50-5
Red River has provided some of the best Big 12 and college football games over the last several years, this one included, as Texas blew a 21-point lead and Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley benched former Heisman favorite Spencer Rattler.
The winner of this storied rivalry gets to don a gold (formerly bronze) ten-gallon hat to keep for the whole year. It was originally donated by the Texas State Fair in 1941 and is presented by the president of the respective winning university.
9. Golden Boot — LSU vs. Arkansas
- First awarded: 1996
- Most recent winner: Nov. 13, 2021 – Arkansas 16, LSU 13 (OT)
- Series history: LSU leads 42-23-2
One of the newer trophies on this list, it’s also one of the flashiest.
Introduced in 1996 and created by a former Razorback linebacker, it’s made out of solid 24-karat gold, is 4-feet tall and 200 pounds and is worth about $10,000. The trophy gets its name from the outline of Arkansas and Louisiana, which border each other and resemble a boot.
LSU leads the all-time series and the series since the installation of the Golden Boot, though Sam Pittman’s squad continued its improbable rise when it went in to Death Valley and knocked off the Tigers 16-13 in overtime this year.
10. Old Brass Spittoon — Michigan State vs. Indiana
- First awarded: 1950
- Most recent winner: Oct. 16, 2021 – Michigan State 20, Indiana 15
- Series history: Michigan State leads 49-17-2
Inspired by another trophy on this list, the Old Brass Spittoon was obtained by the Michigan State student body president in an antique shop in East Lansing.
It was originally bought for $25 and there was no guarantee of the Hoosiers accepting this rivalry and the trophy, but eventually Indiana sent a telegram and accepted the challenge. After that, the trophy was presented to each team pregame as a reminder of what they’d be playing for.
The Spartans are 1-1 in battles for the famous trophy under coach Mel Tucker’s tenure and pulled off a gutsy and close 20-15 victory in Bloomington earlier this year.
There are plenty more trophies out there that have fascinating stories, are aesthetically pleasing, both or have something entirely different going for them altogether,
Here are the five current trophies that just missed the cut:
1. The Platypus (Oregon vs. Oregon State)
2. The Saddle (TCU vs. Texas Tech)
3. The Bronze Stalk (NIU vs. Ball State)
4. Chancellor’s Spurs (Texas vs. Texas Tech)
5. The Land of Lincoln (Illinois vs. Northwestern)