ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Go online and you, too, can purchase your own Paul Bunyan Trophy.
For $75 and the cost of shipping, RivalryTrophy.com offers a to-scale, 4-pound, 14-inch-tall reproduction of the bearded lumberjack of American folklore — and a symbol of one of the more rabid rivalries in college football, Michigan-Michigan State.
There’s also a 3-inch replica of the Paul Bunyan Trophy. And there are replicas of some of the Big Ten’s other notable rivalry trophies, including the Old Brass Spittoon (Michigan State-Indiana), the Floyd of Rosedale (Minnesota-Iowa) and the Old Oaken Bucket (Indiana-Purdue).
There’s no Land Grant Trophy, though (Penn State-Michigan State).
As for the Paul Bunyan Trophy? Michigan’s players may not remember what the wooden trophy looks like. The Wolverines have won it only twice since 2007, and have watched Michigan State tote it into their locker room the last three seasons.
Yet instead of typing in a website address and entering a credit-card number, the No. 2 Wolverines want to get the big prize the hard way: earn it with a win Saturday at Michigan State.
— MSU Football EQ (@SpartanFB_eq) October 18, 2015
Beat the Spartans, DB Dymonte Thomas said, and the Wolverines have been promised their own miniature Paul Bunyan trophies. When Michigan beat Minnesota last October, each of the Wolverines got miniature replicas of the Little Brown Jug, the rivalry trophy in the Minnesota-Michigan series. (That can also be purchased on RivalryTrophy.com.)
Thomas couldn’t help but to ask for another promise of a rivalry trophy.
“Right now, we’re all excited for that,” the senior said. “We all want a miniature Paul Bunyan that you can hang up. That’s something special that you can keep forever. And it reminds me, I finally beat them. I’ve been 0-3 against them since I’ve been here.”
Tucked in a corner of Schembechler Hall is, in fact, a miniature Paul Bunyan Trophy, only a few yards from where players stood Tuesday night.
In 1953, Michigan governor and University of Michigan graduate G. Mennen Williams gave Michigan State the Paul Bunyan Trophy as a gift to welcome Michigan State into the Big Ten.
Initially, Michigan tried to block the school from joining the Big Ten, which was then the Big Nine after the departure of the University of Chicago in 1946, seven years after it discontinued football. Michigan’s administration feared that the conference’s admission of Michigan State — then Michigan State College — would steal some of its academic and athletic thunder.
The bearded lumberjack may have been a peace offering.
The 63-year-old trophy also bears a striking resemblance to several faces that are familiar to Michigan football, and there’s a consensus as to whom on this year’s team resembles the Paul Bunyan Trophy.
- WR Jehu Chesson: “I was just about to say Elliott (Mealer), but currently on the team? Any lineman with a beard. Probably Mags (Erik Magnuson).”
- Thomas: “Magnuson, definitely. The hair and the beard and he would be the type of person to just go out in the woods and chop down trees, just for no reason. He’s a little different and crazy.”
- DL Matt Godin: “Other than me right now, probably? Erik (Magnuson). Definitely Erik.”
Each year, former Michigan equipment manager Jon Falk gathers players before each rivalry game, explains the origins of each trophy, and brings up some of the more memorable games between the two teams.
When Falk speaks to this year’s team, Chesson expects the same message:
“That we need it back,” the fifth-year, senior receiver said. “That Paul belongs in Ann Arbor. He’d always tell us to win for Michigan, to play for Michigan because … they sound like simple words, but if you do that, a lot of success will come your way.”
As Chesson spoke, that miniature Paul Bunyan Trophy sat, locked in a glass case that’s recessed into the east wall of the football building’s in-house museum. Nobody can touch it there.
The real Paul Bunyan Trophy hasn’t been back to Ann Arbor since 2012, where it sat for more than a year atop a 5-foot pedestal in Schembechler Hall, which has since been remodeled.
After Saturday, it may stay in East Lansing. It could return to Ann Arbor.
However, only one team will take home the Paul Bunyan Trophy.
The other team can always buy one online.