U-M Vs. MSU: Playing for the Paul Bunyan Trophy

It's more than an in-state rivalry when Paul Bunyan is involved


THIS MONTH, WHEN THE WOLVERINES AND SPARTANS CLASH in East Lansing, they’ll be playing for more than in-state bragging rights.

There’s the matter of Paul Bunyan.

The colossal man of lumberjack lore is inspiration for the trophy awarded to the winner of the always hard-fought Michigan-Michigan State game (Oct. 15).

The 4-foot-tall Bunyan, first bestowed in 1953 when Gov. G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams gave it to the Spartans, has no direct connection to either school. There is a home-state connection, however. The first tales of Paul Bunyan were published by James MacGillivray in Oscoda, Mich. Some have traced MacGillivray’s inspiration for the legendary logger to the real-life escapades of French-Canadian lumberjack Fabian “Saginaw Joe” Fournier. Fournier began working for the H.M. Loud & Sons Lumber Co. in Oscoda in 1865. In addition to being uncommonly tall, Fournier possessed great skill with an ax. Occasionally, he lodged in Bay City, where boozing and brawling were reportedly common for him. Fournier was killed in 1875 by a blow to the head with a mallet shortly after a drunken quarrel.

In the gridiron brawl, East Lansing may claim a fashionable “fighting” edge. The Spartans join eight other NCAA teams in wearing Nike’s Pro Combat uniforms. Michigan State also goes in to the contest having a cozy relationship with Bunyan, who has been in their possession for three years, now. Aiming to snatch him away is Brady Hoke, U-M’s new head coach, who may be hoping that the color of Bunyan’s fabled sidekick, Babe the “blue” ox, will favor his side.


The spoils of victory have a colorful history in U.S. college football. Among the several trophies that hang in the balance when Michigan teams vie for victory are these:

• Megaphone Trophy: Michigan State vs. Notre Dame (1949)

• Old Brass Spittoon: Michigan State vs. Indiana (1950)

• Land Grant Trophy: Michigan State vs. Penn State (1993)

• Little Brown Jug: Michigan vs. Minnesota (1903)

• Miner’s Cup: Northern Michigan vs. Michigan Tech (2002)

If you enjoy the monthly content in Hour Detroit, "Like" us on Facebook and/or follow us on Twitter for more frequent updates.

Edit Module
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »Related Content

Web Exclusive: Meeting the Beatles

Fifty years ago, a Detroit-area teenager won a contest to meet The Beatles.

Rocking in Style

John Varvatos and Alice Cooper talk about their musical and fashion influences — and Detroit’s comeback

Well-Versed in Classics

DSO oboe player tools around town in a rare pair of turquoise 1962 Lincoln Continentals

All Dressed Up & Ready ...

Cobo Center is still a work in progress, but Auto Show visitors will notice a host of improvements

One Night Only: Steven Spielberg and John Williams at the DSO

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. The Makings of the Shinola Hotel
    When the Detroit brand’s first foray into hospitality opens its doors, it’ll offer customers...
  2. My Two Christmases
    An Armenian-Iranian, Detroit-based writer reflects on transposing the holiday across continents
  3. New Year’s Eve, Brooklyn Style
    Tips for celebrating 2019 from the pros at Brooklyn Outdoor
  4. Main Review: SheWolf
    Born in Detroit but inspired by Rome, SheWolf takes diners on a culinary journey
  5. The Art of Gifting
    Metro Detroit tastemakers from all walks of life offer a glimpse of what’s on their holiday...
  6. Meet the Makers: Tait Design Co.
    How an after-work hobby ascended to a booming business
  7. Comeback Catering
    Dish, in Detroit, pushes through hard times with consistently delicious food
  8. Precious Metals
    Layering necklaces, stacking rings, and placing bangle upon glitzy bangle: a definitive guide to...
  9. Food Recipe: Braised Beef Brisket
    Chef Aaron Lowen, of Empire Kitchen & Cocktails, shares one of his favorite holiday recipes
  10. An Hour with ... Ricki Friedman
    Founder, Break the Weight