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)