Fire in the hole: The 10 FBS rival trophies that feature a weapon

By Amy Daughters -

After highlighting containers in April, people in May, and animals in June, this month we celebrate FBS rivalries with trophies that could technically be used to ward off an attack.

Friends, this is the highway to the Danger Zone.


PAUL BUNYAN’S AXE – Minnesota vs. Wisconsin

The series: first played in 1890, tied at 62-62-8, Minnesota has won two-straight.

Most recent meeting: 2022, a 23-16 road victory for the Golden Gophers.

Next meeting: Nov. 25, 2023

Introduced in 1948, Paul Bunyan’s Axe was preceded by a wood-crafted Slab of Bacon, awarded to the winner of the annual clash between the Badgers and Gophers beginning in 1930. The tradition of “bringing home the bacon” was halted in the early 1940s when the slab went missing (it was found in 1994 in Madison). Recorded on the long handle of Bunyan’s Axe are the winners of every game since the series began. Wisconsin has taken possession of the Axe 45 times vs. Minnesota’s 27.

THE STANFORD AXE – Cal vs. Stanford

The series: first played in 1892, Stanford leads 60-46-10 but Cal has won two-straight and three of the last four.

Most recent meeting: 2022, a 27-20 home win for the Golden Bears.

Next meeting: Nov. 18, 2023

Awarded to the winner of the Big Game, the story of the Stanford Axe  dates to 1899 when the Golden Bears and Cardinal met for a trio of baseball contests. That’s when the Axe was purchased, “probably from Sears” by Stanford fans and painted red. Cardinal enthusiasts used the Axe to chop up a variety of Cal related items, including beheading a scarecrow wearing school colors. After Stanford blew a late lead in the final game of the series, Cal fans stole the Axe.

After spiriting it back to Berkeley, the Golden Bears held on to the prize for 30 years. That’s when, in 1930, a group of Stanford students referred to as the “Immortal 21” by their school and the “Immoral 21” by Cal, stole the Axe back. In 1933 the schools decided to award the Axe to the winner of the Big Game. To date, Stanford has won the implement 48 times vs. 36 for Cal.


THE CANNON – Illinois vs. Purdue

The series: first played in 1890, Purdue leads 47-45-6 and has won three-straight and six of the last seven.

Most recent meeting: 2022, a 31-24 road win for the Boilermakers.

Next meeting: Sept. 30, 2023

The tale of the Big Ten edition of the Cannon stretches back over 100 years ago to 1905. That’s when Purdue students brought the scaled-down firearm to Illinois with hopes of firing it off after a win. Illini fans found the weapon, hidden near their stadium, and captured it. It was retained by one of the students involved in its confiscation until 1943 when he offered it up to be used as a traveling trophy. The Boilermakers have recaptured the Cannon 39 times vs. Illinois’ 30.


The series: first played in 1969, Nevada leads 28-20 but the two have split the last four.

Most recent meeting: 2022, a 27-22 home win for UNLV.

Next meeting: Oct. 14, 2023

Though less-well known than the mini cannon that Illinois and Purdue play for, the Fremont Cannon is a beast. Introduced in 1969, the weapon is a full-size reproduction of the Howitzer used by John C. Fremont as he headed west to explore Nevada in the 1840s. The Cannon – which is painted by the winner when exchanged – is billed as “college football’s largest and most expensive rivalry trophy” weighing in at 545 pounds and originally costing $10,000. Unlike many other rivalry prizes the Fremont dates all the way back to the beginning of the series.

THE VICTORY CANNON – Central Michigan vs. Western Michigan

The series: first played in 1905, Western Michigan leads 52-40-2 and has won four of the last five.

Most recent meeting: 2022, a 12-10 road win for WMU.

Next meeting: Nov. 7, 2023

The Victory Cannon honors the cannons that both Central Michigan and Western Michigan traditionally discharge on game days. First awarded in 2008, it’s the traveling prize associated with what’s also known as the “Central-Western” rivalry. WMU has won the Cannon nine times vs. CMU’s six.


THE SHILLELAGH TROPHY – Notre Dame vs. Purdue

The series: first played in 1896, Notre Dame leads 57-26-2 and has won eight-straight.

Most recent meeting: 2021, a 27-13 home win for the Irish.

Next meeting: Sept. 14, 2024

The Shillelagh Trophy is a blackthorn oak club “donated by merchant seaman and Fighting Irish fan Joe McLaughlin” who purchased it during a trip to Ireland. First introduced in 1957, the winner and score of each game is recorded on golden football medallions affixed to the oak stand that holds the Shillelagh. The Irish and Boilermakers battled for the traveling prize consecutively from its debut until 2014 when Notre Dame partially, kind of sort of but not really, joined the ACC. Notre Dame has won the Shillelagh 40 times vs. Purdue’s 19. The two currently have plans to meet consecutively from 2024-28.


The series: first played in 1926, Notre Dame leads 48-37-5, USC’s win last season snapped a four-game losing streak.

Most recent meeting: 2022, a 38-27 home win for the Trojans.

Next meeting: Oct. 14, 2023

The Jeweled Shillelagh is a foot-long Gaelic war club made from an Irish blackthorn tree. Legend has it that it’s the only wood tougher than an Irish skull. The “jewels” affixed to it are either ruby encrusted Trojan heads or emerald-enhanced shamrocks, depending on the winner, each inscribed with the year and final score. Though the original Shillelagh was introduced in 1952 (and replaced in 1989 after it ran out of room), the medallions go back to the start of the series in 1926.

THE FORGOTTEN SHILLELAGH – Notre Dame vs. Northwestern

The series: first played in 1889, Notre Dame leads 38-9-2 but the two have split the last four.

Most recent meeting: 2018, a 31-21 road win for the Irish.

Next meeting: Nothing currently scheduled.

Though it’s now a defunct tradition, the first-ever Shillelagh was a part of the Notre Dame-Northwestern rivalry. Introduced in 1931, more than two decades before the Jeweled Shillelagh and 26-years before “the” Shillelagh (Notre Dame-Purdue) appeared on the scene, the first-edition blackthorn stick (a three-foot model) was a gift from William T. Cosgrave the first prime minister of the Irish Free State. It was a part of the rivalry up until approximately 1962 with Notre Dame winning the OG Irish club 15 times vs. Northwestern’s six, the Wildcats winning the last four consecutive games where the prize was awarded. Though it doesn’t appear that the OG Shillelagh was mentioned again in connection to the Notre Dame-Northwestern series, it did resurface in 2016. That’s when it was sold at auction – to a businessman/Notre Dame fan from Omaha, Neb. – for $12,344,43.


THE BRIDGER RIFLE – Utah State vs. Wyoming

The series: first played in 1903, Utah State leads 40-28-4 but Wyoming has won two-straight.

Most recent meeting: 2022, a 28-14 home win for Wyoming.

Next meeting: 2024

Bridger’s Rifle – a historic .50-caliber Rocky Mountain Hawken rifle – honors Jim Bridger, the “foremost mountain man in the history of the American West.” One of the first Americans to visit the territory that became Yellowstone National Park, Bridger is also credited with discovering the Great Salt Lake. “Bridger’s Battle” kicked off in 2013, the winner of the rivalry’s name inscribed on the maple stock of the rifle. Utah State has won the weapon five times vs. Wyoming’s four.

Also of note: The “Old Wagon Wheel” associated with the Utah State/BYU rivalry is believed to be from Jim Bridger’s chuck wagon, the first vehicle to enter the Utah Valley.



The series: first played in 1938, Fresno State leads 30-24-1 but the two have split the last four.

Most recent meeting: 2022, a 55-13 home win for the Bulldogs.

Next meeting: 2024

While not technically a weapon, the Golden Screwdriver is the only item on our list that was used as a weapon in a rivalry game. It’s also the only piece of hardware mentioned that’s not an official part of the game it’s associated with. At least not yet. It all began in 2002 when Hawaii visited Fresno State and scored a 31-21 victory. At the end of the game fans got rowdy resulting in then Warrior head coach June Jones claiming to have been hit in the head by a screwdriver hurled from the FSU stands. The trophy, a golden screwdriver implanted in artificial turf on a rustic wooden base “commemorates” the altercation. Its creation is the result of a Fresno radio station’s call for listeners to design an annual award for the rivalry game.

Historical data courtesy of Sports Reference/College Football.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments (4)

Amy, Thanks from all of us for posting things twice so Herr Todd has a chance to understand. Also, PSU plays U.of M. and OSU for the “Big Ole Can Of Whoop-ass”, which has been blowing up in our face since 1993.

I’m not a PA State Nittany Lion Fan.

I do root for PSU to beat ‘the OH ST Uni.’ or U MI each Year.

You’re honest about your Team’s delivery of a Win. Athletic victory Dreams R hard 2 hold onto if it’s been that long.

I only had to not have mine fulfilled from Nov. 2010 to Sep. 2021 Vs. UTUtes.

I thought you had forgotten the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk (Illinois/Northwestern), but learned it has been retired.