UPDATE, 6:15 p.m. CT: Wisconsin has issued the following clarification on Saturday's plans for Paul Bunyan's Axe:
Head Coach Gary Andersen: "I would like to clarify our policy in regards to the post-game presentation of Paul Bunyan's Axe. The only change is that the Axe will not be staged in the bench area. Instead, it will be presented in the end zone, closest to the winning team's locker room. I support this policy that has been put in place by our administration and was put into action during our game with Nebraska. It is important for us to maintain the traditions of our trophy games while also doing what we feel is in the best interests of the student-athletes."
This policy mirrors what was done during the Nebraska game with the Freedom Trophy. The Axe will be brought to the field late in the fourth quarter and staged near the goalpost of the winning team. The winning team will then be allowed to celebrate on the field with the Axe as has been the tradition.
Football fans across the Midwest were stunned Monday morning when news broke of the decision to "hide" Paul Bunyan's Axe during Saturday's Minnesota vs. Wisconsin rivalry game at Camp Randall Stadium.
To prevent skirmishes or any other post-game issues similar to what happened last year following the Badgers' 20-7 win in Minneapolis, Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen said Monday that the Axe will "disappear" during the game before being moved to the winning team's locker room afterward. The winning team, per Andersen, will still be able to take the Axe back onto the field to celebrate with fans and "chop" the losing team's goal post down. That will just happen after the opposing team has left the field.
The exact plans for Saturday seem to remain in flux. Andersen said he had not yet spoken to Gophers head coach Jerry Kill, and that various marketing departments are involved in the handling of the Axe. Andersen did say that Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez is in support of the decision to ensure players' safety on the field after the game.
It turns out some players were also unaware of the decision to hide the Axe during the game. That includes star Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon. Via the above video from Madison.com's Rob Hernandez:
"Oooh, what?" Gordon replied after being told the full details of the decision by reporters. "I don't like that. From history, you know, you see the videos, they run over, they take the Axe. That's kind of what makes the game fun. That hurts, when they do take it, but I think that's just what makes the game fun, man, when you're able to chop down the goal post."
Gordon added that he might be talking to his teammates, if not Andersen, about their post-game plans should the Badgers manager their 11th straight win over the Gophers.
"I'll have to talk to the seniors about that one," Gordon said in between laughter from himself and reporters. "We're going to see what the seniors say. I don't know, we're going to find out."
Similar reactions from players on both sides (as well as Kill, presumably) will surely continue to trickle out throughout the day. It should be noted that the most evident priority in the minds of Andersen, Gordon and the Badgers is preparing for Saturday's game, which will decide the Big Ten West division and grant the winner a berth in the conference championship game against Ohio State on Dec. 6.
For now, here are a few more reactions from the Badgers' side.
Sam Arneson on new Axe policy: "It's not really a big concern because we plan on keeping The Axe anyway." #Badgers— Evan Flood (@Evan_Flood) November 24, 2014
Michael Caputo: "I didn’t come to Wisconsin to play for an axe and chop down a goal post. I came to play football." Well put. #Badgers— Jesse Temple (@jessetemple) November 24, 2014
Melvin Gordon: "I've had this game circled" Says he wasn't happy with some of the extra stuff after the whistle last year.— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) November 24, 2014
Gordon says on his final carry of the game the guy who tackled him tried to to twist his ankle.— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) November 24, 2014
Melvin Gordon: "I didn't get a chance to chop it down last year with The Axe. I want to be a part of that." #Badgers— Evan Flood (@Evan_Flood) November 24, 2014
Melvin, on Gophers: Neither one of us like each other. Let's not try to sugarcoat it. They're taught to hate us. We're taught to hate them.— Jesse Temple (@jessetemple) November 24, 2014