Good for the pig.
Among all the nutty college football trophies for which rivals scrap with prized contempt, the pig might just be the best, yet the pig has spent some recent years largely hushed. Iowa vs. Minnesota hasn’t mattered much or often beyond Iowa and Minnesota, with the fault going mostly to Minnesota. Iowa has hogged 14 of the past 18 through the early century, including the past four.
As Coach P.J. Fleck takes his fresh darling of an eighth-ranked Minnesota (9-0) team to Iowa City and No. 20 Iowa (6-3) on Saturday, either some Gophers or some Hawkeyes will wind up hoisting the 98.3-pound Floyd of Rosedale trophy. That’s the eight-decade-old bronze replica of a Hampshire hog with the belt of color carefully depicted (if not in white), and also another reminder that we are a deranged people.
All things considered, that trophy arguably outpaces even the Old Oaken Bucket (Purdue-Indiana), the Victory Bell (Southern California-UCLA) and the Golden Egg (Mississippi State-Mississippi). It’s arguably more evocative than even the two trophies that involve axes (the Axe for Stanford-California and Paul Bunyan’s Axe for Minnesota-Wisconsin) or the two trophies that involve Paul Bunyan (the Paul Bunyan Trophy for Michigan-Michigan State and the aforementioned), even as it tells much that a country could have two trophies relating to a fictional behemoth of a man and two relating to a sharp implement.
After Iowa won, 48-31, in Minneapolis last year, that statesman Kirk Ferentz, the longest serving thus longest tortured of all top-tier coaches, said, “It’s great that our guys had to fight hard; we knew that was going to be the case. And we got the opportunity to take Floyd back to Iowa City for a year, so that’s really something to be pleased about.”
That passage “take Floyd back to Iowa City” demonstrates Ferentz’s keen familiarity with the pig.
Floyd’s origins are always worth retelling no matter how many times retold. They involved Ozzie Simmons, Iowa’s African American running back from Texas who left Texas because, back in dumber times, he wasn’t allowed to play college football in Texas. He starred at Iowa and even got a socially accepted yet ignorant nickname, “Ebony Eel.” He also got a central role Nov. 28, 1934, in Iowa City, where Minnesota walloped Iowa, 48-12, part of a swath of history when the Gophers won 17 out of 21 in the series. During that game, the Gophers used unusually brutish tactics on Simmons.
Somehow, the officials failed to penalize this.
Iowans got ticked, and in the run-up to the 1935 game, also in Iowa City, Gov. Clyde Herring talked some righteous trash even without access to Twitter. “The University of Iowa football team will defeat the University of Minnesota tomorrow,” he declared, as reported by the Associated Press. “Those Minnesotans will find 10 other top-notch football players besides Ozzie Simmons against them this year. Moreover, if the officials stand for any rough tactics like Minnesota used last year, I’m sure the crowd won’t.”
As the multiple accounts of history have it, the Minnesota attorney general responded by going on what would have made a decent tweet thread: “Your remark that the crowd at the Iowa-Minnesota game will not stand for any rough tactics is calculated to incite a riot. It is a breach of your duty as governor and evidences an unsportsmanlike, cowardly and contemptible frame of mind.”
With border war amok for that most reasonable of reasons — football — Minnesota Gov. Floyd Olson went for calm in a telegram, while using one vile word, given the country’s atrocious history: “Dear Clyde, Minnesota folks [are] excited over your statement about the Iowa crowd lynching the Minnesota football team. I have assured them that you are a law-abiding gentleman and are only trying to get our goat. The Minnesota team will tackle clean, but oh! how hard. Clyde, if you seriously think Iowa has any chance to win, I will bet you a Minnesota prize hog against an Iowa prize hog that Minnesota wins today. The loser must deliver the hog in person to the winner. Accept my bet through a reporter. You are getting odds because Minnesota raises better hogs than Iowa. My best personal regards and condolences.”
Thereby did he join in a repartee between governors about hog caliber, as if a state line delineated hog caliber.
The bet held, and Minnesota won, 13-6, without incident. The next week, Gov. Herring turned up at the Minnesota governor’s office in St. Paul with a hog — named Floyd, in honor of Gov. Olson, and from Rosedale Farms, near Fort Dodge, Iowa. In perhaps the most glorious detail, Floyd was a brother of Blue Boy, a hog who acted commendably in the 1933 Will Rogers and Janet Gaynor film “State Fair,” about the Iowa State Fair. That movie nabbed a best picture Oscar nomination but no nomination for Blue Boy in yet another case of obvious human bias against animals.
Some accounts have Floyd frolicking some on the carpeting at the governor’s office before he proceeded to the University of Minnesota, then went to a farm in southeastern Minnesota. Simmons became all-Big Ten and all-American but, in a dumber time, wasn’t allowed into the NFL. He joined the Navy and then the Chicago public school system, where he taught physical education for 38 years, according to his obituary in 2001. When Iowa named its all-time team at its 100-year mark in 1989, Simmons shined from a running back spot.
Floyd died of cholera just eight months after his visit with the governors, with interment on the farm beneath spruce trees, barely above the Iowa line. Soon Minnesota commissioned a replica as a trophy that, eight decades on, matters today as much as it has in a good while.
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