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The Iowa-Wisconsin rivalry trophy is a bull that used to have testicles

The Badgers and Hawkeyes are playing for a bronze bull. That’s cool and fine, but their series was already special.

Wisconsin v Iowa

No. 8 Wisconsin needs to beat Iowa on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) to stay unbeaten and on track for Playoff spot. But that’s not all that’s on the line at Camp Randall Stadium.

The Badgers and Hawkeyes have been playing for a long while. Their first game was in October 1894, and 123 years later, they’ll meet for a 90th time. The rivalry has been close to annual for a century and a quarter.

The teams have played for the Heartland Trophy every year since 2004, and they’ve played a balanced series since then, with Wisconsin winning six of 11 games. The all-time mark is almost dead even, too, with Wisconsin ahead 45-43-2.

The Big Ten loves its rivalry trophies, and I guess it always made sense for this game to have one.

Wisconsin-Iowa is a good series by pretty much any measure. Trophies can give series an extra pinch of spice, so why not, right?

There’s a bull on top of it. The bull “symbolizes the kind of games that have been typical when the schools meet,” then-Iowa athletic director Bob Bowlsby said in unveiling it in 2004.

“Playing for the Heartland Trophy adds another dimension to what is already a highly anticipated annual competition for college football bragging rights,” Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez said at its inception.

Former Iowa player Frank Strub designed and built the third version, the one currently in use.

A description of the second:

“It had some balls on it at first,” chuckles Jones, Strub’s co-collaborator on the Big Ten traveling trophy and president of Russell’s Trophies & Engraving in Urbandale, Iowa, a western suburb of Des Moines.

“And then when he took it over and he showed Bowlsby, I think it was Bowlsby who said, ‘Yeah, we can’t have these balls hanging down there.’”

No problem, Strub said. I got this.

“I’ll never forget when (Frank) took that little X-Acto knife and just — SHOOP!” Jones says, swinging a flat hand like a pretend blade. “And they dropped off.

“We laughed about that more than not. It was pretty funny, man.”

And here was the first:

The Big Ten has 15-some-odd rivalry trophies, with almost every game between four of the West’s teams offering one, including those devised and adored by members of the college football internet.

The Hawkeyes also play Iowa State for the Cy-Hawk Trophy and Minnesota for the Floyd of Rosedale, and they’ve won both of those already.

The Badgers also have Paul Bunyan’s Axe with Minnesota and the Freedom Trophy with Nebraska.

Do fans care?

About the trophy? Somewhat, but they do care about this rivalry, even if it’s not necessarily the biggest rivalry for either side. The fact that both sides have a lot in common gives the series an identity, as Black Heart Gold Pants describes:

As we get ready for our upcoming matchup against our queso-huffing, Levi-wearing, Lambeau-leaping neighbors to the northeast, I’d like to share a story with you all. I just want you to know that Wisconsin fans—they aren’t so different than you and I.

I was a Badger fan last weekend.

Let me preface with the following: I hate Wisconsin. Growing up in Minnesota, that line of thinking was infused into my brainstream around the same time the versatility of Spam and the musical genius of Prince was taught in public schools.

My only trip to Madison was for a college visit in high school. It was fine. I visited Iowa the following day and didn’t even end up applying to Wisconsin. I knew Iowa was for me then, and I know I made the right choice now.

When I was given the opportunity to go to the Wisconsin-Ohio State game this past weekend— and watch from the field no less—I jumped.

But the big thing about Wisconsin-Iowa is that the series is so close.

The weird thing about this series is how long the road to a basically dead heat has been. You could zero in on any number of periods in history and find one side dominating the other.

Iowa won every game (almost annually, but not quite) from 1977 to 1996, excepting a tie in 1984. Wisconsin’s had four streaks of four wins or more, including the first six up through 1917. The current parity is certainly not the norm.

The Badgers are favored Saturday by just more than a field goal. If they win, they’ll get a bull on a platform, and that’ll be nice, but the nicer thing will be staying narrowly ahead in a series that dates back generations.