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Gophers coach Fleck has an axe, now he wants a pig

P.J. Fleck was one of four University of Minnesota coaches in Rochester on Tuesday for a Coaches Caravan event. Fleck is in his sixth season as the Gophers football coach and will try to beat Iowa for the first time

Coaches Caravan
University of Minnesota football head coach P.J. Fleck speaks to reporters prior to the Coaches Caravan event held at the Hilton on Tuesday, May 24, 2022 in Rochester.
Tucker Allen Covey / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — When the University of Minnesota Coaches Caravan paid a visit to Rochester on Tuesday, Paul Bunyan’s Axe made the journey from the Twin Cities.

The axe is the traveling trophy that goes to the winner between the Gophers and Wisconsin each year. The Badgers had dominated the series for over a decade until Fleck arrived in Minnesota six years ago.

“When I got here, I knew how important the rivalry was,” Fleck said.

Four coaches and the athletic director from the University of Minnesota were in Rochester on Tuesday for a Coaches Caravan event.

The Gophers closed their 2021 home season with a thrilling win over Wisconsin, which secured Paul Bunyan's Axe for Minnesota.

“That was one of the most electric environments I’ve ever seen at Huntington Bank Stadium,” Fleck said. “And that’s really special.”

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Fans at Tuesday’s event had the opportunity to take their picture with the axe — which is more than six feet long — and many were happy to snap a few photos. Fleck’s not the least bit surprised that people would cherish the opportunity.

“Winning it last year at home was really big for our fans,” he said. “You could tell at the end with our fans storming the field how big of a win that really was. And these are things we just keep checking off on the way to hopefully championships as we continue to go forward.”

Fleck said he continues to try and tear down barriers as the Gophers build for a possible Big Ten championship. Those barriers include beating teams that have given Minnesota troubles in the recent past.

Wisconsin was one of those barriers, but the Gophers have now defeated the Badgers twice in Fleck’s first five years in Minnesota.

“When I first got here, people told me ‘If you just beat Wisconsin, you get a lifetime contract,’ ” Fleck said. “Well, I haven’t got a lifetime contract here and we’ve beaten Wisconsin twice. Now everybody wants us to beat Iowa.”

Ah yes, Iowa. The winner of the Minnesota and Iowa rivalry receives the Floyd of Rosedale traveling trophy, a large and heavy iron pig.

Iowa has won the last seven meetings against Minnesota. In Fleck’s tenure at Minnesota, the Gophers have suffered three one-possession losses against Iowa and are 0-5.

“It’s been really difficult to get over that hurdle,” Fleck said. “I know our players want that one really bad. But we’ll worry about that once it comes.”

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Last season the Gophers had to open against Ohio State. This year the team has three non-conference games, all at home, before starting Big Ten play.

The Gophers do not play Ohio State or Michigan this season, but Fleck points out the team will face both Michigan State and Penn State on the road.

“I’m not sure which one you would pick over the other,” Fleck said. “Those two teams are really, really talented.”

And Iowa? The Gophers will host the Hawkeyes on Nov. 19, a week before closing the regular season at Wisconsin.

“We have to find a way to get that one done at some point,” Fleck said of beating the Hawkeyes.

When the Gophers do finally defeat Iowa, expect Floyd of Rosedale to makes a few trips around the state. And that will require a little more muscle by the University of Minnesota staff as the statue weighs just under 100 pounds.

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Guy N. Limbeck is a Rochester native who has been working at a daily newspaper since 1981. He has worked at the Post Bulletin since 1999. Readers can reach Guy at 507-285-7724 or glimbeck@postbulletin.com.
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