The Play, The Axe, The Rivalry: The History of The Big Game

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The Big Game has such a long and storied history that it’s earned itself an entire Wikipedia page all to itself. And not just some lame Wikipedia page with one entry — an eight-section entry complete with pictures and a plethora of external links. Hell, it’s even got a subsection dedicated to The Play.

And while students have been told throughout the course of their education that Wikipedia is Satan’s spawn in the form of false information, in this case, it’s actually quite helpful. Here are some things you can glean from it: The Big Game has been played since 1892, making it one of the longest rivalries in college football; Stanford has a huge overall lead over Cal, with a record of 63-46-11; the Bears haven’t topped the Cardinal since 2009. But streaks are meant to be broken, right?

The origins of this oh-so-historied college football game can be traced back to President Herbert Hoover. While Hoover is perhaps best-known for (appallingly, in hindsight) opposing federal relief during the Great Depression (which led to his massive defeat by Franklin D. Roosevelt), he was also one of the engineers behind the Big Game. Hoover was a former Stanford football student manager, and he organized the first Big Game with his friend at Cal and fellow Herbert, Herbert Lang.

But the big game didn’t become the Big Game until 1900, when it was played in San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day. The history hits a bump in the road in 1906, when football was deemed too dangerous and the schools switched to a rugby match (flawed logic, if you ask me, but OK) from 1906-1914.

Because of a disparity in the rugby vs. football debate, the two football teams didn’t meet again until 1919. Since then, the game has been played every year, except briefly for a time during WWII, when Stanford called it off.

The Axe, which is not a literal axe, but a wooden one mounted on a plaque, became an integral part of the Big Game tradition in 1933. For the record, it has a Wikipedia page of its own, too. The Axe — a real one back in the day — was originally used at baseball games but was stolen by a group of Cal hooligans in 1899 and placed in a bank vault in Berkeley until 1930, when it was stolen back in truly elaborate fashion by a group of Stanford students.

Recognizing the idiocy of the saga, the two schools decided to award the Axe yearly to the winner of the Big Game, and it’s the last thing the two football programs have truly agreed upon.

Now, the Big Game is a staple at both universities, often becoming the most anticipated event of the year for many students. This year won’t be any different, and in years to come, the rivalry will likely live on. Check the Wikipedia page in 10 years, and there might just be an entry for 2018.

Sophie Goethals covers football. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @sophiegoethalss.