The Axe

Words by Dylan Lanier

Photos by David Madison

Words by Dylan Lanier

Who gets the Axe? That’s what’s at stake November 18 when arch football rivals Stanford University and UC Berkeley face off in the 126th Big Game. On the heels of a two-year Cal winning streak, Cardinal fans are hoping home turf advantage will help bring the coveted Big Game trophy back to the Peninsula. The infamous prize, an axe-head mounted on a large wooden plaque, made its first appearance way back in 1899. Mired in controversy from the start, the Axe was created by Stanford yell leaders (the original hype-men of the student section), who bought an axe, painted the handle red and used it as a prop in a specific cheer known as the “Axe Yell.” (“Give ‘em the Axe, the Axe, the Axe!”) However, their antics—notably the decapitation of a Cal-colored scarecrow—backfired when the Golden Bears stole the Axe and kept it safely guarded across the Bay for the next three decades.

UPPER IMAGE: Future NFL quarterback #12 Andrew Luck celebrates a Stanford victory following the 113th Big Game on November 20, 2010; LOWER IMAGE: the Stare Down right before Stanford beat Cal to clinch bowl eligibility in the 117th Big Game on November 22, 2014.

After Stanford students pulled off an elaborate caper to swipe the Axe in 1931, both sides ultimately agreed to award custody of the trophy to the winner of each year’s Big Game. (Despite the accord, Cal students went on to steal the Axe three more times and Stanford has tallied four successful thefts.) At the Big Game, the official transfer of the Axe has been dubbed “The Stare Down.” With two minutes left on the clock, the Axe is brought to the 50-yard line where members of the UC Rally Committee and the Stanford Axe Committee await the final score and awarding of the trophy. When Stanford comes out on top (overall stats have the Cardinal with 48 games to Cal’s 36), the Axe can be viewed in Stanford’s Arrillaga Sports Center lobby—when it’s not under wraps in a secret location, that is.