Until We Meet Again, Illibuck

By Kyle Rowland on May 1, 2013 at 9:30a
See you soon, Illibuck?

Rivalries are one of the crown jewels of college football. The pageantry and anticipation of such games have no equal in sports. The professional game has its share of contests between bitter foes, but collegiate rivalries pit towns, alumni and even families against one another. In Ohio and Alabama, house/divided signs sprinkle the landscape.

One of the sport’s great rivalry games is Oklahoma-Nebraska. The Sooners and Cornhuskers have provided college football with some of its signature games and individual performances. The 1971 game is known as the “Game of the Century” with Johnny Rodgers’ 72-yard punt return regarded as one of college football’s most indelible moments.

But the entire rivalry came crashing down with the formation of the Big 12 Conference in 1996. The teams were put in opposite divisions and only played every few years, taking a bite out of the animosity between the schools and significantly diluting the passion of the rivalry.

When the Big Ten divvied up its divisional alignment after the Cornhuskers became the conference’s 12th member, rivalry games were not a casualty. Jim Delany saw what happened in the Big 12 and vowed the same mistake would not occur to Ohio State-Michigan, Wisconsin-Minnesota and Indiana-Purdue.

The Buckeyes and Wolverines were placed in opposite divisions, but the game stayed on the schedule in sharpie for the final Saturday in November. But the inclusion of Rutgers and Maryland has realigned the divisions. Caught in the crosshairs is the Illibuck. 

The game will only be played once every four years. Other schools that will have extended hiatuses from Ohio State’s schedule are the likes of Wisconsin and Iowa, teams the Buckeyes have competed against since the turn of the 20th century. Instead Ohio State will get a steady diet of Maryland and Rutgers.

“It’s change. There’s one constant in life – change,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith recently told Eleven Warriors. “We’re a very progressive conference. I think back to when we did the Big Ten Network, which gave me a few gray hairs. People were apprehensive and there was trepidation. That’s understandable when you’re doing something creative and there’s change. And it worked. It’s been a wild success.

“I’m always looking forward. We knew when we started expansion that there would be concerns. But we also had a focus on what we had to do to maintain the strength of our consortium, and that’s what we did. Adding Maryland and Rutgers is significant for our long-term success. That’s very important to us.”

There isn’t outrage in Columbus or Champaign about the break in the series. Ohio State-Illinois doesn’t register in the pantheon of college football rivalries. The game does have a rich history, though.

From 1919 to 1933, the game served as the regular-season finale for both schools, and for 89 consecutive years, from 1914 until 2003, the Buckeyes and Fighting Illini played each other every season. During that stretch, the game showcased the talents of Red Grange, Chic Harley, Dick Butkus, Archie Griffin and Eddie George.

What was once a competitive rivalry has turned into a one-sided affair. Ohio State leads the all-time series, 64-30-4. Starting in 1968, Ohio State beat Illinois 15 straight years. But then the Illini rattled off eight wins in 12 seasons, including a stretch of five consecutive victories during the John Cooper era. Ohio State has since rebounded, winning 13 of the past 15 games in the series. One of those losses, though, was a crushing defeat in Ohio Stadium, when the Illini beat the top-ranked Buckeyes in 2007.

Anytime you play a team every season – or for 89 straight years – there’s bound to be bad blood.

Anytime you play a team every season – or for 89 straight years – there’s bound to be bad blood. Add in bragging rights with a trophy and it reaches another level.

In 1925, Ohio State and Illinois started playing for a turtle called the Illibuck. It is the second-oldest trophy game in the Big Ten, behind Michigan and Minnesota’s Little Brown Jug. In the early years, the trophy was actually a live turtle. The symbolism was meant to represent the long life of a turtle, comparing it to the budding rivalry that would last decades. The turtle, however, only lasted two more years before its untimely demise. Now a wooden replica is used with two honorary societies housing the creature – Bucket and Dipper of Ohio State and Atius-Schaem of Illinois.

The Illibuck will enjoy an extended stay on the campuses. The shift stems from expansion, which has already delivered last rites to some of the game’s best rivalries. Texas-Texas A&M, dating to the 1800s, and West Virginia-Pitt, played for nearly 70 years, are on hold for the foreseeable future. Rivalries and traditions have all become pawns in college football’s big money game.

There’s a reason college football has long owned the title of having the best regular season in sports. There’s the possibility that one loss can severely damage one’s season. And above all, those rivalry games make the favorite quiver each fall.

The allure of a national championship now trumps all other goals. It used to be in the Big Ten that a conference championship and Rose Bowl berth would satisfy easygoing Midwestern fans. Sprinkle in a couple wins over your rival every few years and a coach could have a lifetime contract.

Not anymore. There is now an insatiable thirst for annual success. It truly is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately generation. The best evidence is the firing of Gene Chizik less than two years removed from winning the national title at Auburn.

Lost in all the hubbub is the sport’s greatest links: rivalries and traditions.


Comments Show All Comments

Ethos's picture

I don't understand why they don't go with the every other year scenario.  There is a way to schedule this so you see them every other year, you just do at illinois this year, then the following year nothing, then the following illinois at ohio state, then the following year nothing, etc.  It doesn't make sense to wait 4 years just so you can have a home and home in two consecutive years.  Doesn't anybody in the Big 10 office know how to do math?

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

FROMTHE18's picture

Alabama and Tennessee play each other every year and they are in opposite divisions...think this could be done here...

Ethos's picture

That's cause the SEC only plays 8 conference games right now and has protected cross overs like we did.  They are now going to 9 and eliminating the protected cross-overs.

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

Walt Keys's picture

Last year's matchup proved horrifying, it may be in the public's best interest


Ethos's picture

We really need to be allowed to like staff posts!

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

Hovenaut's picture

Maryland should look into this.....

Buckeyeneer's picture

The Terrabuck?????

"Because the rules won't let you go for three." - Woody Hayes

THE Ohio State University

Maffro's picture

A friend's roommate in college somehow came into possession of Illibuck. I thought she was in the band or something rather than the organization mentioned, but I honestly don't remember. Imagine our shock when we go over to their house and there's the freaking Illibuck just sitting on a table.
And I, being an admirer of all things dealing with any tradition and history of college football, just sat and stared speechless at the thing for like ten minutes whenever I was there.

Ohio1St81's picture

Illy was on our coffee table for a month my junior year. He probably witnessed some unspeakable things. 

11W User Map: https://goo.gl/mxUeyX


awwwwwwop's picture

Here Is Illy during his time on my fridge.

"Who cares? Go Bucks." - Aaron Untch

Buckeyeneer's picture

Awesome. You would think in his old age he would have developed a taste for a more refined beer.

"Because the rules won't let you go for three." - Woody Hayes

THE Ohio State University

Hovenaut's picture

If that turtle could talk, he'd have asked you for more Natty.

And to send in that rent check (ah, college).

tdible2132's picture

I still haven't stopped crying after learning this annual rivalry has reached it's end. It was probably the 3rd best rivalry in college football behind OSU/MICH & ALA/AUB.

luckynewman13's picture

you forgot the sarcasm font
i hope

Earle's picture

I agree that it was clearly sarcastic (and upvoted accordingly).  But I've changed my tune on the whole sarcasm font idea.  Its akin to saying "get it?" and repeating the punch line of a joke.  Well-done sarcasm should stand on its own merits, and not require a special font. 
If the sarcasm is undetected and subjected to unmerited downvoting, then the author is encouraged to voice his or her displeasure toward the unjust infliction of negativity.  The commentariat is generally quite sympathetic about such things. 

Snarkies gonna snark. 

luckynewman13's picture

I get what you're saying, but the sarcasm font is not a shield against what may or may not be "bad" sarcasm.
Sarcasm is generally conveyed through tone and cadence, two things extremely hard to get across through a computer screen.

Earle's picture

I hear ya, and didn't really direct my comment at your statement, but rather the general use of the sarcasm font.
I agree that sarcasm can be somewhat hard to distinguish in print or in pixels.  But since we're talking in terms of good and bad, I have to disagree that "good" sarcasm needs to be conveyed by tone or cadence in speech.  That certainly applies to the "yeah, right" brand of sarcasm, and perhaps covers the most strictly correct definition, but in reality only applies to a narrow portion of its use.  
My position is that sarcasm should be deadpanned (verbally or otherwise), and always leave a small doubt as to the comment's true intent.  That's my issue with sarcasm font--it removes any ambiguity from the statement.  It's like slapstick humor.  Sure, it can be funny, but it is rather obvious, and my tastes run more to the subtle end of the spectrum, and subtlety is the foundation of "good" sarcasm.  So it boils down to personal opinion I guess.  And of course, my opinion is right.
Just say no to sarcasm font.

Snarkies gonna snark. 

chitown buckeye's picture

Doesn't really bother me. May not be the most popular thing to say but I have just never cared about these trophy's between two schools. It seems like TTUN is playing for something every week. 

"I'm having a heart attack!"

Earle's picture

I just feel bad for the turtle. And that we won't get an Illibuck poster from Walt every year.

Snarkies gonna snark. 

Earle's picture

Snarkies gonna snark. 

Bucksfan's picture

You know, we can still play for a turtle.  Someone just needs to steal this in the next few years:

tennbuckeye19's picture

I'm afraid Ralph Friedgen may have eaten that turtle on his way out of College Park.

Hovenaut's picture

Fear the Turtle was originally Feed the Friedgen.

That's an elastic wasteband there folks.

Actually, Ralph had some decent Terp teams in the early 00's....he would have fit right in (no puns) in the B1G.

thatlillefty's picture

I need to know more about the turtle's untimely demise. In which school's possession did the thing croak?

harleymanjax's picture

I could care less about playing Illinois, I will miss playing Wisky though!

"Because I couldn't go for 3"

Knarcisi's picture

Agreed whole heartedly on Illinois.  That's a program that should be a lot better, consistently.  I will miss Wisky, too.  Kinda.  I hated them so bad that losing 1 out of 4 was absolutely agonizing.  We may see them in many B10 championship games, though.  That west is weak.  Look for a plummet from higher level mediocrity for Nebraska when they fire Pelini in the next few years.

Buckeyeneer's picture

I miss Iowa. They always think that they can hang and then we absolutely dismantle them and put them back in their place. Their fans do get up every time they play us. Most of their primetime night games have been against us I believe.

"Because the rules won't let you go for three." - Woody Hayes

THE Ohio State University