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Big Game 2015: A Brief History of the Stanford Axe

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It's OUR Axe -- it even says it in the name

Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Unless you've been living under a rock, you'll know that the Stanford Axe is awarded to the winner of the Big Game, or in recent history, to Stanford. It is the Stanford Axe, after all.

The winner of the oldest rivalry game in the West now gets the Axe basically because Cal finally won a baseball game, which in April of 1899, was apparently cause for riot. Per Cal alum Sean Rouse's report for the Axe Committee (which all the facts for this article come from), Stanford was one of the top-ranked baseball teams just before the turn of the 19th century. However, all of Stanford's other squads were slumping, including the football team, who lost 22-0 to the Bears.

The baseball team was in need of a morale boost. So because the "Axe Yell" (an excerpt from Sophocles' 'The Frog') was popular at the time, yell-leaders bought a standard lumberman's axe, probably from Sears, and painted it red.

After Cal took the first game of the three-game baseball series, Stanford had a rally to hype up their fans, showing the Axe for the first time to behead a scarecrow wearing Cal colors. During the second game of the series, they would use it to chop up Cal-colored ribbon when Stanford made a good play, which made Cal fans pretty upset, so much so that they wanted to steal it.

Stanford had a 7-5 lead in the ninth and promptly blew it to lose (some things never change..). So when the guy with the Axe tried to leave the stadium, he was accosted by livid and now enthralled Cal fans, who took it forcibly from the poor Stanford fan.

And then, it gets better: a Cal student convinced the police that the Stanford students had tried to steal their Cal Axe. And then came your average campus police response:

"They are college byes. Let them foight it out."

Cal took it and ran off with it, and rightfully so, Stanford tried to chase them down. It went from a Cal sprinter in The City to two Stanford students pretending to be Bears (a disgrace!) back to some more Cal men, and then to a butcher shop (at the corner of Scott and Oak) where Clint Miller (Cal 1900) hid it in his overcoat, attempting to take it to the Ferry Building. Miller snuck it past the police onto the ferry, bringing it to Berkeley.

It was then hidden in the safe of "Morris the Photographer", and then under the pillow of the baseball team's trainer. A few days later, on April 17, 1899, Cal elected a "Custodian of the Axe" and rallied with our Axe for the first time. Dirty Golden Bears.

It then went to a frat house that Stanford students attempted to raid, but being the Stanford students they were, they sucked at being criminals and couldn't find it. Cal then moved the Axe to Millers' apartment in the City.

Then a Stanford man rightfully scared the living daylights out of Miller, and then some:

"In the Fall of 1899, a few days before the first Football Axe rally, Clint Miller transported the Axe back to Berkeley in a suit box. Miller, after boarding the ferry to Berkeley, ended up sitting down next to the only Stanford man that he knew. The Stanford man said "See here, Clint, I see by the papers you Berkeley guys are going to bring out that old Axe you've been crowing so much about. Well, if you do, you'll be sorry."

Miller, with his legs starting to tremble, managed to reply, "Oh, by the way, where is the Stanford Axe?"

The Stanford man replied, "Never mind, Clint, we know where it is. You're now warned never to bring it out in public."

After the first football Axe rally, the Stanfordites tried to make good their threat by attacking Clint Miller's home at about two o'clock in the morning.

Miller was given just enough warning by Police Chief August Vollmer to get the Axe out of his basement and deliver it to a banker friend, Frank Naylor, who stored the Axe in a safe deposit box in one of the vaults at the American Trust Company."

For the next 30 years, our poor stolen Axe only emerged for Cal's football and baseball rallies, carried by of all things, an armored car. People only bothered to issue a search warrant on the bank vault once, and it was dismissed. After that, the bank's attorney ended up putting it in his own account because "they will never think to get a search warrant for my box."

Finally, in 1930, a group of Stanford students now known as the Immortal 21 (or, as Cal calls them, the "Immoral 21") had enough of this dude's shenanigans and decided to take action into their own hands. Once again, they posed as nosy photographers, blinded the Axe Custodian with flash powder, confused everyone with a smoke bomb, and stole the Axe en route to a rally. Some of the Robin Hood-esque thieves were caught, but it was worth the justice Stanford ultimately achieved: bringing the glorious Axe back to The Farm.

After years of back-and-forth thievery, raids, and vengeance, the two schools eventually reached a deal that gave the Axe to the winner of Big Game. Get this -- the governor used to present the Axe to the victor. Imagine Jerry Brown giving an unsmiling David Shaw his Axe!

In recent years, modern security has locked down the Axe pretty well. The last theft was in 1973 -- the infamous "Ming's Heist."

Some Stanford fraternity members convinced the Cal Rally Committee that Golden Bears' head coach Mike White wanted to bring out the Axe for a press lunch. The plan was for "Coach White" and two "Cal players" to grab the Axe from the Berkeley student union, but Cal had already stashed it away in a hiding place, so instead they arranged for it to be brought to Ming's. Wearing Cal letterman jackets when it arrived, they asked to "take a picture" with it.

One of the "Infamous Three" took off with it, and was tackled about 100 yards later. But the frat brothers came to the rescue, snagging the Axe and bringing it back to the promised land: The Farm.

Now we don't have to steal the Axe to get it -- it's far easier just to beat Cal.