The trophy is a symbol of one of the most storied rivalries in college football, representing the most-played rivalry in Division I-A football, with 122 editions dating back to 1890. The Golden Gophers lead the all-time series 58-56-8, while the Badgers lead the Axe series 38-24-3.
Earlier, the schools played for the Slab of Bacon, a piece of wood with an M or a W, depending from which angle one would look on it. Minnesota led that series 11-3 until the trophy was "lost" in 1943. It would not resurface until 1994.
The Paul Bunyan Axe was created by the Wisconsin letterwinners' organization (the National W Club) and would be instituted as the trophy in the series in 1948. The scores of each game are recorded on the axe's handle, which is 6 feet long. The original axe was retired after the 2003 game and a new axe was created for the 2004 game. When the game ends, if the team holding the trophy wins, they run to their own sideline, take the axe and carry it around the field. If the team not holding the trophy wins, they are allowed to run to their opponents' sideline and "steal" the axe away. Usually, after the winning team claims the axe, it is custom for the team to carry the axe to one of the goal posts and "chop" it down with the axe.