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Bowling Green-Toledo: Great Rivalry or Greatest Rivalry?

The Bowling Green Falcons welcome Toledo into Doyt Perry for the Battle of I-75. Is this the best rivalry in the MAC?

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The Battle of I-75 trophy, which replaced the Peace Pipe as the rivalry's official trophy in 2011.
The Battle of I-75 trophy, which replaced the Peace Pipe as the rivalry's official trophy in 2011.
Toledo Athletics

I'm not going to beat around the bush. The rivalry between Bowling Green State University and the University of Toledo is undoubtedly one of the top non-AQ rivalries, and arguably among the greatest rivalries in all of collegiate athletics. Football Feuds: The Greatest College Football Rivalries, by Ken Rappoport and Barry Wilner, lists it as the #25 college football rivalry, while in 2008, ESPN listed it as the #4 non-AQ conference rivalry.

The rivalry got an early start. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 initially set the southern end of Michigan (and hence the northern border of Ohio) at a line extending east from the southern tip of Lake Michigan. Early maps showed this line reaching Lake Erie north of the Maumee River. However, in 1805, when the area was actually surveyed, it was found to be eight miles farther south. Michigan administered the disputed area for several decades, but the matter reached a head when Michigan applied for statehood, and the ensuing violence, in which Michigan Deputy Sheriff Joseph Wood was stabbed with a pen knife, is known today as the "Toledo War". The conflict was eventually resolved in 1836 when the "Toledo Strip" (I know, it sounds like it should be a cut of steak) was given to Ohio, and the western three-quarters of the Upper Peninsula, formerly part of Wisconsin, were given to Michigan. But since Bowling Green was first settled in 1832 and Toledo was founded (from a merger of several existing communities) in 1833, for a few years, the citizens of the two towns faced off across a state line, clinging to their pen knives lest the foe should catch them unawares.

Things picked up again once football came to town; Bowling Green's first football game was against Toledo in 1919. In 1924 Bowling Green accused Toledo of bringing in a ringer. After a 63-0 Rockets' win in 1935 triggered an on-field brawl and fan riot -- probably far more violent than the Toledo War 100 years earlier had been -- the series was suspended for 13 years. When the teams resumed play in 1948, the story goes that players from the two teams smoked a six-foot peace pipe at halftime of the annual basketball game, and the Peace Pipe trophy was born. Apparently that spirit didn't last long, as the 1951 game brought another brawl involving both teams and at least 100 fans. Bowling Green coach Doyt Perry, for whom the school's stadium is named, called it "the most important game on our schedule".

An important thing was the proximity of campuses. We probably had more kids from Toledo than anywhere else, at least when I was coach. Some of these kids played with or against some of the Toledo players while in high school. So there was no real problem in getting the kids up for the game. (Quoted in Football Feuds: The Greatest College Football Rivalries, pp 185-186.)

At some point (sources differ on exactly when, but sometime between 1969 and 1980) the original Peace Pipe trophy was stolen from Toledo, and a smaller trophy replaced it in 1980. Prior to the 2011 game, the Peace Pipe trophy was retired, and a new "Battle of I-75" trophy, (a name which could also apply to Kentucky-Tennessee-Florida in the SEC and Cincinnati-South Florida in the AAC) was "created". By "created", I mean that the schools issued press releases about it, not that an actual trophy was made.

We here at Hustle Belt actually got a two-day head start at making fun of the lack of a physical trophy:

Culby: The most important thing first: the new trophy. We received this "better rendering" today, which makes me wonder why we haven't seen a picture of the dang thing. Are they going to pour the bronze into the mold at halftime?

Suss: I think for the first year, the winner of the game will receive a high-quality photo reprint of the trophy.

I've heard rumors that an actual trophy did eventually emerge, but not until everyone involved had a full year to argue about whether to blame the Lucas Countians or the Wood Countyites. But if there's one thing they can all agree on, and the rest of us too, it's that pen knives are awesome, and so is this rivalry. Put that in your pipe and smoke it!