There are many strange traditions in college football, and the kinds of things that make casual fans scratch their heads in amazement are in many cases exactly the same things that make overzealous fanatical fans love their pastime all the more. favorite. One of the strangest traditions in college football is that the annual state rivalry football game between Indiana University (located in Bloomington, IN) and Purdue University (located in West Lafayette, IN) has been played for decades for a rather unique trophy titled the old oak pail.
To understand the rationale behind this heads-up’s unique title, one must first understand the historical origin of the term. The traveling trophy known as the Old Oaken Bucket actually dates back to the 1920s and is one of the oldest football trophies in existence. The concept for the trophy that two Big Ten Conference rivals are now battling for was first thought up at a 1925 alumni meeting in Chicago. Both Hoosiers and Boilermakers alumni came together to discuss options on how to best commemorate the spirited rivalry between the two schools which are less than 115 miles apart.
The strange specific phrase of the oak pail is jointly attributed to both Dr. Clarence Jones (an Indiana alumnus) and Russel Gray (a Purdue alumnus). The language in the resolution passed at a subsequent 1925 joint alumni meeting in Chicago and basically stated that an “old oak pail” (oak simply means made of oak wood) would be best because it was believed to be “the shape more typical of trophy Hoosier.” In this specific case the word Hoosier did not refer specifically to Indiana University Hoosiers, but rather to all citizens of Indiana collectively known as Hoosiers. That would of course include Purdue students and alumni who also fell under the Hoosiers umbrella. In fact Indiana’s state nickname is Hoosier State.
The origin and inspiration for the phrase old oak pail actually predates the 1925 joint alumni meetings between Purdue and Indiana by about a hundred years. Dr. Jones and Mr. Gray chose the term old oak pail in part because it is the title of a now famous poem that poet Samuel Woodworth wrote in 1817. Although Woodworth was an American from the East Coast (Massachusetts) and not from Indiana , the eloquent words he wrote about the endearing memories he had for where he grew up were sentiments many Indiana natives could relate to.
Amusingly, the first game of this epic series ended in a 0-0 loss in 1925. Purdue has since led the Old Oaken Bucket series with a 56-23-3 record against the Indiana University (IU) Hoosiers.