There are many odd traditions in college football and the sort of things that make casual fans scratch their heads in bewilderment are in many instances the exact same things that make extremely zealous fanatical fans love their favorite past time even more. One of the more odd traditions in college football is that the annual in state rivalry football game between Indiana University (located in Bloomington, IN) and Purdue University (located in West Lafayette, IN) has for decades been played for a rather unique trophy titled the Old Oaken Bucket.
To understand the rationale behind the unique title of this head to head match up the historical origin of the term must first be understood. 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 is now battled for by two Big Ten Conference rivals was first thought of in a 1925 alumni meeting in Chicago. Both Hoosiers and Boilermakers alumni gathered to discuss the options of how to best commemorate the spirited rivalry between the two schools which are only located less than 115 miles apart.
The odd specific phrase oaken bucket is jointly credited to both Dr. Clarence Jones (an Indiana alum) and Russel Gray (a Purdue alum). The language in the resolution passed at a subsequent 1925 joint alumni meeting in Chicago and essentially stated that an “old oaken bucket” (oaken simply means made of oak wood) would be best because it was believed to be “the most typical Hoosier form of trophy.” In this specific instance the word Hoosier was not referring specifically to the Indiana University Hoosiers but rather to all Indiana citizens who are collectively known as Hoosiers. This would of course include the Purdue students and alumni who also fell under the umbrella of Hoosiers. In fact the state nickname of Indiana is the Hoosier State.
The origin and inspiration for the phrase old oaken bucket actually predates the 1925 joint alumni meetings between Purdue and Indiana by about one hundred years. Dr. Jones and Mr. Gray chose the term old oaken bucket 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 eastern seaboard (Massachusetts) and not Indiana the eloquent words that he penned about the endearing memories he had for where he grew up were sentiments many Indiana natives could relate to.
Amusingly, the first game in this epic series ended in a 0-0 tie in 1925. Since then Purdue leads the Old Oaken Bucket series with a record of 56-23-3 against the Indiana University (IU) Hoosiers.