You know of most of Purdue’s rivalry trophy games. The Old Oaken Bucket is the most famous, and after an extremely rare four year exile in Bloomington it returned to West Lafayette last season.
Purdue and Illinois have played for the Cannon 67 times and Purdue has won three in a row, so it will be in West Lafayette for at least another year after last week. In fact, Purdue has now won 14 of the last 19 in the series, so it has been in West Lafayette more often than the Bucket of late.
You also have the Shillelagh Trophy between Purdue and Notre Dame. This is lesser known because Purdue trails by a wide margin in the series and has only won it five times in the last 30 years. We also have played the Fighting Irish in four years and they have won the last seven in the series.
What you likely don’t know is that Purdue and Ohio State play for a metaphysical trophy. As a regular member of the Commentariat over at Everyday Should Be Saturday I have been part of a large community that has come up with its own lingo over the years. Like most internet communities, if you’re an outsider you probably look at it with a confused eye. If you’re an insider you get all of the jokes.
The Commentariat established long ago that Purdue and Ohio State would play for “The Traveling THE”, sometimes called the Holy Definite Article. Here are the rules:
The Traveling The is a trophy whose origins stem from the Ohio State vs. Purdue game on 11/12/2011, which Purdue won in overtime, 26-23. The joke at the time was that since Purdue had beaten “The” Ohio State, they should take possession of the The until such time as Ohio State (now An Ohio State) was able to earn it back from them.
Over time during the offseason, the concept evolved into a Traveling The that any team could win. After research, The Purdue was found to have been beaten by Iowa the following week, thus the “The” transferred to The Iowa. Any team taking possession of the The is usually referred to as The (team) for the duration of their reign, unless the team is generally disliked (Notre Dame, USC, etc.).
So basically, if Ohio State is in possession of the THE when they play Purdue it is officially up for grabs. Should Purdue win they are then referred to as “An Ohio State University” and Purdue would be referred to as THE Purdue University. That’s where the fun begins. Purdue then does not merely hold on to it until we play Ohio State again. That would mean we could retain possession until October 9, 2021, which is the next scheduled meeting. Instead, the THE then becomes a traveling trophy throughout all of college football until Ohio State plays a team that has it and can win it back. In theory, that could be as early as November if Purdue loses to Michigan State, then Ohio State beats Michigan State the following week. It could be a few weeks if Purdue wins out and meets the Buckeyes in Indy for the Big Ten title game. It could also take years if Purdue loses, its gets passed around the Big Ten, and leaves the conference during a bowl game or something.
That happened the first time. Purdue lost Iowa, Iowa lost to Nebraska, and Nebraska lost its bowl game to South Carolina to send the THE traveling around the country. Ohio State eventually won it back in the 2014-15 College Football Championship game after it was passed around the SEC, then Alabama and Florida State had it.
That would have been it if not for the clause created when the history was wrapped up:
Thus ends the first history of The Traveling The, which can now only be lost by Ohio State if they were to lose to Purdue or an equally calamitous opponent.
The following season Ohio State was highly favored to repeat as National Champions with virtually everyone back. Instead, they dicktripped at home to Michigan State 17-14. Yes, the Spartans went on to win the Big Ten, but it was ruled that since Ohio State was so favored and the loss was so unexpected (it was home) that the calamitous opponent clause could be invoked. It would have likely been invoked last year for the Iowa game, for example, but it is subjective and all Ohio State losses when they possess the THE are reviewed.
This started another tour for the THE. Michigan State held it until losing to Alabama in the playoff, then Alabama held it until losing to Clemson. When Clemson was upset by Syracuse last year that started the path back to the Big Ten. Syracuse immediately lost it to Miami, then the Hurricanes held it until being upset by Pitt in the regular season finale. Pitt didn’t even make a bowl game, so they held it over to this season before losing it to Penn State. Finally, Penn State had it until Ohio State gained it back a few weeks ago.
While Ohio State has lost the THE twice, it is 2-0 in games where it can regain it. They have now been THE Ohio State University again since September 29.
But here comes Purdue.
The last time Ohio State had the THE back it only held on to it for 10 games. Now they have had it back for only two games.
Can Purdue pull off the unthinkable and strip them of it again to be THE Purdue University? We’ll find out Saturday night.