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Come home, Rusty Toolbox...


Iowa's won two rivalry trophies already this year, reclaiming the Cy-Hawk Trophy from Ames a few weeks ago and freeing The Heartland Trophy from its five-year exile in Madison last weekend.  They still have two more rivalry trophies on the docket, too: Floyd of Rosedale (Iowa-Minnesota, November 14) and the Heroes Game Trophy (Iowa-Nebraska, November 27).  It's a big improvement from a season ago, when the rivalry trophy section of Iowa's trophy cabinet was barren.

But did you know that Iowa hasn't won all the rivalry trophies it's competed for this year?  Probably not, unless you're aware of The Rusty Toolbox Game.  What is The Rusty Toolbox Game?  Well, it's not a game between Iowa and another team -- it's a game between the Iowa football student managers and the Wisconsin football student managers. It is also pretty damn incredible, based on this excellent feature by ESPN's Jesse Temple.  Why is it so awesome?

It involves crazy tattoo stories!

On a weekday afternoon this spring, Andy Miller and Talon Zarling walked downtown into the Blue Lotus parlor, forked over $200 each and braced for the pain and awkwardness of a tattoo artist inking an illustration of their favorite inanimate object into their right butt cheek.

For two hours apiece, Miller and Zarling exchanged turns dropping trousers until the finished product revealed a simplistic toolbox design, shaped like a large rectangle, half-yellow and half-red with Wisconsin's red motion W logo in the background. On one side, underneath the rectangle in red with black shadowing read the year '13. The other side read the year '14.

It involves controversy!

Controversy followed almost right from the start. Iowa won the first contest in 1991, but the matchup was cancelled a year later because of bad blood between Iowa coach Hayden Fry and Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez. In the lead-up to the actual '92 game in Iowa City, Alvarez insinuated Iowa might have violated NCAA rules by not counting a Sunday running session as a practice. An unhappy Fry was said to have been at least somewhat responsible for calling off the Toolbox game, though it returned in 1995 when the teams met again.

It involves ringers!

In 2003, dissension ensued when Wisconsin's managers brought in Thomas Hammock, a former standout running back at Northern Illinois. Hammock, now the running backs coach for the Baltimore Ravens, was filling in as a manager at the time and later became a graduate assistant for the Badgers' football team. Wisconsin won the game 18-0.

"Him coming in I think made the thing a lot more serious," said former Iowa team manager Dan Wolfe, who played from 2004-08 and heard about the infamous Hammock game. "Then it became we were hiring guys based on if they were high school football players. They had to have played. By the time I was gone, I'd say 90 percent of the guys played high school ball and were pretty serious about it."

It involves obsessive attention from people not in the game at all!

T.J. Ingels played in the Toolbox game as a Badgers manager from 2006-10 and now serves as Wisconsin's director of football operations. Ingels was walking to his car after a long day at the office Thursday night, when a text message popped up on his cell phone. It belonged to Green Bay Packers backup quarterback Scott Tolzien, a former Badgers standout. Green Bay was three days from playing an important early-season divisional road game against San Francisco. But Tolzien wanted to discuss only one topic.

How are we looking for the Toolbox? Do you think we're ready?

It involves last-second drama!

For the occasion, they took extra strides, watching film of last year's game -- a 20-19 victory won on a two-point conversion with 11 seconds remaining

So yeah: awesome.

Less awesome?  Just like the Iowa football team at times, the Iowa student managers apparently struggle to contain running quarterbacks:

That's when Miller, a junior and a former quarterback at Wisconsin's Janesville Craig High School, abandoned the team's pass plays and strung together a series of successful quarterback runs.

And there was more late game heartbreak for the Iowa student managers this year: Wisconsin student manager Andy Miller threw a touchdown pass with 4:30 remaining that proved to be the winning score.  Wisconsin won their fifth straight game in the series, though Iowa remains ahead 11-9 in the all-time series.

But go read the full story -- it's an excellent exploration of a fun and quirky aspect of the Iowa-Wisconsin rivalry and well worth your time.