The Old Oaken Bucket was on display Monday where Indiana needed it most.
It was waiting for the Hoosiers as they walked out from the tunnel to the auxiliary fields outside Memorial Stadium, where each player touched it on their way to practice. For Indiana, the Bucket’s appearance served as a reminder of what the team is playing for this Saturday.
It was also a reminder that the Bucket, currently in the Hoosiers’ possession, is not truly theirs to hold. That Bucket belongs to the 2015 team, and IU coach Kevin Wilson instructed his players Monday that if they wished to call the Bucket their own for a fourth consecutive season, they’d better take care of business this weekend.
“Somebody this week is going to earn that Bucket, this team or the rival,” Wilson said. “And that’s all we talk about. Like, that Bucket is last year’s. That’s last year’s. Now, it’s this year. You’ve (been) recruited, you have developed, you have practiced, you have played your season, and now you’re into this game week and now you have this game and you go play this game. You go about and see if you can do what it takes to earn it. That’s all we talk about.”
The Bucket means different things to different folks. For Indianapolis native Mitchell Paige, it is the Holy Grail.
Paige admitted he was distracted during Monday’s practice, staring at the rivalry trophy as it sat in open view.
“It’s hard for me to keep my eyes off of it. I’m being completely honest with you,” he said. “I don’t even know if it’s being an in-state kid or if it’s being a part of this program for so long. Like, I’m not sure an in-state freshman understands how important that is to this school and this team. But since I’ve been here for so long, that’s something that we really focus on. We want to have that Bucket with us. It’s a big focus this week with nothing else going on. We want that Bucket back.”
Never mind that Ricky Jones is a Sarasota, Fla., native — he gets it, too.
Of course, the senior receiver said it took a couple years for him to reach that point. It’s not something he grew up with our really understood until he actually played in the game.
Now, he recognizes the stakes for what they are.
“That rivalry is in my heart now,” Jones said. “Being an out-of-state guy, you have to get used to it, but right now I have the passion and I dislike those guys.”
Houston native Ralph Green III really likes trophies in general.
After IU beat Michigan State in October to reclaim the Old Brass Spittoon for the first time in a decade, Green’s Hoosier teammates playfully told stories about how much time the senior defensive tackle was spending with the trophy in his arms.
Asked Monday which trophy, the Spittoon or Bucket, he enjoyed most, Green made his infatuation known.
“The Spittoon is great. That’s a great trophy, too,” Green said. “But it’s the Bucket, though. It’s the Bucket.”
A win on Saturday would be historically noteworthy in the fact that IU hasn’t held the Bucket for four consecutive years since a stretch of seasons between 1944 and 1947.
“It’s all about this one,” Green said. “We don’t have this year’s Bucket. It’s all about this one. To win a fourth one, and do something that hasn’t been done in 70 years, that’d be a tremendous mark to leave.”