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Big Ten Countdown: 27 - The Death of Illibuck

In 1925, The Ohio State University and the University of Illinois-Champaign decided to create a rivalry trophy to celebrate the long standing game between the two schools. Back then, Illinois and Ohio State were huge rivals and would meet in the final game of the year.

It was decided that the two schools would play for a turtle. A real live turtle. Turtles are known to have a long lifespan and, thus it represent a long lasting relationship between the two schools. Illibuck didn't make it though. Just two years later, it died at a fraternity in Illinois.

After the turtle died, a wooden replica was made and the scores of each game were written on the shell.  Over time the shell fills up so a new turtle is made. Currently there are ten Illibucks.

It's an interesting trophy in that it doesn't change hands after the game. It is given to the winning school at next years game, during halftime.

The trophy presentation has its own unique flair. The winner actually gets the turtle during a halftime presentation the following year. Members of two junior honorary societies, Bucket and Dipper (Ohio State) and Atius Sachem (Illinois) perform the presentation. There are two rules that must be followed: the turtle must never touch the ground and it must be passed backward over the head.


Another interesting story that I dug up depicts Illibuck being stolen in 1950 and went missing for ten years.

Patner said his friend then darted to the door with the turtle while Patner blocked the charging Ohio State fans. After a series of passes and dodges, Patner, his friend and the Illibuck escaped defensive Ohio State fans and returned safely to their housing unit. There they showed the Illibuck to friends and soon learned the deeper significance behind the turtle.

"When I found out that it was a tradition, the sequence was how we could get it back to them and make it fun," Patner said.

Patner said he and his friends went to Memorial Stadium that night and decided to hang the Illibuck from a flagpole,
expecting it to be discovered for the game the following day. Patner theorizes, however, that the wind loosened the Illibuck from its fastening and carried the trophy away from sight.

"We hung it up thinking it was all over, thinking it would be discovered," Patner said. "I was dismayed the next day that people said it was stolen. I didn't know where it was and if someone else had gotten it."

Patner said it was not until almost a decade later that the Illibuck was finally found under a some boards at Memorial Stadium.

Bucket & Dipper is the honorary society that takes care of Illibuck at Ohio State and Atius-Sachem holds Illibuck at the University of Illinois.