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One of the oldest and most exciting college football rivalries
Brief history of the Bronze Turkey: two trophies, original (right) and "replacement"; two games, from the 1950s and the 100th game in 1989.
The Bronze Turkey game between Knox College and Monmouth College is one of the oldest and most exciting in college football rivalries.
Above, football illustration from an 1890s-era Knox College yearbook.
One of the few pairs of schools in the history of college football in the United States to have played more than 100 games against each other, Knox and Monmouth surpassed that landmark in 1989 at the Knox Bowl. In all of NCAA Division III, the Prairie Fire and Fighting Scots were the fourth football rivals to have played more than 100 games. Knox led the series until 1992. Monmouth holds the edge of 64-50 for the Prairie Fire, although conflicting old stats imply the record could be 63-52. Prior to the Midwest Conference tie-breaker rule, there were 10 ties; the most recent, 3-3 in 1983. The 1991 Bronze Turkey game, a 13-7 win for Monmouth, was decided in overtime.
The football rivalry can be traced back as far as 1881 when a prediction appeared in the November issue of The Knox Student. "If an eleven was formed we might have a game or two with our Abingdon, Monmouth, and Lombard neighbors."
By 1888, an "eleven" had been formed, and the first engagement was described by the Knox campus newspaper:
It was a quiet, peaceful, sunny afternoon at Old Siwash when suddenly the quiet was broken by the disparaging shout of a bunch of Monmouth boys who had appeared without warning to challenge Knox to a football game. In less time than it took the bloody dust to run off the field following the suicidal attempts of Monmouth to score, Knox had captured an early lead, and by the time the last of the silent figures from Monmouth had limped or were carried away to be bandaged or buried, Knox had won a victory.
The first recorded score in 1891 showed a Knox a winner, 22-4.
In 1928, the rivalry gained an official symbol, a one-foot-high replica of a Thanksgiving turkey, recalling the days before the formation of the Midwest Conference, when the Knox-Monmouth game was played on Thanksgiving Day.
The turkey trophy was the brainchild of Bill Collins, '29, then a Knox player who, due to an injury, was working as a reporter for the Galesburg Register-Mail newspaper. "I felt the game needed some spice, and a trophy would do it," said Collins. He persuaded the publisher of the Register-Mail and the managing editor of the Monmouth Review-Atlas to each shell out $40 to purchase the trophy.
Since 1928, the travels and trials of the turkey have become legendary. When not won, it might be stolen. The turkey has spent time under lock and key, in glass cages, behind bars and even underground.
Stolen from Monmouth in 1941, it was found about five years later buried under the cinder track of the Monmouth gymnasium. Two students, presumably from Knox, later appropriated the trophy from Monmouth by posing as photographers. The original trophy disappeared yet again in 1983, when a vandal broke a display case at Monmouth, and in 1986 the Register-Mail provided a replacement trophy.
With the reappearance of the original trophy in 1993, the winner of the game now receives both trophies -- with the option to display only the replacement and keep the original safely stashed away. Further, the trophy is not awarded at the conclusion of game itself; the winner formally awards the Bronze Turkey(s) to itself at a later date.
One of the more unusual pranks surrounding the bird occurred in 1955. On the eve of the big game, 31 Monmouth raiders set out for the Knox campus. Monmouth's scoreboard had been stolen the night before and the deed was presumed to have been perpetrated by Knox students, even though later events pointed to an inside job. The mission of the six-car caravan was to paint "Beat Knox" signs on the Knox sidewalks and then burn a giant "M" into the grass of the Knox football field. However, the caravans mistook the Knox County Courthouse for part of the Knox campus and set ablaze the statue of the venerable and honored civil war nurse Mother Bickerdyke, located on the courthouse lawn. The townspeople of Galesburg weren't putting up with that kind of vandalism. The surprised Monmouth raiders were caught, found guilty of malicious mischief, fined and suspended from school for 21 days.