Carls-Oles Fight Over Old Goat Since 1913

Originally Published in the March 2011 Entertainment Guide

Carleton and St. Olaf have had a hot basketball rivalry since 1910 when  construction of Sayles-Hill Gym spurred annual clashes. They have battled for an old goat trophy since 1913. The goat has had a rather long sojourn at Carleton of late. Except for the 2002-2003 season, the goat has been in Carleton’s trophy case since 1990. The goat spent other lengthy times at Carleton 1913-1924 and 1927-1941 and at St. Olaf 1959-1989, a testament to how difficult it has been to win twice to regain the goat. Carleton won both of this year’s contests, 72-69 at St. Olaf and, in overtime, 84-73 at home.

Let us now follow this goat’s peregrinations into 1931 when another goat gamboled into Northfield representing football supremacy and provoked speculation about how these ruminant quadrupeds might be related.

This 1925 Ole team finally won back the goat (center) devised by Coach Endre Anderson in 1913. Photo courtesy St. Olaf College Archives

“Carleton Breaks St. Olaf Hoodoo.” So read the headline of the Carletonia on Feb. 18, 1913, after Carleton won both annual games for the first time, 19-17 and 23-17. An effigy of a goat labeled “Carleton” had been strung up in the rafters of the Sayles-Hill Gym and the Carleton paper suggested this “contraption” be used to “typify Carleton-St. Olaf relations” and thereby “lend zest to college life.” The Carletonia in 1914 recalled how the “goat fell into the hands of Carleton rooters” and “it was mutually understood between the two colleges that Carleton be allowed to retain possession of the goat until St. Olaf players are able to redeem it by scoring a double victory over the Maize and Blue…St. Olaf is determined to get that goat this year and Carleton is just as determined that the non-descript animal shall continue to adorn the trophy case in the trophy room for at least another year.” The story ended with a cry, “LET’S KEEP THE GOAT!”

Joseph Shaw, in his 1974 “History of St. Olaf College,” identified the makers as St. Olaf students, Endre Anderson and Jack Morris. Shaw described the goat as a “miniature, undernourished sawhorse” whose legs once supported a wooden chair and whose beard, “originally made of rope but replaced by a worn whisk broom” was perhaps his most “distinguished” feature.

Why a goat? The expression “to get someone’s goat” (to annoy or bug someone in some manner) may have come from a tradition in horse racing. On the night before a race, a goat was placed in the stall with a high-strung thoroughbred for a supposed calming, “buddy” effect. Stealing the goat overnight was an effort to upset the horse so the horse would lose the race, an annoyance indeed!

The Manitou Messenger attributed losses of 1914 and 1915 to the cramped gym of the Ytterboe dorm basement where the team practiced and played, saying it was like trying to “train a race horse in a box stall.” Yet even when St. Olaf secured the Northfield Armory for home contests in 1916, Carleton kept on winning the goat.

In 1919, after Carleton added “one more St. Olaf scalp to her string” and won the state conference championship, a writer in the Carletonia of March 4 retold the saga of how “His Goatly Majesty,” a native of “bleak Manitou Heights,” had been taken prisoner and “e’re since that day Carleton’s defenders have succeeded in persuading the Manitou warriors to return to their Heights without the royal hostage.” Toward the end of the 1919 football season, his Goatly Majesty disappeared. He was taken hostage and “displayed before a body of Hamline students,” according to the Carletonia of Jan. 20, 1920. The writer protested, “If Hamline realizes that it is a trophy of St. Olaf or Carleton basketball supremacy, she cannot sanction this act and will without further mention restore it to its rightful place.” On Feb. 10, the Carletonia announced, “St. Olaf Goat, Cherished Trophy, Returns to Abode” and wrote, “Historians disagree about the action that finally resulted in the return of the goat on the triumphant shoulders of two of Carleton’s youngest men, but most of them believe it was the power of the Carletonia’s press which was the deciding factor in the surrender of the goat.”

In 1920 St. Olaf’s dream for a new gymnasium came true at last (later known as the Women’s Gym and now the Speech-Theater Building). But it was not enough to return the goat to his birthplace. And, according to a Carletonian interview on March 8, 1921, the goat was satisfied with the care he had received during his years of residence, “except when undernourished last year on Hamline food.” The goat said he wished to stay and, with chicken promised for Sunday at Carleton, “Must I dine on fish on Manitou Heights?” (Besides, under coach Everett Dean, Carleton’s teams would achieve a record of 46-4 from 1921-24, ensuring a happy environment.)

March 3, 1925. Courtesy St. Olaf College Archives.

However, at the start of the 1925 season, even the Carletonia grudgingly acknowledged, “Ole spirit has been slowly spreading like an ingrown toenail.” After St. Olaf won the first game 24-22 at Sayles-Hill, a cartoon in the Manitou Messenger of March 3 showed the goat, jailed at Carleton, having a “hunch” about the deciding game coming up.

“Oles Swamp Maize in City Title Clash; Thrilling, Decisive Battle Ends in 26-18 Viking Win.” Thus trumpeted the Manitou Messenger on March 10, 1925. Carleton was held to one field goal in the final period. Fittingly, the coach of the Vikings was Endre Anderson, who had constructed the goat back in 1913. The Ole student body marched across the Cannon River in triumph to Carleton to reclaim the long-lost goat trophy. The Carletonian of March 11 wrote that “Billy” was “forced to leave,” with “tears in its eyes.” St. Olaf exulted in song, to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”: “Gang, gang, here’s our goat/ Brought in by the team/ Bah, bah, bah, bah/ It seems just like a dream.”

At the start of 1926, the Carletonian of Jan. 13 claimed: “Bill is homesick and is pining away because he has been separated for one year from the kindly atmosphere of Carleton. Another grievance of his is that they have no dances in the Ole gym, and so he never more receives the flattering attentions of the fair sex.” (Dancing was not permitted at St. Olaf until 1961.) But the Oles prevailed, retaining the goat with a 33-18 home win and then took the second contest 34-24 at Carleton as well. A writer of “Jibes by Jake” in the Carletonian of March 6, said, “We can’t imagine what has been happening on Manitou Heights lately. The Oles have broken out into singing parodies on jazz songs out in public. Now that they have the goat another year, they must be overcome by a sense of progress. The next thing you know the Norwegians will be dancing or talking about evolution.”

Carleton won the first game of 1927 at home 34-26 with a late rally and when Carleton won the second clash 33-24, Carleton fans transported the goat back to Sayles-Hill. The Carletonian proclaimed on March 12, “A happier beast there never was. Even a goat has to have his sabbatical leaves.”

So Carleton resumed domiciling the goat and dominating St. Olaf for the next few years, although both teams were having success in their respective conferences. (Carleton had an astounding 64 home-game winning streak until 1934.) From 1928-1930 the Carls were Midwest champions while the Oles captured their first-ever Minnesota Conference state basketball title in 1929, repeating in 1930.

Then came some amazing news about the goat in the Carletonian of Oct. 14, 1931: “The Carleton-St. Olaf basketball goat is in a family way. The sex of the animal and date of birth will be announced Saturday.” The Oct. 16 Northfield News then reported on the eve of the St. Olaf-Carleton football match, “Local Colleges Seek Custody of New Goat.” The story said the new goat is “carved from a wood plaque” and  is “the work of a Minneapolis man who designed the ‘bacon’ Minnesota and Wisconsin universities fight for on the gridiron each fall.” (This man was Dr. Ranthus B. Fouch, as identified in the “Historic Happenings” columns of Nov.-Dec., 2009.) This “relative of the famous basketball goat” would rest in a trophy case at either Carleton or St. Olaf, according to the News.

Photo courtesy St. Olaf College Archives

A relative? Wait! Not so fast! On the day of the game, Oct. 17, the editors of the Carletonian wrote an apology for the “incorrect reference to the Carleton-St. Olaf Football Goat’s family life.” The goat himself wrote for “proof of his alleged condition” and chided the editors: “Things have come to a pretty pass when a sedate old gentleman like myself can’t acquire a modest amount of avoirdupois without being insulted by the press.” The goat harrumphed, “I have heard rumors that there is a strange goat in our fair city. Why, however, it should be imagined that I of all goats suddenly had a kid, I do not know. This animal not only is in no way connected with me, it is not even directly related to any of my relatives. In fact, I believe that she is of very poor stock.” Denying that he was jealous of this “vagrant interloper,” the goat said this new “Goatrophy,” as she was called, represented football, “a much cruder and slower game, in the main” than basketball.

The basketball goat did not have to share the limelight with the “interloper” at Carleton that year, as the Oles won the first football Goatrophy on their home field 25-6.

*    *    *

On Feb. 19, I attended Carleton’s overtime victory at West Gym. On my way out, I stopped to look at the famous, dilapidated old goat, locked behind glass in a trophy case. The goat was showing every one of his 98 years. When I saw the goat’s whisk-broom whiskers shake ever so slightly, I knew he had noticed me. I identified myself as an unbiased Northfield Entertainment Guide columnist but confessed to being an Ole. He sighed and asked me, “How are things on Manitou Heights these days? I’ve almost forgotten what ‘fram fram’ means and what lutefisk tastes like, since I have spent only one year there since 1990.”

“Oh, yes,” I replied. “I have been researching those two overtime St. Olaf victories in the 2002-2003 season. Mike Ludwig hit a jump shot with four seconds left in overtime in the ‘goat game’ to bring you back home.”

“Such joy! Whatever happened to Mike?” the goat asked me.

“He is sports information director at St. Olaf.”

“Oh, good for him! Please ask him if he can convince Carleton authorities to improve my diet here. Their ‘brain food’ is very unappetizing for a goat.”

“I’ll try,” I promised, as I bid him farewell and headed out the door.

Thanks to Jeff Sauve of the St. Olaf Archives, Eric Hillemann of the Carleton Archives, Eric Sieger, Director of Media and Public Relations at Carleton, and to Mike Ludwig for hitting that jump shot in 2003.

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