BEN CLASSON/Herald photo

The storied rivalry between Wisconsin and Iowa football dates back to 1894. Another heated competition linking these two programs hasn't lasted as long, but it certainly is just as intense.

For the last 12 seasons, every Friday before the Wisconsin-Iowa game, the managers from each school coalesce for one fiery game of flag football.

Tackling isn't allowed, but there have been some tussles.

"In years past there have been fistfights, people have been tackling each other instead of grabbing flags," said R.J. Brachman, fifth-year senior and starting linebacker for the Badgers.

The idea to hold a scaled-down version of the Wisconsin-Iowa rivalry came about when current Associate Athletic Director for Facilities and Operations John Chadima came to Wisconsin in 1990 from being a manager at Iowa and decided that it would be a good idea to start a rivalry against his former boss.

"When he came here, his boss was still the guy in charge of the managers at Iowa," Brachman said. "They got together and came up with the idea of the flag football game to compete for the Toolbox. It has stuck ever since."

The first time the two teams' managers played was in 1991. Their next matchup was in 1995 because Iowa and Wisconsin didn't begin playing each other regularly until that time. The rivalry, which is the only one of its kind, has been anything but tame.

According to Brachman, the two teams jaw back and forth and get so engrossed with the heated competition that he used the word "hatred" to describe his teammates' feelings toward the Hawkeye managers.

"It's more like a high school pride kind of thing against your town's rival high school," Brachman said. "You get into the game atmosphere and you don't realize it until you're in the game that there's this competition, it's like a pride thing. The coaching staff and the players really get into it too. It's kind of a morale builder for the entire football program."

Of course, once the game concluded both sides would laugh, joke around and act as if they were longtime friends.

"It has been a pretty intense rivalry back and forth," said David Peeler, equipment manager of the Wisconsin football team, who arrived in 1995.

Instead of playing for the Heartland Trophy, the respective Iowa and Wisconsin team managers will vie for the Toolbox.

The Box, as the players call it, is painted black and yellow on one side and red and white on the other to represent the respective schools.

Although it's nicked up and old, the Box means a great deal to the managers.

"It's a thing of pride," Brachman said. "It's kind of like carrying the (Paul Bunyan) Axe. It's something to show that you accomplished something."

Wisconsin lost last season's matchup 26-20 and hasn't had the Box in its possession since 2003.

"The box is a sign of victory, a sign of being better than Iowa," added sophomore T.J. Ingels, who will play both offensive and defensive line. "I just want it back. We haven't had it since I've been here, I haven't really had a chance to look at it that much, so I just want to get it back onto our side and hold onto it."

Although Wisconsin hasn't had much success — winning just 4 of 13 games — Ingels, the team motivator and the architect behind the more intensive workout regiment that began during spring ball, says this year's going to be different.

"In years past we didn't practice as much; we're prepared better this year than last year," he said. "This year I'm ready to go.

"It's going to be a more evenly matched game than it has been in the past couple of years and we've got a real shot to win."

One of the biggest reason Ingles likes the Badgers' chances is the guy he'll be trying to protect: Jon Perrin.

"We're looking for him to do some good things," Ingels said. "He's got a good arm but most of all he can just create on the go, which I think is a major aspect of a good passing game."

Although starting off a few steps behind the rest of the team after being unable to practice until the start of fall camp, the two freshman managers on the team should be major contributors Friday.

"The two freshmen we brought in are probably going to play a big role in our game," Ingels said. "Both play wide receiver and they have a chance to make some big plays. Last year our freshman class did pretty well, and I'm hoping that they can do the same."

Unlike the players they work with during the course of the season, the managers don't wear pads in their game, but the amount of contact on the line is the same as at the collegiate level.

"I just talked to [fellow lineman] Tyler Guetschow and we were talking about the game last year; we couldn't really move for the next three days because even if you are in shape you're not in football shape; you're not used to all the banging around that goes in on the offensive and defensive line," Ingels said.

"It's like intramurals on steroids … there's a lot more contact involved," Brachman added.

Sometimes the unrestrained amount of contact has led to some serious injuries.

"My sophomore year, two of our players collided, they were sent to the emergency room, because knocked heads, split open and had to go get stitches," Brachman said. "So the past couple years they've started making personal foul penalties and 15-yard penalties for tackling and things like that."

The 40-minute game will be eight versus eight, but there is still plenty of opportunity to go with a number of different formations, most often a four wide receiver set.

While the Badger coaches have offered players the support of their managers, they haven't given them plays to run. Instead, the managers watch and learn from what the players do in practice.

"For the most part it's monkey-see-monkey-do; you see what they do and you try to emulate that," Brachman said.

For all of the long hours the managers log during the course of the season working behind the scenes for the UW football team, this game acts as a "platform," an opportunity to finally have the focus on them.

"This is our night," Brachman said. "Every other day is the football team's, but this is our time to shine."

Even though it's just one night during the course of a season, and even though the game doesn't change BCS standings or affect the outcome of the Wisconsin-Iowa game the next day, Friday night will be special for a few dozen individuals, as they compete for pride and honor in a game they love.