The story of how the Mudbowl began depends on whether the person your asking lives on the east side or west side of Washtenaw Avenue.

Dave Mekelburg
The Mudbowl at SAE has expanded from its original two-fraternity rivalry into a big tournament for members of Greek life. (TOMASSO GOMEZ/Daily)

It was originally held on Homecoming weekends between neighboring rival fraternities Phi Delta Theta and Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

Both fraternities take credit for starting the tradition.

According to Phi Delt President Patrick Moore, the tradition started when Phi Delt members challenged SAE to a backyard football game before the 1934 homecoming game. The fraternity considers class of 1937 Phi Delt member E. Reed Low to be the founder of the Mudbowl.

SAE tells a different story. The fraternity says it started the annual game after a heavy rainstorm flooded their lawn in 1933.

The overall record of the games is also hotly contested – both fraternities boast to have lost only a handful of times in the game’s history.

“I’m sure SAE claims it’s the other way around,” said Greg Karmizan, the secretary of alumni relations for Phi Delta Theta, in an e-mail.

Discrepancies aside, the game is a memorable highlight in both the fraternities’ and the University’s homecoming traditions.

Today, Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s lawn is tilled and watered to create an approximately 1-foot deep mud playing field in preparation of the game. In order to get the ground soft and wet enough for Mudbowl-worthy slop, the Ann Arbor Fire Department opens fire hydrants to soak the field with nearly 10,000 gallons of water, former SAE Vice President Jeff Chod said.

According to Moore, one unusually cold fall caused the water on the field to freeze and form a thin sheet of ice overnight. The broken pieces of ice cut some players’ legs as they struggled through the mud.

Over the decades, the game has expanded to include sponsors, two sororities facing off during halftime, more fans, a highlights show on ESPN and recognition in Sports Illustrated magazine.

Significant changes were made when Phi Delt had its charter revoked in 1998. Since its return in 2002 with all new members, the rivalry between the two fraternities has subsided considerably.

The game is no longer always between the two fraternities – SAE now determines its opponent using a tournament, held one week before the Mudbowl.

This year will be the first time the game is not held the morning of the Homecoming game because the game is over Fall Break, Chod said. Instead, the game will begin at 10 a.m. on Oct. 27 on the SAE lawn on the corner of Washtenaw Avenue and South University Avenue.

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