Big Ten Countdown 50: Michigan State Joins, The Old Brass Spittoon, Dick Butkus And Nebraska Has A Winning Season

Today we celebrate 50 days until Nebraska joins the Big Ten. What's interesting about the number 50?

Well, Michigan State College officially joined the Big Ten in 1949. Or 1950. Or 1953, depending on which web site you're reading. 

So, which is it? 

From a New York Times article dated May 20st, 1949: 

The Western Conference today voted that Michigan State College be accepted as a tenth member and that it begin conference competition in the year 1950-51, excepting in football. The new member is eligible to participate in conference affairs immediately...

Conference competition by Michigan State will not begin before the academic year 1950-1951 and, in the case of football, at the expiration of schedules heretofore drawn. The Spartans thus will not compete for the football championship until 1953, since schedules for 1950, 1951, and 1952 were drawn at the conference winter meeting last December.

With Michigan State's addition to the conference, the conference began referring to itself as the Big Ten.

From May 21st, 1949, New York Times:

The Western Conference henceforth will be called the "Big Ten", even though the new member, Michigan State College, will not compete until the 1950-51 school year. 

So... in a way, everybody is right. Or wrong, depending on your viewpoint. And you thought the internet was tough.

Michigan State is also involved in a Big Ten rivalry trophy, the Old Brass Spittoon, that began in 1950. The trophy is awarded to the winner of the Michigan State - Indiana game every year. Or almost every year.  Since 1950, they've skipped each other in 1971, 1972, 1979, 1980, 2000, and have not played each other since 2008.

There isn't a whole lot of history available online about the trophy - even the Wikipedia page is missing a citation for its beginning. Maybe that's not so shocking, since the Spartans lead the series 41-13-2. In fact, Indiana and Northwestern have the dubious honor of being ranked at the top of Michigan State's all-opponent win percentage, with the Spartans having a 75% win percentage against both teams.

 About the Old Brass Spittoon, an article from the New York Times in 1958, states

... the Old Brass Spittoon, a century-old relic of one of Michigan's earliest trading posts.

Interestingly enough, the same article talks about the I formation, a reader pointing out to the author that:

"The I formation you discussed in connection with Villanova last week was used by the Carlisle Indian football teams in the early Nineteen Hundreds", writes J. W. Jackson of this city.

"It was a power formation and it enabled them to grind out the 5 yards in three downs of those days without any trouble. There is nothing new under the sun in football."

Maybe Indiana or Michigan State fans can fill us in with some more facts about the Old Brass Spittoon and its origins.

Perhaps the most well known 50 in the Big Ten was a Mr. Dick Butkus, some guy that played linebacker for the University of Illinois. Butkus was one of those players who "defined his position", as they say, and if you remember watching him play you'd have to agree with the sentiment.

Butkus was a defender who seemed to want to grind a ball carrier into dust with every tackle he made. While he may have played as #51 as a Chicago Bear, at the University of Illinois, he was #50, and his jersey is only one of two retired by the university, the other belonging to the legendary Harold "Red" Grange.

Butkus was a two-time All-American in 1963 and 1964 as a center and linebacker. He finished sixth in Heisman voting in 1963, and third in 1964. The Butkus Award is given annually to the nation's best college linebacker. 

As far as our beloved Huskers go, 1950 was a good year. It was the first year in ten years that Nebraska finished ranked in the AP poll at #17 (#20 in the Coaches Poll) , going 6-2-1 under head coach Bill Glassford. It was also the first winning season in a decade. 

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