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Big Ten Countdown: 03 - The Little Brown Jug

Three days remain until Nebraska's membership into the Big Ten becomes official. Today's story is dedicated to one of the oldest traveling trophies in the country, the Litte Brown Jug. I looked up a couple different stories on the jug and the Minnesota version is slightly different than the Michigan version. Minnesota's left out something about "poisoning water" and Michigan leaves out the pounding it got in 1919.

Even in it's infant stages, football was a serious game and it says something about fans if you have to be careful about bad water. I seem to remember reading an article about an NU-OU game in the 60's or 70's that involved bringing in water because they didn't trust the local water. I can't find this article, though. It was probably in some "Husker Stories" book that I skimmed across while we worked on this series. There always seems to be a story every year about some team that has to fight of the flu bug. A good example is the 1918 season. It was severly affected by WWI and by the 1918 flu pandemic.

You may think it's funny, but bad water shows up. I experienced this first-hand my freshman year when the water at a football game had become contaminated. After our first game against  Michigan State, a few of the band geeks started to get sick. It was thee, um, hershey squirts symptom and it was affecting a lot of people. The directors even had us all go to the University Clinic to get tested because they found that the Giardia bug was responsible. So I got to poop in a cup. I was lucky and didn't get it bug, but for a few days, they were concerned about what was going to happen in a couple weeks when Colorado State came to town. It was determined (or at least their best guess was) that one of our water coolers had been contaminated because someone had put their "poopy" hand in it. Gross.

Ok, enough about Number 2.  Here are a couple stories about the Little Brown Jug that I promised earlier.

Michigan Version:

Michigan had won 28 straight games as it headed to Minneapolis for a battle with Minnesota in 1903. The Golden Gophers came into the game 10-0 on the season, with a crowd of 20,000 to root the home team on. Having doubts that Minnesota would provide pure water to the Michigan bench, head coach Fielding Yost ordered a manager, Tommy Roberts, to purchase a receptacle for drinking water which would be free from suspicion. Roberts purchased a five-gallon jug from a variety store in Minneapolis, and Michigan and Minnesota prepared to duel.

The Wolverines took a 6-0 lead in the first half, but the Gophers rallied to tie the game on a touchdown with two minutes remaining. When Minnesota blasted over the goal line, the fans, some sitting in trees and atop telephone poles, rushed the field in excitement. The pandemonium that ensued led to the game being called with time still left on the clock.

In their haste to leave and catch the train back to Chicago, the Michigan players dressed quickly and departed the stadium, leaving the jug behind. Minnesota equipment manager Oscar Munson found the jug the following morning and brought it to Director of Athletics L.J. Cooke. In remembrance of the exceptional tie, they decided to hold on to the jug and adorned it by painting, "Michigan Jug - Captured by Oscar, October 31, 1903," and the score "Minnesota 6, Michigan 6" on the side of the jug.

When Yost sent a letter requesting the return of the jug, Cooke wrote back, "If you want it, you'll have to come up and win it." Due to the brutality of the 1903 game, the two teams did not meet again until 1909, when Michigan did win the jug, 15-6. The Wolverines defended the jug in Ann Arbor in 1910, but due to Michigan's withdrawal from the Big Ten, the jug was not played for again until 1919.

The trophy disappeared from the trophy case of the Michigan Athletic Administration building in 1930 and was not found until 1934. Before the actual jug was found behind a clump of bushes by a gas station attendant in Ann Arbor, a replica of the prize was displayed in Michigan's trophy case. The authenticity of the original was confirmed by a flaw that could not be duplicated. Since then, the trophy has been carefully safeguarded.





And the Minnesota version:

The story of "The Little Brown Jug," neither little nor brown, began at the turn of the century. The fabled "point-a-minute" Michigan football squads, coached by Fielding Yost, were destroying everyone in the nation, and had won 28 straight games heading into Minneapolis in 1903.

The pregame revelry pulsed through the campus. Minnesota had one of its best teams in school history and expected to give Yost’s squad a run for their money. Before the game, students paraded across the field with various painted livestock, while fans filtered into the stadium from a constant stream of arriving streetcars. The 20,000 fans, positioned in bleachers, as well as atop trees and telephone poles, remained civil until the Gophers scored a second-half touchdown that tied the score at 6-6. At this point, fans stormed the field in celebration, causing pandemonium so great that the game had to be called with two minutes remaining on the clock.

On the morning following the contest, Minnesota custodian Oscar Munson carried an earthenware water jug to the office of L. J. Cooke, head of the athletics department. Munson pronounced in a heavy Scandinavian accent, "Jost left his yug." Still giddy from the tie, they decided to keep the prize, and painted on its side "Michigan Jug - Captured by Oscar, October 31, 1903," and the score, "Minnesota 6, Michigan 6." The Minnesota score appeared comically "as big as a house," dwarfing the Michigan score beside it. Yost sent a letter asking Minnesota to return the jug. Cooke wrote back "if you want it, you’ll have to win it."

The two teams didn’t play again until 1909. Michigan won the game that year, and Minnesota dutifully returned the jug. In 1910, Michigan left the conference, and Minnesota didn’t have a chance to win it back until 1919. That year the Gophers, led by their star Arnie Oss, stormed into Ann Arbor and pounded the Wolverines 34-7 on their own Ferry Field. When Minnesota asked for the symbolic trophy at the end of the game, their rivals couldn’t find it. But the Gopher players persisted, and Wolverine equipment man Henry Hatch came up with it after a short time, saying that he found it "overgrown behind a clump of shrubbery near the gym." Later, Minnesota historians said, "...but most likely it was found in a trophy case inside the gymnasium, easily dusted off and proudly brought back to Minnesota."

So that's the story of the jug. It's been dormant the past couple years because of the Big Ten schedule rotation, but Minnesota and Michigan are now both in the same division. They will get to meet every year again. On a side note, one subject that rarely comes up during all of this expansion talk is Minnesota's rivalry games. For a long time, the Hawkeyes and Gophers played in the season finale and when Nebraska joined up, Minnesota kind of got pushed to the side. For the next few years, they get the "odd man out" season ending game whereas Iowa gets Nebraska every year. As excited as Husker and Hawkeye fans are about this game, no one has really said much about this decision from the Minnesota perspective. I personally think it was probably a compromise that the Gophers agreed to when the divisions and schedules were announced. After all, of the four schools (Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska) that wanted to play each other annually, only Minnesota gets this guarantee. Throw in the "Jug" game every year and they probably were ok with losing their season ending game against Iowa.