With little else to play for, jug means a lot

The Bowl-ineligible Gophers will battle Michigan for the Little Brown Jug.

Luke Middendorf

This Saturday’s contest that features Minnesota at Michigan has more at stake than just a win or a loss for either team.

There is a 90-year-old water jug up for grabs here.

Although it might not seem like much to the average person, many college football fans are able to recognize the trophy given to the victor of the perennial matchup of Michigan and Minnesota as the Little Brown Jug.

Many fans might not, however, know the unusual history of the Little Brown Jug trophy game that will be fought over for the record-best 90th time Saturday.

The story begins all the way back in 1903, as Michigan with their 10-0 record and 28-game winning streak traveled to Minneapolis for their annual game vs. Minnesota.

“You remember Tommy Roberts and Fielding Yost. Tommy Roberts was the manager, 1903. Coach Yost, when they got up there, with good cause, he did not trust that Minnesota would provide good, clean drinking water,” Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr said to reporters Monday about the original story.

“So he sent Tommy Roberts out, I think it was a buck and a half or so, to buy a jug. Tommy went down, brought that jug back, and the Michigan team drank water from that jug. Now, whether they had cups or not, I do not know,” Carr said.

As the story goes, the Wolverines jumped out to a 6-0 lead, but Minnesota rallied and tied the game at six with just two minutes remaining.

The 20,000 Minnesota fans at the game were so elated when the Gophers tied the game that they stormed the field and forced the officials to call the game at 6-6.

“In the rush to leave Ö they left the jug there,” Carr said. “When they got back to Ann Arbor, coach Yost, who was a very frugal man, realized that the jug was not there – they hadn’t brought it back. So he wrote a letter. He didn’t call. He didn’t text message. He called and asked them to return the jug. Of course, they said, ‘if you want it, come and get it, come and play for it.’ “

Shortly after the letter was written to Minnesota, the Gophers’ equipment manager of the time, Oscar Munson, carried an earthenware water jug to the office of the former head of the athletics department, L.J. Cooke.

Munson proceeded to paint on the side of the jug, “Michigan Jug – captured by Oscar, October 31, 1903,” and the score, “Minnesota 6, Michigan 6.”

Thus, the first trophy game in college football was born.

Cooke was once quoted about the strange power within the jug, which actually is neither brown nor little, saying, “I sometimes think the jug has been filled with spirits, not alcoholic, but the disembodied spirits of the countless players who have fought for it on the gridironÖ”

Although Michigan holds a 64-22-3 all-time record in Little Brown Jug trophy games, this week’s game against the Wolverines is still just as meaningful to the coaches and players at Minnesota.

“This is a very exciting week for us all here, I am very excited about going and playing Michigan for the Little Brown Jug,” Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster said. “It’s a tremendous rivalry between the University of Minnesota and the University of Michigan playing for a trophy.”

One of the most intriguing things about this year’s matchup for Brewster is the opportunity to play in Michigan’s stadium, which is well labeled as “The Big House” for its capacity crowds of 107,501.

“The thing that’s very exciting for our players, to me is to be going to Michigan, to play in a stadium in front of over 100,000 people against one of the great teams in the country,” Brewster said. “It’s a tremendous challenge and a tremendous opportunity for us.”

The last time the Gophers traveled to Ann Arbor to face the Wolverines they did not leave empty handed, stealing the Little Brown Jug after a last second field goal by now senior kicker Jason Giannini.

That victory in 2005 was the first time Minnesota had beaten Michigan since 1986, a moment that some of the current Gophers players say they will never forget.

“Being able to do that was a dream come true,” an excited Dominique Barber said, who is a senior strong safety on this year’s squad. “Hopefully we will be able to do it again.”

Barber went on to say that he vividly remembers the feeling of running across the field to grab the Jug from Michigan’s sideline, something that he said Minnesota is accustomed to have happen to them.

“I was actually the first one to touch the jug,” Barber said. “To see their (Michigan’s) faces like that, it was a great feeling. But we’ve been in that same situation also, with them coming here and getting the jug back. So we’re ready to go.”

Although the Gophers are now officially out of bowl game contention, many players still feel there is a lot to play for because of the trophy games that lie ahead.

It all starts this Saturday with the battle for the Little Brown jug, followed by the border war with Iowa for the Floyd of Rosedale, and ending with the intense rivalry with Wisconsin for Paul Bunyan’s Axe.

“The season hasn’t gone the way we wanted it to,” senior captain and linebacker Mike Sherels said. “But there is still time to salvage something.”

Carr said that putting records aside, this trophy will always mean something in itself.

“One hundred and four years later we’re still playing for that coveted jug, the oldest trophy in college football,” Carr said. “It has a great tradition, a great meaning here. So, you know, when you lose it, it’s a miserable experience. When you win it, you get to keep that jug where it belongs. I mean, we bought that jug.”