Minnesota and Michigan

by Michael Dougherty

Saturday’s game with Michigan will be the last in a string of 70 consecutive meetings between the two teams. It also marks the 95th anniversary of what’s become one of the more storied traditions in college football.
The Little Brown Jug is the forefather of all 57 trophy games that exist in Division I-A football.
The folklore of Little Brown Jug began in 1903 when legendary Wolverines coach Fielding Yost and his 10-0 team came to Minnesota riding a 28-game winning streak and highly suspicious of the hosts.
Yost had a manager purchase a five-gallon jug from a variety store in Minneapolis for drinking water because he doubted Minnesota would provide pure water for his players.
After trailing 6-0 for much of the game, the Gophers tied the game with a touchdown in the final two minutes of the game. The raucous Gophers fans stormed the field and the game was called with time still on the clock, ending in a 6-6 tie.
Needless to say, the Michigan entourage was in a hurry to return home, and in their haste left behind the jug. Minnesota equipment manager Oscar Munson found the jug the next morning and brought it to the office of L.J. Cooke, who was the head of the athletics department.
Cooke decided to keep the jug, and had “Michigan Jug — Captured by Oscar, October 31, 1903” painted on the side. The score of the game was also included, with Minnesota’s number dwarfing Michigan’s.
Yost sent a letter to Minnesota requesting the jug be returned, and Cooke responded with a letter of his own which included the fabled challenge, “if you want it, you’ll have to win it.”
Because of the Big Ten’s revolving schedule, the Gophers and the Wolverines will not play again until the next century in the year 2001.
The last time the Little Brown Jug gathered dust in a Minnesota trophy case was 1986, when former Gophers kicker Chip Lohmiller kicked a 30-yard field goal as time expired to give the 2nd-ranked Wolverines their first loss of the season.
Current Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said anyone who knows anything about college football knows about the Little Brown Jug.
“I think anybody who plays in this Michigan-Minnesota series is always aware of the history of that trophy — the oldest trophy in the history of college football,” he said. “The greatest thing about college football is that is has such a great tradition, and certainly this is a big part of that tradition.”
The list of football players who have strapped on the helmet for this granddaddy of trophies is filled with Hall-of-Famers and Pro-Bowlers, including former Vikings coach Bud Grant and current Vikings running back Leroy Hoard.
Grant was an All-Big Ten end for the Gophers in 1948 and 1949. His teams lost both years he played. The stoic Grant, who was inducted into the National Football League Hall of Fame in 1994, said Michigan was always the Gophers’ biggest rival.
However, in keeping with his serious demeanor, Grant said he thinks the Jug takes a back seat to the game.
“That jug is symbolic and it’s nice to go on the field and carry it off, but that’s a little rah-rah for me,” he said. “I know they like to beat Michigan because Michigan is usually a ranked team, but beating them is not for the Little Brown Jug, it’s for Ski-U-Mah.”
Hoard, meanwhile, was a freshman on the Michigan team that fell prey to Lohmiller’s heroics. Hoard said the loss to the Gophers in ’86 made the next year’s battle for the Jug even more important.
“When we lost it, it was a big deal,” Hoard said. “I was there and we were No. 2 in the country and they came in and beat us. It was unbelievable, but we knew we had to get it back and we haven’t lost it since.”
Gophers coach Glen Mason has a different concept of the Little Brown Jug than the others though. His differing opinion of the Jug probably stems from the Gophers’ 11-game losing streak against Michigan.
“I don’t have any concept of what the Little Brown Jug is,” Mason said. “When’s the last time they’ve had it here? Where is it?”
Hoard said he knows right where it is and it’s going to stay there.
“Listen, there is no way I’m ever going to bet against Michigan,” he said. “They’re going to kill them. Down with the Gophers.”