Little Brown Jug on the line Friday

It’s the 100th anniversary of the annual Michigan-Minnesota football game for the storied jug.

by Brett Angel

Based strictly on wins and losses, the Minnesota-Michigan football rivalry would hardly be considered one of the best in college football. But in terms of tradition, it ranks right near the top.

Michigan has dominated the Gophers, winning 65 of 89 games in the all-time series, which has included three ties. But as any football fan, player or coach knows, there is more to rivalries than simply who wins the games.

Legends, grudges, mascots and, of course, trophies, have as much to do with the history of rivalries than wins and losses.

And in Minnesota, no trophy has garnered more attention than the Little Brown Jug, which will be up for grabs again Friday night when the 20th-ranked Wolverines come to the Metrodome to battle No. 17 Minnesota.

Friday’s game will also mark the 100th anniversary of the jug, which became part of the rivalry in 1903.

“It’s a big rivalry just because of how big Michigan is and how big they have been throughout the years,” Minnesota quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq said. “It’s always a pleasure to play a team like that.”

As the story goes, legendary Michigan coach Fielding Yost

accidentally left the large earthenware water jug at Northrop Field after ecstatic Gophers fans stormed the field following a game-tying Minnesota touchdown. The celebration was so raucous that the game was called as a 6-6 tie with two minutes remaining on the clock.

The following morning, Minnesota equipment manager Oscar Munson found the jug and brought it to L.J. Cooke, head of the Minnesota athletics department.

Yost wrote a letter to Cooke asking to have the jug returned, but Cooke told him he’d have to win it back.

Michigan won the jug back in the rivalry’s next game in 1909, and it has been the reward for the game’s victor ever since.

The Gophers also play for the honor of hoisting Paul Bunyan’s Axe (against Wisconsin), the Governor’s Victory Bell (against Penn State) and Floyd of Rosedale (against Iowa) almost every year.

But the Little Brown Jug has the distinction of being the indisputable icon of the oldest rivalry in college football.

Recently, however, the results have been anything but pleasurable for Minnesota. The Gophers have beaten the Wolverines just twice in the last 28 years, the last time coming in 1986.

Those two victories, however, were some of the sweetest in the history of Minnesota football.

In 1986, the Gophers upset then-No. 2 Michigan on its home field in Ann Arbor, Mich. In 1977, the Wolverines came to Memorial Stadium as the top-ranked team in the country before losing to Minnesota 16-0.

Friday’s game will not feature the nation’s No. 1 team, but it might be the Gophers’ best chance of defeating Michigan and recapturing the jug since the Gophers last won a Big Ten title in 1967.

“Granted, we haven’t beaten these guys in I don’t know how many years,” Abdul-Khaliq said. “All I know is, we play them on Friday, and that’s what we have to focus on. Right now the jug really can’t help us win.”

True, but while Minnesota coach Glen Mason maintains each game is equally important, bringing the jug back to Minneapolis by virtue of a win over Michigan would be a considerable step forward for the Gophers.

“I don’t know what the numbers are,” defensive tackle Darrell Reid said. “But a win would just show how much we’ve turned this program around.”

Not to mention it would give Mason and his players a chance to possess one of the most famous trophies in college football.

Mason was recently asked if he laughed when the topic of the Little Brown Jug came up because Minnesota has struggled so mightily against Michigan in recent history.

“It’s about tradition, and I never laugh about tradition in college football,” Mason said. “I’d just like to see the thing one time before I die.”