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The Little Brown Jug

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Little Brown Jug

Minnesota celebrates a rare win in the battle for the Little Brown Jug.

(Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images)
The Little Brown Jug is a simple earthenware jug awarded each year to the winner of the football game between the University of Minnesota and the University of Michigan. The two schools have been playing for the jug since 1903 — back when the legendary Fielding Yost was stalking the sidelines for Michigan — making it one of the oldest trophies and traditions in all of college football.

30-Cent Tradition:

Yost enjoyed success immediately upon arrival at Michigan, winning his first 28 games. In 1903, though, his Wolverines faced a daunting trip to Minneapolis, where they were to take on a Minnesota team was considered one of the school’s best ever. Upon arrival at Minnesota, Yost realized his Wolverines needed something to hold their drinking water during the game. So, according to Michigan legend, the coach asked a student manager by the name of Thomas B. Roberts to find something suitable for the job. Roberts returned with a five-gallon jug -- The Little Brown Jug. It cost him all of 30 cents.

A Victorious Tie:

As expected, the game was as tightly contested. The Gophers defense clamped down on Michigan’s potent offense — something no other had team had been able to accomplish since Yost’s arrival in Ann Arbor — and when Minnesota scored a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, tying the game at 6-6, Gophers fans celebrated as though they had just won the national championship: They stormed the field. The only problem was that the game wasn’t actually over. But when the crowds would not return to the stands, the game was called. Yost and his team left the field and headed home.

"Yost Left His Jug":

The day after the 6-6 tie, a Minnesota custodian named Oscar Munson found the jug (some say he stole it, though there is no proof) and brought it to Minnesota athletics director L.J. Cooke, explaining simply, “Yost left his jug.” Still joyful over their huge tie against mighty Michigan, Minnesota officials painted the jug brown and inscribed it as follows: "Michigan Jug. Captured by Oscar, October 31, 1903.” Yost soon wrote to Cooke, asking for the jug's returned. Cooke declined. “If you want it," he wrote, "you’ll have to win it." The teams didn’t play again until 1909, but have been playing for the jug ever since.

Michigan Dominance:

Except for a period of excellence in the 1930s and 1940s, when Gophers won the jug nine straight times, and again in the early 1960s, when they won it four straight times, Michigan has dominated the series. As of the end of the 2007 Michigan owned a 65-22-3 advantage, and had seen the Gophers take the Jug home just three times since 1977. But Minnesota certainly savors each win in the series: Their 2005 win over Michigan, on the road at Ann Arbor, is a good example. Exuberant at having won the Jug for the first time since 1986, the Gophers stormed the Michigan sideline and claimed the Jug in dramatic fashion.
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