November 20, 1909: The Jug toting Gophers
Michigan was now 5-1 and suddenly back in the conversation of who was to be Western champion. Standing in their way was undefeated Minnesota, U-M’s powerful former conference foe. Six seasons prior on October 31, 1903, the Gophers famously battled the Willie Heston-led Wolverines to a 6-6 deadlock in Minneapolis. It was the first time Yost walked off a field without a victory since he arrived in Ann Arbor in 1901. Michigan also left something behind that day—their water jug.
The legend goes that Fielding Yost asked Minnesota to return the jug sometime after that 1903 meeting and was told he’d have to “win it back”, but there’s little evidence that this actually occurred.* Other accounts claim that just prior to the 1909 rematch, the Gophers proposed that the receptacle go to the victor and Yost and Allerdice quickly agreed.
One thing that is clear: the teams would play for the Little Brown Jug for the first time a century ago this November.
Thus far in the 1909 season, Minnesota had rolled through its schedule unscathed overpowering opponents by a margin of 152-12 including back-to-back shellackings of Chicago and Wisconsin. Gopher coach Henry Williams was cautiously confident the day before the saying, “I don’t see how Minnesota can lose, but Michigan may be stronger than we expect”. Williams’ feelings were compounded by the students and fans, who the day before the game erected a sign that declaring the Gophers “Western Champions”, believing both Saturday’s game and the mythical title were in their grasp.
When Michigan arrived in Minneapolis there was around a foot of snow on the ground, but the field was blanketed with straw to protect the playing surface from freezing. At game time, the field was cleared of its straw blanket and Minnesota took the ball first but failed to convert a field goal. When U-M took over the Gophers, having scouted the Penn game, were bracing for a variety of trick plays but Yost had other plans. Instead of taking it to the air, Michigan hammered away deep into Minnesota territory with a series of old school “short, sharp plunges”. After two plays were stopped near the goal line, Allerdice pounded into the line and scored the first points of the game. Minnesota countered, driving down to the eight and tied the game on a nifty roll-out pass. The deadlock held up until the half expired.
In the second half Michigan again took the ball down the field but missed a field goal. On the first play of Minnesota’s possession lightning struck for the Wolverines. Hoping to catch the defense on their heels, the Gophers sent another pass into the air—but this time Yost’s defenders were ready. U-M halfback Joe Magidson hung back, snatched the ball out of the air and trotted thirty-five yards the other way for a touchdown. Allerdice tacked on a late field goal to complete the upset 15-6.
After the game Coach Williams returned the jug with the understanding that they would have the chance to win it back the next time the teams played. When the Wolverine footballers held the jug again they would have noticed its color was white, not brown, and that someone painted upon it, ‘Michigan Jug “Captured” by Oscar October 31, 1903’. “Oscar” was Minnesota custodian Oscar Munson who discovered it a day or two after the game.
It’s unknown whether Yost also took the Minnesota fans’ makeshift ‘Western Champion’ sign, but nonetheless he and his Meechigan men snuffed out any Gopher claim to that title as they hopped the train back to Ann Arbor.
* This will be explained on this site soon, I am certain there was never any letter, wire or request from Yost that the jug be returned after the 1903 game, or really, at any point.
Part I: What Really Happened in the 1930s
Part II: Spinning Myths
Part III: Getting it Right
Part IV: 2013: A Space Quandary
Part V: Red Wing Roots
Part VI: Is the Greatest Trophy in College Sports a Fake?
Part VII: Open Questions