When I started my research on the Little Brown Jug earlier this year, I created a list of questions/facts I wanted to validate or at least understand a little better.   One of the items concerned this bit of jug history that’s been part of Jug lore for quite a while, here republished [in 2009] on Michigan official football site during the time:


This little detail is oftrepeated in recaps of Jug history (even in Angelique’s new book), but I wondered if anyone ever bothered to find out what actually went down over this stretch.  Having written on this era (see various eBay Watch pieces on the early 1930s or in Hail to the Victors 2008), I knew the Gophers and Wolverines fielded powerful squads and these contests were fiercely fought.  Did the teams just accept that the victor would not get to carry the jug off the field after these games?  How could the jug be gone for four years?

What I discovered was a wild tale and properly pieced together what actually happened.  Here’s a timeline:


  • Mid-September 1931. The drama actually started in 1931, not 1930 as the official history goes.  The jug vanished from the Administration building (now where you’ll find the athletic Ticket Office) in the mid-September in 1931.
  • October 29, 1931. The New York Times reports that the jug is recovered.
  • October 30, 1931.  The Times backs off the story from the previous day, reporting that the jug found was a “poor imitation.”
  • November 19, 1931.  The week of the Minnesota game, a car pulled up to the Tuomy Hills gas station (now the Bearclaw Coffee at the corner of Washtenaw and Stadium) with four men wearing “dark goggles”.  One of the disguised passengers rolled out a freshly painted jug onto the pavement and it is scooped up by gas station attendant K.D. Smith.  Here’s Smith looking a bit puzzled in this photo republished in the 1932 Michiganensian:

jug1Photo: 1932 Michiganensian (U-M Yearbook)

  • November 20-21, 1931 The next day, U-M athletic department officials announce that the gas station jug is authentic, but many skeptics are afoot including Ann Arbor Daily News writer Mill Marsh who after inspecting the crock labels it “a clever imitation.”  On the field, Michigan defeats the Gophers 6-0 and retains the jug.


  • November 18, 1932. Michigan team goes to Minneapolis to renew the rivalry.  Talk rages around town about the jug the Wolverines tote from Ann Arbor.  The legendary Fielding Yost makes the trip to the Twin Cities.  When grilled about the authenticity of the jug, Yost tells reporters, “Why sure, it’s the real jug,” adding, “Take a look at it. Does it look like a phoney?”    To the skeptics, he explained, “It looks differently than it used to because it’s been painted, but it’s the same jug just the same.”  Phil Pack echoed Yost’s assurances insisting, “So far as I am concerned that is the little brown jug.”
  • Some weren’t buying it. As one Associated Press writer put it, “Pack bought a substitute and had it painted to look like the original, but that fooled no one.”
  • The man who found the jug in 1903, Oscar Munson, was unimpressed with Michigan’s assurances.  “They’ve been passing a phoney off on us since 1927,” he snarled.   Munson also thought he knew the one responsible for the crock’s disappearance: Yost himself.  “He wanted the jug for himself and he took it.  It was never lost.”
  • November 19, 1932.  In Michigan’s final game of the season, the Wolverines prevail 3-0.  Michigan, Yost and Harry Kipke return to Ann Arbor with the jug.  Later Michigan is declared national champion thanks to the mathematical formula used to settle the matter those days: the Dickinson System.


  • August 21, 1933. A different jug appears in Ann Arbor, this time “in a clump of bushes near the medical building” on East University.  Yost confirms this is the real jug (effectively admitting he tried to pass off the gas station jug as the real deal) and asked that, “the person who had the jug the two years it was missing,” to contact him and explain what happened.

jug3 New  York Times, August 22, 1932

  • November 15, 1933. In the days leading up to the 1933 game, Minnesota’s Oscar Munson, the custodian who originally found ‘The Michigan Jug’ in 1903, remains skeptical about the newly found jug and even suggests that Yost planted it in the bushes on East U.
  • Yost essentially admitted he deceived the people of Minneapolis the year prior by accepting its authenticity and telling reporters, “I hope that some day the person who had the jug the two years it was missing will write me a letter and tell me the story of what was done with it while it was gone.  I’d like to have its complete story.”  Despite Yost’s plea, it doesn’t appear anyone stepped up to explain why it was taken or better yet, why they decided to dump it in those bushes.
  • The chief skeptic, Munson, stepped in once again to question the whole story and can you blame him?  Surely Yost’s assurances that the jug toted to Minneapolis the season prior now gnawed at Oscar. “They’ve been shoving a spurious water container on us for years,” he told reporters.  Munson suggested that if the real jug was found near shrubbery, “they were Mr. Yost’s bushes.”
  • Phil Pack, who maybe should have kept quiet at this point, couldn’t resist firing back at Munson. “Our friend Oscar hasn’t even seen the jug since 1929, when Minnesota turned it back.”  Pack added, “The jug is now in the vault, and it won’t come out of hiding until and if Minnesota beats Michigan.  Mr. Munson, now a venerable gentleman, may not live to see it back in Minneapolis, and he will have to show a pass signed by President Roosevelt to get within ten feet of it until then.”
  • November 18, 1933.  The game ends in a 0-0 tie.  Michigan retains the jug and is once again named national champion after the season.


  • November 3, 1934. The Gophers finally get it done, crushing Gerald Ford and the horrific 1934 Wolverines 34-0 in Minneapolis.  The jug is returned to Munson who later confirms he’s satisfied that the jug (which he understandably hides away!) is the real deal.

The Real Story: By pulling together these pieces, it appears as though today’s official Michigan athletic department line on the disappearance is a jumbled version of the truth, mixing a few of the events.  Instead of being missing from 1930 to 1934, it looks like the trophy was gone between September 1931 and August 1933.  And it wasn’t recovered “behind a clump of bushes by a gas station attendant” as this is blending two incidents.  An imitation jug was dropped off at a gas station in 1931 and yes, handled by an attendant.  A different jug, by all accounts the real deal, was found in bushes on campus in 1933.

As an aside, the culprit for a portion of the confusion over the story might fall on the Minnesota media department.  The 1943 Gopher game program included this caption under a republished photo of K.D. Smith at the gas station, and perhaps that’s where this historical nugget had its origins:


While this clarifies/corrects one piece of jug history, many other remained including a key question: Was the jug that was found in 1933 indeed the “real deal”, that is, the jug that was left in Minnesota in 1903 and first played for 100 years ago in 1909?  More on that here.

I started this project with a list of questions about the jug and the answers I found formed most of the posts in this series.  Here’s a few questions that remain unsolved:

1.  What happened to the cap and ribbons that used to be atop the jug?

In older photos of the jug there clearly is a more pronounced cap, which apparently held in place some decorative ribbons:

Little Brown Jug, from 1942 at Minnesota – Note the cap and ribbons

They are missing from the real trophy today (but you can see them on the replica in Schembechler Hall).  I asked Jon Falk about this.  He told me he remembered there being a cap on the jug but doesn’t recall what happened to it or when it disappeared.

I took a variety of photos of the jug and from the looks of it, someone ripped the top off but we just don’t know when.   Note that inner circle of the jug, which looks to be torn (maybe Leach did it):



2.  Where did the Jug’s carrying case come from?

It was a surprise to learn that the jug has a customized carrying case.  It’s basically a chest with a padded, velvety interior.  Jon Falk showed it to me and here’s a compilation of it from different angles:

little brown jug chest

What I haven’t figured out is who had this built, and when it came into service.  Here’s a photo from 1935-ish of Oscar Munson & Gopher coach Bernie Bierman with the chest:

1935ish with Trophy Case

Given the maroon and gold color choice on the “Football Trophy” portion of the trunk, I’d say someone in Minnesota had this trunk made, probably in 1934 when the Gophers smoke Gerald Ford and the Wolverines to take the jug.

3.  What happened to Minnesota’s replica?

We know that Minnesota had a replica jug for the trophy case and for display purposes years ago.  We also know that it disappeared around 30 years ago.  Earlier this year I spoke to a few folks currently in the Gopher athletic department and asked them about the whereabouts of the replica.  No one knew anything about it but they directed me to someone who might: longtime equipment manager Dick Mattson.

Mattson, who started at Minnesota in 1963, recalled the existence of an “official” replica jug.  He believes it was lost sometime during the transition from Memorial Stadium to the (frickin’) Metrodome in 1982.  If anyone knows what happened to it or where it is, I’d love to hear about it.Dick Mattson is checking around for me to see if anyone knows what happened to it.  I’m hoping it is sitting in someone’s basement right now, perhaps to return one day.

4.  What happened to the fake “Gas Station Jug” that was found at the current home of Bearclaw coffee in ‘31?

Speaking of replicas, I’ve had at least three readers ask me this questions offline.  The tale of the jug’s disappearance is now well chronicled on these pages, and in less detail in this (November 2009) month’s Ann Arbor Observer and even in this quarter’s LSA Magazine.  In a nutshell, a few weeks after the jug vanished from its campus home, a phony jug appeared at the Tuomy Hills Amoco gas station (now Bearclaw Coffee) in 1931.  Michigan tried to pass it off as the original until…what appears to be the “real” jug appeared back on campus in 1933.  Again, read all about it here.

A few have asked me what happened to the fake gas station jug, and in particular, is it the replica that sits in Schembechler Hall today.

First off, I just don’t know what they did with the gas station jug and I don’t think it became the official Michigan replica that we can see today.  Two reasons:  1. The jug in the gas station photo from the 1932 Michiganensian doesn’t look quite the same to me.  The dimensions seem off but I know that photos can deceive.  2.  When the jug’s disappearance was first leaked to the media, the New York Times ran a story that the jug was found.  The next day they retracted the story, saying the crock that was found was a replica used for display purposes.  Putting it together, my hunch is that the gas station crock is not today’s Wolverine replica.

That said, wouldn’t it be a hoot if U-M gave the Amoco jug to the Gophers when they finally won it back in 1934, along with the real jug, so they too could have a replica to display?

This photo published in the current LSA Mag suggests this could have happened.  Here’s a photo of Gopher equipment manager Oscar Munson with two jugs likely from 1934 (not from 1933, as LSA Magazine has it, because U-M still owned it and wouldn’t have let Munson put his mitts on it).  It makes you wonder why he’d pose with two jugs at all, unless there were special circumstances:


That’d make the search for the missing Gopher replica (see question #3) a little more interesting, no?!  And I assume the replica is the jug in Oscar’s left arm in the photo above, which seems to have the longer body like the Amoco crock (on the right, tilted):


5.  Related to the events of 1931-1933, several more questions:   

  • Who’s responsible for the jug theft in 1931?  Guess –> Pranksters took the jug in 1931, perhaps some students/fraternity as a gag.  It wasn’t uncommon in those days to grift those type of prizes.  The Old Oaken Bucket, the prize to the victor of the Purdue-Indiana rivalry apparently went missing just in April 1931, just a few months before the jug vanished.   Check out lengths a Boilermaker backer went through to “relieve” the Hoosiers of that trophy from Bloomington (gotta love that he left a note):

bucket  from the New York Times – October 29, 1931

  • Where was the real jug for these two years?  Guess –> In someone’s basement on a shelf.  Maybe the SAE’s tucked it in the cold room with the bootleg liquor.   I don’t think Fielding Yost had it stashed, as ol’ Oscar suggested.
  • Who produced the fake ‘31 jug?   Guess –> Someone at the athletic department, perhaps Phil Pack, found a jug that was “close”, painted it, and dropped it at the gas station a couple days before the game hoping to avoid the uncomfortable situation of not having the trophy just in case the Gophers won that Saturday.
  • Who produced the real jug in ‘33?  Guess –> Maybe someone familiar with the 1931 theft, perhaps a student who was involved, figured it was time to end the nonsense and surrendered the trophy.

For More:  Little Brown Jug Lore

Getting tired of all the jug stuff?  Too bad!  This morning Ira Weintraub of WTKA 1050AM invited me and Ryan Forrey, the master potter at The Henry Ford Museum/Greenfield Village to the Michigan Insider radio show to talk some hardcore jug.

Listen to these two segments and you’ll qualify for a bachelor’s of Jugology:


Read all of these posts of Little Brown Jug Lore for your PhD.  

Also check out pieces in this month’s Ann Arbor Observer, GoBlueWolverine Magazine, and my small contribution to John U. Bacon’s great piece in the wonderful LS&A Magazine for some extra credit. 


I’ve received a few questions about the Little Brown Jug since I started this series, and the most common involves an upcoming dilemma.  There are 91 scores painted on the jug dating back to 1903, including 66 Michigan wins, 22 for the Gophers, three ties (1903, 1933, and 1950) with just two slots remaining in the current configuration:


The teams resume their rivalry in 2011 in Ann Arbor and the return to Minneapolis and the new TCF Stadium in 2012.  Beyond that a decision will need to be made if they intend to continue writing the scores of the games on the jug.

Oscar’s Prize
The teams didn’t actually play for the jug in 1903—Michigan left the pottery behind after they left Minneapolis and the Gophers claimed it as prize before the teams agreed to play for it prior to the 1909 game.  The tradition of painting on the jug started right off the bat thanks to Minnesota “custodian” Oscar Munson and athletic director L.J. “Doc” Cooke.  Here’s a look at their handiwork:

66 oscar

On the left, the jug suspended in 1905 from the ceiling of Doc Cooke’s office offers a view of the score of the game with some special emphasis (MINNESOTA 6, Michigan 6).

To the right, the other side with a from the 1910 Michiganensian of the ‘Michigan Jug’ with “Captured” by Oscar with the date of the game and up top, a warning: ‘Not to be taken from the Gymnasium’. (Maybe if they would have left that warning in tact in the 1930s, we wouldn’t have had this problem).

So the tradition of painting this beauty started early and obviously evolved from the 6-6 score taking up a quarter of the jug, to today’s 91 scores (within 90 slots – the teams played twice in 1926, two wins for the good guys FWIW) arranged in four columns that nestle in pairs in between the painted M logos for each squad.  The current score grid consists of 92 available slots, slight unbalanced with 48 scores on the Blue side along with 44 on the Maroon (including the two remaining slots):


One curiosity—beneath the columns of scores starting with 1903 and 1941, there is a row that spans that segment of the jug that was left blank.  I have no explanation beyond that it appears as though that section is a little beat up and perhaps they decided to avoid it with the paintbrush:


What to Do
So, assuming they don’t use that mysterious row, that’ll give them two more games until they have to make a decision.  The possibilities with commentary:

1. Stop putting scores on the jug. No way.  I will fight you.

2. Just remove some of the old scores.  That’d kill me and again, I will fight you.  You can’t take off the old scores.  While the first game didn’t take place until 1909, you have got to leave the 1903 tie score on their for the sake of this tradition.

3. Make the Jug bigger. There’s only one reasonable way to do this, and tossing this beauty back on the potters wheel and into the kiln isn’t it.

Per Ryan Forrey, the master potter at The Henry Ford/Greenfield Village, “You can’t re-fire the Jug.  The pot would go through extreme thermal-shock which could lead to the breaking of the Jug.”  Not good.

Forrey offered a possibility.  “The only thing can be done in my opinion is to make an additional ceramic base and epoxy the two parts together. The paint job would bring the piece together. Of course the additional section can be made to look seamless or it can be done like the Stanley Cup where the additions are obvious.”

This might look something like this:

Original photo Danny Moloshok/Getty Images

Interesting idea and heck, at some point you are going to run out of room no matter what you do unless it is expanded.  I just have trouble with changing the size of the jug – I’d almost rather lose some scores than violate the original shape of the jug.

4. Repaint the existing Score columns.  You could always do this and this will have to be done at some point anyway.  Part of the charm of the scores is that they are handpainted, and I think you could hold that tradition but make the just make the scores tiny.  Roughly speaking, if you could shrink the whole scheme by 50% you could theoretically cram another 92 scores on this beauty taking you to 2104 – awesome.   Further, if you shrink the size of the year and score, you could possibly fit another column or two between the logos adding potentially another 92 scores.

I remember that my electric football players were handpainted so I’m guessing they can squeeze many, many more scores on there.  This option would maintain the current design of the jug.

5.  Add new columns. I asked legendary equipment manager Jon Falk about this issue of running out of scores on the jug earlier this year.  He had no clear answer so I assume nothing’s been decided.   Falk did gesture toward the open space above one of the logos and suggested that additional scores could be inserted there.  He’s right of course; there’s plenty of room.

There are a few ways you can go with it – you could have a single column or you could go two more columns and run them down above and even below each of the M logos.  Here’s what it might look like:


This method buys you a lot of time as well.  If you follow the representation above, you just added 22 scores on either side for 44 total.  This would cover the rivalry until 2057 if the teams play every season after they resume in 2011.   If you got aggressive you could probably squeeze eight additional scores in there without touching the logos, taking you to 2065.

6. Retire the existing Jug. [Added 10/13 based on the comments from the readers].  The question of who would get to keep the old jug would be raised, and if it’s a zero sum game you have to give the nod to Michigan.  Perhaps the Michigan replica, likely a very old piece anyway, could be repainted and put into service for the next 92 games.   But I really don’t like this idea.

The rivalry isn’t about playing for “a jug”–it’s about playing for THIS jug, the one left behind in 1903.  Maybe the tradition of playing all these years makes that secondary but don’t you think it’s cool that they (allegedly) play for the same crock that Tommy Roberts bought for Yost back in 1903?   Man, I sure do.

My take
I actually went into this post thinking option #4 was the only way to go.  But I’d be open to option #5 after pondering my crude representation.  Eventually you’ll have to go down route 4 but adding the new space for scores (above) will push off that move for a couple generations.  I can live with it.

07. December 2008 · Comments Off on Michigan Busted Bronko (1929) · Categories: Archive 2008, eBay Watch, History, Little Brown Jug

If you turned the Gary Danielson comparisons of Tim Tebow and the Florida offense to Bronko Nagurski into a drinking game, congrats, you’re drunk and hopefully you were adequately numb as the final few references were uttered.

If any good came out of this, it gave me a chance to open up the history books. The Canadian born Nagurski played his college days at Minnesota from 1927-1929. As if to get the upper hand on Danielson’s blow hole, I wanted to see if Michigan put a beating on Nagurski as they did with Tebow last season and thus sleep a little better tonight.

While Nagurski’s Gophers beat Michigan in 1927 (his first year of eligibility) the legendary Bronko did not play a significant role on the conference championship team, according to his college football hall of fame profile, just seeing limited action at tackle. His role on the team picked up in 1928 but our teams did not meet.

The pinnacle of Nagurski’s collegiate career was 1929 when he was named a consensus All-American. On November 16 of that season new coach Harry Kipke and the M men traveled to Minnesota and returned with the Little Brown Jug after edging the Gophers 7-6 in front of a homecoming crowd of 58,000. This was the only home loss suffered by any of Nagurski’s Minnesota teams.

– The man had an interesting life after a storied career for George Halas’ Chicago Bears and parlayed his popularity on the gridiron into to a successful career in pro wrestling.
– He also was one sausage-finger-having fella, his NFL championship ring is said to be size 19 1/2.
– He was immortalized by CBS color man Gary Danielson after being mentioned 16 times during the 2008 SEC Championship game.
– Bronko Nagurski, Jr. played for Notre Dame and later in the CFL.

11. November 2008 · Comments Off on Angel on WDFN: Players asked for 4-man front (audio) · Categories: Archive 2008, Little Brown Jug, Lloyd Carr, Media

The Angel, back on Shep, Shave and Shower on 1130AM-WDFN this morning:

* Angel said Brandon Graham went to the coaches and requested they run the four man front.
* Talked about the significance of the Little Brown Jug before and after the game to Rodriguez and drew some comparisons to how Carr treated it (thank you).
* A caller bitched about the late hit on Odoms. Chengelis agreed it was a late hit and said Odoms should be ready this weekend.
* Said Threet has a shot at getting back Saturday?
* On Minor, Rodriguez said he’s dealing with a bunch of nagging injuries. Angel thinks Minor will be on the shelf this weekend.

Elsewhere: Don’t miss Jim Carty, Esquire on WTKA 1050AM this morning.

10. November 2008 · Comments Off on Final takes on the Gopher Snare · Categories: Archive 2008, Little Brown Jug

A few random takes on Minnesota, closing out the week:
* Man, I can’t believe Tim Brewster didn’t rush things a little bit down the stretch. After watching Michigan control the ball in the final minutes of the game it’s clear it wouldn’t have mattered, but Brewster walked off the field with all three timeouts, right? And as the ESPN guy kept pounding home, they had no sense of urgency on offense in the fourth quarter. I don’t blame them for kicking that field goal, but they needed to get some hustle on.
* Speaking of down the stretch, after all we’ve been through this season I caught myself watching the clock on every play. I wasn’t convinced we were going to win this thing until a few minutes to go.
* Angelique suggested there might be a quarterback controversy this morning. I’m not sure about that–yes, Sheridan looked great but I’m still much more comfortable with Threet back there if he’s healthy.
* A few in the local media have suggested that Michigan has given up in games, thrown in the towel, dialed down the effort. I haven’t seen it. In fact, during the Michigan State game one of my takeaways is how somehow these guys think they’re bad. Not bad meaning bad but bad meaning good. I mean Michael Jackson bad.
* I had to slap the giddiness out of myself Sunday morning with that leather glove I keep handy, realizing that we’re talking about Minnesota here. But it was a relief.
* These buffoons in this video demonstrate how I, like you, thought things were going to go on Saturday. This is gopher snaring:

08. November 2008 · Comments Off on Slick Nick Sheridan · Categories: Archive 2008, Jokes, Little Brown Jug

To the victor goes the spoils, look who was seen with #8 in Minneapolis after the game:

Nick Sheridan Gisele

So let’s get down to it:
* Sheridan played great, not just good. I, like you, expected a train wreck today so give him a lot of credit.
* His final passing stats don’t do justice (18-30, 203 yards and 33 rushing). He played smart, he protected the ball, and actually threw a handful of very nice balls downfield, at least two of which were flat out dropped by the receivers.
* Give Sheridan half the credit, the rest to Scott Shafer and the defense for protecting the Little Brown Jug, which will now be held in the familiar confines of Schembechler Hall until November 2011. How ’bout dem apples!:

Scott Shafer's Defense

07. November 2008 · Comments Off on Jug Deal: Win One, Get two Free · Categories: Archive 2008, History, Little Brown Jug, WTKA 1050AM · Tags: , , , ,

The original Little Brown Jug, photo from Minnesota
The original Little Brown (White?) Jug, from Historic Michigan Football Photos.

HT: Caught this nugget on Sam Webb’s show this morning and it really hurts. The winner of Saturday’s battle will keep the Little Brown Jug for not only a year, but until November 5, 2011 (!). Bollocks!

Yes, due to the way the schedule shakes out the Wolverines and Gophers don’t meet for another three years. Thankfully that game is in Ann Arbor (kick-off time hasn’t been determined quite yet).

That’s our jug! As Lloyd Carr reminded everyone last year, we bought it, they stole it. It’s ours–let’s keep it.

Should we fail, it’ll be the longest stint that the jug’s been in Minnesota since a four year stretch from 1960 until Michigan won it back in 1964. Previous to that, Minnesota’s great Bennie Bierman-led Depression era teams held the receptacle from 1934-1942.