This season marks the 100th anniversary of when Michigan and Minnesota first played for the Little Brown Jug. Early this year I started on a quest to find out everything about the old trophy. I reviewed the legends, interviewed writers, equipment managers, coaches and pored through newspapers, photos and more. I even held the 5 gallon crock in my hands on a couple different occasions to get a good look. Go here for the previous posts in the series.
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 (outside of where to put scores after 2012) that remain:
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:
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:
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:
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?
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:
- 1. 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):
- 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.
- Related: Little Brown Jug Lore (entire series)