30. October 2017 · Comments Off on On the Precipice (1903) | Little Brown Jug Lore · Categories: 2015 · Tags: , , , , , ,

It’s Little Brown Jug Week.

Much has been written on these pages about what happened in the days, years and decades following the famous 1903 Michigan-Minnesota game.  Here are a few nuggets that describe what was going on just before the game, thanks to a few newspaper clippings uncovered by Stagg vs. Yost author John Kryk.

Scheduled Game time: 2:15pm October 31, 1903
Series Record: Up to this point Michigan led 4-2.  (Minnesota won the first two meetings in 1892 & 1893, Michigan took the next four 1895, 1896, 1898, 1902)
Hype: Billed as one of the biggest games in Western football in years, Minnesota came in undefeated 10-0, and outscored opponents 506-6.  Yost hadn’t lost a game since he stepped foot in Ann Arbor in 1901, and to this point in 1903 the team was 7-0, outscoring opponents 437-0.
Tale of the Tape: From the October 30, 1903 Minnesota Journal, a comparison of the line-ups with Michigan having the 20 pound weight advantage:

Tale of the Tape

Speaking of the Armory – We know now that Minnesota equipment man Oscar Munson found Michigan’s water jug inside the Armory a day or 2 after the game, and, we know that Athletic Director L.J. Cooke suspended the jug above his office in the Armory from 1903 to 1909:

Armory and Jug

Quoting Coach Yost:  Before the game a Minnesota man asked him, “Are you going to beat us?”  “Well, that’s what we came up here for,” replied Yost.  “It will be a great game, and probably a close game.  Minnesota has been playing better football than any team in the west this year…if we win this, we win the championship.”

Travel and Lodging: The travel contingent arrived on the morning of Friday, October 30th and included 21 players (the first and second teams) along with Yost, his staff, AD Charles Baird, trainer Keene Fitzpatrick.  They had breakfast at “Schiek’s” before then headed to their quarters at Lake Minnetonka at around 9:30am.

They stayed at the Ice Yacht clubhouse – and check this out – I found this shot of the Michigan squad outside the building in 1903 via the Hennepin County Library – sweet!:

1903 Ice Yacht Clubhouse And if my eyes don’t deceive, that appears to be Yost wearing some sort of hat with a Block M on it – whoa:

Yost with Block M hat

While the close-up is grainy, I’m guessing what you have there is an M flanked by 03 and 04, denoting the school year and thus the academic and athletic calendar.

One other thing.  Notably missing from this photo is equipment man Tommy Roberts, the man who the story goes actually bought the jug for Yost.  Here he is in the 1903 team photo:

It’s not far fetched to speculate that Roberts is missing from the photo because he was off buying the jug.  Mull on that.

Wagering and the man from Fargo: By all accounts many a bet were laid down on this big game – $75,000 by some accounts.  Michigan by and large seemed to be favored.  Putting the match up aside, since Yost’s arrival in 1901 only one team – Wisconsin in 1902 – had even stayed within a few touchdowns of his Wolverines.  The Minneapolis Journal shared this detail and story of one bigshot who felt good about the Gophers:


There are too many pikers everywhere if you ask me.

Minnesota’s Final Practice: According to the Minnesota Journal the Gophers “took her final hard practice yesterday (10/29) afternoon.  Unusual precautions were taken to preserve secrecy.  A double force of guards watched the  gates and patrolled the stands, while others kept watch from the top of the brick walls surrounding Northrop field.”’

Michigan’s Final Practice: “Michigan spent the day quietly at Lake Minnetonka.  The men were given their last signal drill, and listened for an hour while Coach Yost outlined the details of the plan of attack.”

Tickets: They were likely between $2-$3 (based on Midwest tickets from the era). They were color-coded to indicate where to enter:

  • Red – East (on Harvard Street)
  • Green – Southwest (corner of the field, near the railroad tracks)
  • Yellow – North (at University and 18th avenues)
  • Blue – – Northwest (on Church Street, near the Armory).  That’s where the holder of this beauty entered the field:

1903 Minnesota-Michigan Ticket Stub

Gameday Weather:  According to a Minneapolis Journal report, “The weather was almost ideal with scarcely a breath of wind and the field was hard and in as perfect shape as could be desired.”

Crowd: It was estimated later that over 20,000 were on prem, including around 400 in the Michigan section.  By all accounts it was packed.  “Nearly an hour before the game was called the seats allotted for general admission were filled and the crowd was packed six deep outside the wire fence.  The grand stand filled up rapidly and it seemed probable that hundreds would be turned away.”  The Pioneer Press noted, “The telegraph poles and trees are full of spectators..” …which we know from this famous photo of the game:

Northrup Field 1903

Tauntings: The Minnesota band entered the field before the game led by a donkey, and, ahem, “the animal wore trousers of Michigan colors.”  [They didn’t get those pants from Moe’s.]  When the Michigan second team players arrived they were greeted with a rousing chorus of “Poor old Mich” by the Gopher Fans.

Arrivals: The Wolverine team entered the field around 2:07pm.  The Gophers at 2:20pm.

Coin Toss: 2:25pm, Minnesota won the toss.

Kickoff: At 2:28pm: Michigan kicked off to Minnesota’ Sig Harris who fumbled the ball.  Minnesota started at their own 15 yard line.  Then this:

1903 Michigan Minnesota play chart

You need more?  Get more.  Here’s your Little Brown Jug Lore.

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mgoblog’s Hail to the Victors preseason mag is an annual must-get so if you don’t got, get (also at UGP stores around town).  This year the Tales from Old Blue history section alone features pieces by Craig Ross, Bacs, John Kryk, Michael Florek, and yrs truly.  

Photo Aug 24, 9 24 14 AM

Florek pulled together a brilliant slice of U-M lore by chronicling the origins of the Wave in Ann Arbor.   Nutshell: U-M experienced the Wave, coupled with deafening fan noise, in action during the September 17, 1983 loss at Husky Stadium against Washington (U-Dub invented it in 1981).   Five weeks later the cheerleading team introduced  it to Michigan Stadium when #12 Iowa came to Ann Arbor. 

The story around the origins is very cool, but even better is the reaction of one Gen. Glenn E. “Bo” Schembechler a couple weeks after it was introduced:  

“That thing (the Wave) never should have started.  If it never started nobody would know that we have an oval stadium and that you can make an ass of yourself all the way around the oval.  I can’t believe that fans are not sophisticated enough to understand the game.  It’s unsportsmanlike to both teams.”  

Damn, Bo was a beauty.   Needless to say the fans didn’t like being told what to or not to do in the stadium & letters to the Michigan Daily blasted back at Bo for his comments.  net-net – Bo backed off, the Wave endured, and get HTTV 2014.


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13. September 2010 · Comments Off on Historical Context of the Notre Dame Game · Categories: Archive 2009 · Tags: , , , , , , ,


Given that John Kryk, author of the definitive history of the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry Natural Enemies, is a mere email away, I had to get his thoughts and observations on the game.

This marked the 19th time Kryk has watched the game in person and that’s exactly half of the 38 games played all time between two schools.   A few thoughts from Mr. Kryk:

  • The only Michigan players I’ve seen that are so potentially and routinely electrifying [as Denard] are Anthony Carter and Desmond Howard (in that order). 
  • This is no fluke. The drive to open the second half vs UConn was mostly Denard completing 3rd-down after 3rd-down pass, not Denard running for first downs.  And the winning drive Saturday was almost all on Denard’s arm, not his legs. He’s a quarterback, not a deluxe running back who keeps defenses honest with his throw.   In fact, he tears ’em up with his throws.
  • This game reminds me what Lloyd Carr once told me about the greatness of this series — that neither team will ever play its greatest game of the year, because it’s too early in the year, but because both teams play so hard in this game, and it’s early, you get more killer mistakes. Thus more momentum swings, thus more exciting games.
  • It was the seventh time in 27 games since the series resumed in 1978 that a team scored the winning points in the final two minutes. The first three times, it was Notre Dame ruining Michigan hearts — Harry Oliver in 1980, Reggie Ho in 1988 and Mirer-to-Jarrell in 1990. The last four times, however, it was Michigan ruining Notre Dame hearts — Remy Hamilton in 1994, Anthony Thomas in 1999, Tate-to-Mathews last year, and Denard yesterday.
  • By the way, the series record now since the ’78 resumption? 13-13-1.
  • Here’s a stat just for you: RichRod now joins Lloyd Carr and Fielding H. Yost as the only Michigan coaches to win two of their first three games against Notre Dame. Bo went 1-2, Mo 1-1-1.

So where does this game stack up in the history of the series?   Kryk’s take:

  • The Top 2 are 1980 and 1994, because both are the only two series games that had TWO lead changes in the final 55 seconds — and so many other exciting, momentum-changing plays and outside drama.
  • After those two, it’s probably 1986, 1990, 1999, 2009 and 2010 fighting for the other three spots in the Top 5 most exciting. This year’s has to be in the Top 5, I’d say. Rounding out the Top 10 would be the 1979, 1986 and 1988 games.

If you what the rest of the story, go get Natural Enemies

Here’s another little statistical ditty for you.  The WSJ ran this last year prior to the 2009 Notre Dame game, in which the Irish were a 4-point or so favorite.  With Tate’s in 2009 and Denard’s heroics Saturday, the favorite has covered a mere THREE times in the last 22 match-ups between these teams. 

On Wednesday fans and media will get a good look inside the nearly completed renovation of Michigan Stadium.   While there’s seemingly been an overwhelming positive reaction to the new digs by fans, you may recall that the project had its opponents.  The most vocal was a group named Save The Big House, led by longtime U-M fan and Ann Arbor native John Pollack.   The group received much attention in the media including this piece in the New York Times.

Pollack, 44, formerly a speechwriter for President Clinton and Rep. David Bonior, suggested that the needs of the athletic department could be met via an alternate design.  His team proposed a less costly plan that would expand seating, add bathrooms and the upgrade the press box without adding premium seating or suites:

image savethebighouse.com

Pollack is the author of the book Cork Boat and resides in New York these days.  He was kind enough to answer a few questions about the (nearly) finished project.

For the record, a couple things here.  I told Pollack right off that I disagree with much of his stance about the renovation.  And if I count as a U-M historian, I’m firmly with Bacs, John Kryk and the others who argue Fielding Yost would support this project based on what I know about the man.  This said, I told Pollack this would be an interview and not a debate or an editorial on the topic—I had a few questions and wanted to hear his answers. 

MVictors: Now that the project is nearly complete, what do you think of how the renovation turned out?

John Pollack: I think that the old Michigan Stadium was a unique and powerful place and that the renovated stadium looks like most other stadiums in the country now. And that’s too bad.

So you feel it’s lost its unique shape and design — it’s certainly a different place now.

Pollack: It’s a lot different and ironically it looks a lot bigger from the outside and it feels a lot smaller from the inside. Going to games there over the last couple years, as the boxes have risen–they are so out of scale with bowl itself that it makes the bowl seem small. And that’s not positive.

Before, as you approached the stadium there was this sense of anticipation whether you’d been there 100 times or never had been there.  Because even if you knew what was coming, you walk in and this mighty bowl unfolds before you. Now you’re walking up to two corporate-looking structures and when you walk in the bowl is diminished because the proportions are all wrong.  Those boxes are literally monuments to self-aggrandizement and unfortunately they diminish the stadium.

I don’t speak for everyone of course, but I think I have a pretty good finger on the pulse of U-M fans. Almost to a fan, people seem to be thrilled with the renovation.  It’s safe to say that a vast majority of fans are very proud and excited about this.

Pollack:  Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. One of the great things about Michigan as a university is that there has, traditionally, been great diversity of opinion and that’s as it should be. There’s no accounting for taste–if someone likes it that’s great. I hope that it enhances their experience. Some people are going to like it, some people aren’t going to like it.  There are a lot of traditionalists who feel that tradition has been sacrificed not only architecturally but symbolically.

Is there anything you like about the renovation?

Pollack:  I’m looking forward to shorter lines for the bathroom at halftime and I’m looking forward to cheering on the Wolverines to a winning season. Apart from that, I’ll be glad that I saw Michigan Stadium in its original form when it was still a very unique stadium as opposed to any pro or college stadium in the country.

Will you be heading to the UConn game and if so, any plans for the stadium unveiling?

Pollack:  I haven’t bought a [plane] ticket for the UConn game–it’s not as compelling of an opponent as I’m accustomed to. I don’t have the good fortune to go back to every game since I live in New York so I try to cherry pick the old favorites.

Every game that I go to, I generally go with my parents who are season ticket holders. We have our ritual—we walk from campus, we stop by my uncle’s tailgate, and then we go touch our brick which is right by the eagle and not far from Desmond Howard’s brick. We say ‘Go Blue’, and then go to the game. You know what? I’m still going to do that and I’m still going to cheer for the Wolverines whether the stadium has been diminished or not.

Do you expect any kind of protest, are you aware of any plans?

Pollack:  None that I’m aware of. I’m sure that some people have given up their tickets because they’ve been priced out, and that’s been the main development over the last couple of years. But none that I’m aware of.

Fielding H. Yost III joined your protest and as I understand it, he was at the presentations before the Regents but didn’t have a chance to speak–is that right?

Pollack:   They just never allowed Fielding H. Yost [III] to speak at any of the meetings he attended. But yes, Fielding H. Yost, who goes by ‘Duke’ Yost to friends, was indeed opposed to the addition of the luxury boxes.

Do you have any idea if he’s changed his stance on that?

Pollack:   I’m not at liberty to speak for someone else. You should talk with him yourself, I can only speak for myself.

While no one can directly speak for Fielding H. Yost, several Michigan historians John U. Bacon [Bo’s Lasting Lessons, Legacy of Champions, etc.], John Kryk [Natural Enemies] and to some extent Robert Soderstrom [The Big House] maintain Yost would have supported the renovation.  Did you take any stock in the stance of these writers? 

Pollack:   Putting words or ideas in the name of someone who’s been gone for sixty years takes a lot of balls. So, they might feel that they like the stadium, and they might feel that somebody else might have liked the stadium and the changes that have been implemented. They can say whatever they want. Fielding H. Yost built a great stadium, the best in the country, and unfortunately it’s been turned into every other stadium in the country.

Dave Brandon is replacing Bill Martin as athletic director. Obviously you are not happy with this project but do you blame, if that’s the right word, Bill Martin for the renovation?

Pollack:   I would say that the addition of luxury boxes at Michigan Stadium was the collective failure of the university and most of its leaders. What they did was build a monument to a past age. It’s a microcosm of the breakdown of the financial system that we’ve seen over the last couple years, with Wall Street overreaching, America going into debt and the taxpayer having to bailout the fat cats. What you have now are empty boxes that took a large subsidy and a seat license from the average fan to construct in the first place that even according to the university numbers, barely broke even at full capacity. And now the average fan is paying the price and it’s what we saw on Wall Street and it’s what we’re seeing at Michigan Stadium. It’s not so surprising because sports are always a microcosm of larger society.  The university leadership forced this through and we have what we have.

Did you speak to Martin directly about it?

Pollack:   I spoke to all of them directly about it. So did many others.

Did they listen to you? Were they respectful? Were they hostile toward you?

Pollack:   There were some people who were very receptive and very respectful. There were others who were not. In general, as a rule, the university did not listen well but that’s not their strong suit. Their strong suit is not listening and as a result they have a lot of luxury boxes sitting empty and a stadium that’s going to [require] paying off its debt for a long time.

A lot of people view the stadium as sacred, but in the end, most people support the renovation. U-M fans are pretty rabid – did you get any backlash, threats or hate mail?

Pollack:   I got my share of hate mail, sure, and it didn’t reflect well on the most rabid supporters of the luxury boxes but everyone’s entitled to their opinion. One thing that we, who were opposed to the boxes, did was we always took the high road. We never cast aspersions on people’s motivation. We just felt we ought to upgrade the stadium and upgrade it equally for all fans. 

The original reason given for the renovation/for building luxury boxes, was the premise that we needed to widen the seats, add more bathrooms and replace the press box and the only way to do that was to add luxury boxes. In fact, I read this the other day– the average seat was widened one quarter inch. That’s not worth repainting the numbers.

Any other projects or trends you see at the athletic department that you plan to do something about?  Crisler Arena will renovated soon, for instance.

Pollack:   The university has greatly diminished the iconic stadium in the United States of America. Whatever they do on the margins to improve or detract from other facilities is, in my mind, not so important. I hope they do a great job, I hope the football team wins and I’ll be there to cheer on the Wolverines in the new stadium like I always have. I’ve been going to that stadium since I was five years old and I’ll be going until I’m 95 if I’m lucky enough to live that long.

I am a Wolverine through and through and I’m sorry that the stadium turned out the way it did, but I’m not sorry I took the field. If every team that had to play Michigan on a Saturday afternoon refused to take the field because chances are, traditionally, they were going to lose, what would Saturday afternoons be like? So I’m glad that thousands of other people and I raised our voices for a better stadium. Am I sorry we lost this fight? Yes I am.  But in the end all I can say is that you win some, you lose some–let’s Go Blue.


[Ed. 7/13.  From the comments below and elsewhere, one clarification that I think is fair to add.   Regarding Pollack’s comments around “empty suites”, U-M reports that they are 75% sold and Pollack is aware of this.  He argues (I’m paraphrasing) that many of the suites were taken by U-M groups/schools (med school, b-school, regents, alumni association, AD dept, President’s office, etc.) so that the 75% figure doesn’t accurately reflect the true percentage of sold suites (of the publicly available).   He mentioned this as we were concluding the interview but I didn’t put it in the original post. ]

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