I call this “Willie Heston with Jug and Pigskin”
Most U-M fans (both U-Ms, I suppose) know the basic jug story. Before the 1903 game between the two schools in Minneapolis, Fielding Yost dispatched U-M equipment manager Tommy Roberts to purchase a five gallon Red Wing water jug. After the brutally fought game of the undefeated teams ended in a 6-6 tie, Minnesota’s equipment manager Oscar Munson found Michigan’s jug and decided to keep it as a souvenir. When the Wolverines returned to Minnesota in 1909 the teams agreed that the winner should take the jug—and the victor of the game has retained the precious crock ever since.
That part of the story is pretty well established. But outside of that, there are still many misconceptions about the history of the jug and the rivalry that persist today. Here’s at five common myths..along with a discussion of the reality.
Myth #1: BROUGHT OR BOUGHT?
The Myth: Common lore suggests that U-M bought the jug because they feared Minnesota would try to “taint” Michigan’s water supply.
The truth of how and why the famous jug ended up on the U-M sidelines in 1903 has shifted around as the decades have passed. In the early days of the Jug rivalry, it was commonly understood that Michigan brought the jug and its own, familiar water from Ann Arbor. Furthermore most believed it was Yost feared the Gophers would attempt to spike their water. Decades later Michigan’s equipment manager Tommy Roberts revealed that he simply bought the jug in Minneapolis before the game and filled it with water in Minnesota.
While it’s possible that Michigan wanted its own jug to keep enemy hands off the water supply, it wasn’t a common practice for the Wolverines to carry water on road trips and it’s doubtful that Yost feared any foul play from Minnesota.
The Wolverines were experienced travelers, including most notably a trip to Pasadena for the first Rose Bowl in 1902. Not only did they see no advantage in bringing its own water to road game, doing so was actually quite a hassle. Legendary team trainer Keene Fitzpatrick actually talked about the team’s water strategy just a few days before the Michigan’s 1903 trip to Minneapolis [via the October 28, 1903 Michigan Daily]:
“Carrying water to which the men are accustomed on a trip is a big nuisance and of no practical benefit,” said the trainer. “Once only, when the ‘99 team went to Philadelphia, was this precaution taken by Michigan, and then we didn’t find that any advantage had been gained. On the long California trip the health of the team was not impaired by the change in drinking water.”
The last line implies they were actually more concerned about the changes in regional water (think about your last trip to Mexico) than with foul play. But despite all that Fitzpatrick determined it wasn’t worth it to carry water on the road.
The Reality: Michigan just bought a jug (and filled it) in Minnesota because it didn’t make sense to haul jugs/water from Ann Arbor.
Myth #2: THE LETTER
The Myth: Common Jug lore suggests that once Fielding Yost found out he left the team’s water jug behind in Minnesota after the 1903 game, he wrote the Gophers asking for its return…and was told he’d need to “win it back”.
According to two accounts of those who were there when Michigan returned to Minnesota in 1909, Yost didn’t remember or really, know anything about the ceramic souvenir Minnesota confiscated six years earlier. For a man who was very outspoken and kept a detailed collection of personal correspondence, there’s no indication that Yost knew anything about the jug or cared about its return.