Little did University of Minnesota custodian Oscar Munson know that he would become a part of history or that he would briefly possess one of college football’s most valuable pieces of memorabilia.
One day after the Golden Gopher football team and Michigan Wolverines played to a 6-6 tie at Northrop Field on the campus of Minnesota, Munson brought a water jug to L.J. Cooke, the head of the Gophers’ athletics department and said, “Yost left his jug.”
Wolverine head coach Fielding Yost wanted the jug back, but Cooke wrote back, “We have your little brown jug; if you want it, you’ll have to win it.”
From that letter spawned 105 other, including three involving the Gophers and one involving the Wolverines, active trophy games between Division I football teams.
There are three theories as to how Munson obtained the “The Little Brown Jug.” The most believed theory is that the Wolverines forgot the water jug in the locker room of the University of Minnesota Armory after the game. Another is that Munson stole the jug during the confusion that led to the end of the game. The third, which was written by Roberts in 1956, is that the Wolverines intentionally left the jug behind.
There is more to the story.
Yost concerned that Gopher fans would contaminate his water supply. So, he told student manager Thomas B. Roberts to purchase something to carry water in as the team came to Minneapolis. His purchase was a 30 cent five-gallon jug from a local variety store.
The high-powered “point-per-minute” Wolverine offense managed just one touchdown, but had the lead until late in the Oct. 31, 1903 game. The Gophers finally crossed the goal line to tie the game late in the second half and as an impending storm loomed overhead chaos broke out. A majority of the overflow crowd of 20,000 fans rushed the field in celebration. The game was eventually called a tie with two minutes remaining.
The Little Brown Jug Trophy played on in 1909 and 1910 before the Wolverines left the Big Ten Conference. It returned in 1919 and has been played nearly every year since.
Notable games in the series include the Gophers’ 7-6 win in 1940’s “The Battle of the Giants,” the Gophers’ 20-17 upset of the Wolverines as a 25-point underdog in 1986 and the Wolverines’ 38-35 fourth quarter comeback in 2003.
The Wolverines won the last meeting 29-6 at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in 2008.
The Gophers have won the trophy just three times in 37 meetings since 1970.
The Gophers have a 22-66-3 record in the battle for the “Little Brown Jug.”