Indiana and Michigan State play annually in the Big Ten East. It’s rarely all that consequential in the standings, other than for frequently appearing on the Hoosiers’ list of heartbreakers against ranked teams.
But Spartans-Hoosiers has something no other game has. It has the Old Brass Spittoon.
The Big Ten’s got a lot of rivalry trophies. Most of them are weird. There’s Paul Bunyan’s Axe (Minnesota-Wisconsin), the Paul Bunyan Trophy (Michigan-MSU), the Old Oaken Bucket (Indiana-Purdue), the Illibuck (Ohio State-Illinois), the Floyd of Rosedale (Minnesota-Iowa), and the $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy, the biggest of them all.
The Spittoon, as its inscription notes, became a trophy in 1950.
The schools played four times between 1922 and 1940, but the winner did not get a spittoon. Three of those four games were Indiana wins, and one was a tie. In the history of the series as a whole, MSU leads, 46-16-2.
Here’s Michigan State’s student paper, The State News, describing how the Spittoon actually became a thing:
In 1950 MSU football had just come off a 36-33 emotional victory over Notre Dame and were looking to avoid a letdown against Indiana the following week. Knowing this, junior class president Gene McDermott wanted to play his part in keeping the Spartans from falling trap to Indiana.
McDermott and class secretary Virginia O’Brien hit the town to find something that would rile up not only the football team but the student body heading into the Indiana matchup. Inspired by the Little Brown Jug, which University of Michigan and Minnesota play for, the two wandered into an antique shop in Lansing.
McDermott spotted the spittoon and thought it would be perfect for the rivalry. Inside the spittoon was a note that said the spittoon was in use during the 1800s at a trading post around what is now East Lansing. As the story goes, residents of both Michigan and Indiana would pass by the trading post and use the spittoon while hunting and fishing in Michigan, therefore becoming the basis for the reasoning behind the Old Brass Spittoon. The spittoon was cleaned up, and bought for $25 by McDermott.
However, for it to become a rivalry trophy, Indiana had to first accept the challenge of playing for it. McDermott sent a telegram to the Indiana Student Senate telling them about the new found trophy. Their reply?
"We the students of Indiana University hereby accept your challenge."
Michigan State needed a reason to get up for a game against Indiana, a lousy team that would go 3-5-1 in the Western Conference that year. The Spartans, an 8-1 team that year, found motivation in the Spittoon.
Maybe because the Spartans have won 80 percent of the games for the Spittoon, Indiana fans don’t even know much about it.
Here’s an excerpt from our IU blog, Crimson Quarry, describing this trophy:
A spittoon is literally a pot for people to spit in. That's right. And it's made of brass, which I doubt is easy to clean after all these years. In a conference that also has an axe, a pig, a top hat, a turtle, a little brown jug, and $5 bits of broken chair, the spittoon earns is place as the most disgusting of its B1G rivalry trophy brethren.
It’s probably true that it’s the grossest Big Ten rivalry trophy. Here’s another spittoon, for example:
Congrats to the victor, and make sure you've got a dishwasher.