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The Michigan-Minnesota Little Brown Jug has one of the best and oldest stories of any college football rivalry trophy

It’s a jug, it’s only partially brown, its origin is funny, and it’s part of a national debate.

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Minnesota v Michigan Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

The Little Brown Jug is a Big Ten rivalry trophy from before Big Ten rivalry trophies were cool. The Big Ten didn’t exist when the trophy originated.

The conference now has at least 15 trophy games, ranging from this one between Michigan and Minnesota (114 years old) to the Nebraska-Minnesota $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy, which the college football internet literally created three years ago.

In Minnesota’s retelling, this is how the jug became a thing:

  • In 1903, Michigan brought a water jug to Minneapolis when it played Minnesota. (In Michigan’s version: “Having doubts that Minnesota would provide clean water for its opponent, head coach Fielding Yost ordered a manager, Tommy Roberts, to purchase a receptacle for drinking water that would be free from suspicion.”)
  • The two teams tied, 6-6.
  • Michigan accidentally left the jug in Minneapolis. (Michigan: “Fans rushed the field in excitement. The ensuing pandemonium led to the game being called with time still remaining on the clock. In their haste to leave and catch the train back to Chicago, Michigan left the jug behind.”)
  • A custodian found it. He delivered it to Minnesota’s athletic director. (Per Michigan, Minnesota then painted "Michigan Jug - Captured by Oscar [the person who found it], October 31, 1903" on the jug, along with the 6-6 score.)
  • Michigan wrote Minnesota and asked for the jug back.
  • Minnesota wouldn’t just give the jug back, though, because who does that?
  • The Golden Gophers responded: “If you want it back, you’ll have to win it back.”
  • (Michigan says it might’ve gone like this: “[In 1909, Minnesota’s AD] showed Yost the old water jug and suggested that playing for the crock ‘might be material to build up a fine tradition,’ and Yost agreed.”)

And so we’ve got this trophy, the Little Brown Jug.

The Jug is only partially brown at this point. One side has Michigan’s yellow block M, and the background on that side is blue:

Minnesota v Michigan Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

The side with Minnesota’s similar yellow M has a brownish background that’s more like the Gophers’ color:

Minnesota v Michigan Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Scores from the series’ past are scrawled vertically down either side of it.

The Jug might be the oldest rivalry trophy in the country.

“Might” is an important word there, because classifying these things is hard.

Michigan refers to the Jug match as the “oldest trophy game in college football history.” But Arizona and Arizona State first faced off for the Territorial Cup in 1899, four years before the christening of the Jug. The Wildcats claim the Territorial as “the nation’s oldest rivalry trophy game” and say they have NCAA recognition on that. I’ve looked for anything resembling an NCAA certification, and I can’t find it.

Even if the NCAA does certify the Territorial as the longest-running rivalry trophy, it’s hard to be definitive. The NCAA doesn’t know how to consistently count rushing yards, so I’m not certain that it can consistently count active years of rivalry trophies that began before the NCAA was a thing.

The Territorial Cup also went missing for more than half a century and might not’ve even been a rivalry trophy to begin with. So while it appears to have started before the Little Brown Jug, is it really longer-running? It’s highly debatable.

At any rate, the Jug is a great trophy. It’s my favorite in the Big Ten.

To earn my heart, it had to beat out the following:

  • Paul Bunyan’s Axe (Minnesota-Wisconsin)
  • The Paul Bunyan Trophy (Michigan-Michigan State)
  • The Floyd of Rosedale (Iowa-Minnesota)
  • The Governor’s Victory Bell (Penn State-Minnesota)
  • The Illibuck (Illinois-Ohio State)
  • The Land of Lincoln Trophy (Illinois-Northwestern)
  • The Purdue Cannon (Illinois-Purdue)
  • The Old Oaken Bucket (Indiana-Purdue)
  • The Land Grant Trophy (Michigan State-Penn State)*
  • The Heartland Trophy (Iowa-Wisconsin)
  • The Heroes Trophy (Iowa-Nebraska)
  • The Old-Brass Spittoon (Indiana-Michigan State)**
  • The Freedom Trophy (Nebraska-Wisconsin)
  • The $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy (Minnesota-Nebraska)***

* I despise the Land Grant Trophy.
** I admire the Spittoon, because it’s a thing you’d spit into.
*** I’m biased in favor of the Chair, but I recuse myself from ranking it due to SB Nation’s involvement in the development of the trophy. But I do love it, too.

You can sort most of the Big Ten West into a Quadrangle of Hate based on common rival trophies. Every Big Ten team save for recent entrants Maryland and Rutgers has at least one, but all of them post-date the founding of our sweet brown jug.