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Gophers thirsting for Jug

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Michigan's Willis Barringer (19) and former linebacker Roy Manning hoist the Little Brown Jug following the Wolverines' 27-24 victory over Minnesota last season in Ann Arbor.

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ANN ARBOR - Lloyd Carr holds two degrees in education, and he took a little time earlier this week to teach. The University of Michigan coach instructed any and all about the history of the Little Brown Jug, college football's oldest trophy, that goes to the winner of the Wolverines' annual showdown with Minnesota, which takes place here tomorrow.

"Some of you may remember," Carr opened jokingly, knowing that all of those players, coaches and scribes who were around in 1903 when the jug started down the path to becoming a contentious piece of crockery between the two schools, are now dead and gone.

But the Little Brown Jug and the rich lore that swirls around it lives on.

In 1903, legendary Michigan coach Fielding Yost took his team to Minneapolis to play the Golden Gophers. On Saturday morning, Yost sent the team's student manager, Tommy Roberts, out to buy a water jug because he did not trust his hosts at Minnesota, and feared they might taint the drinking water to make members of the Michigan team ill.

Yost's teams had won 28 straight, and he was wary of what might happen on the trip, so under his orders, Roberts bought a five-gallon jug for 30 cents at a local store.

An overflow crowd of about 20,000 watched as Michigan led 6-0 until late in the second half, when Minnesota scored to tie it. Fans stormed the field and the game was called with about two minutes left. Michigan's players trudged off the field.

The official Minnesota version says the jug was left behind in disgust. The Michigan tale accuses Minnesota of stealing it in the chaos that ended the game. The jug, and the details, have been a contentious matter ever since.

"Coach Yost wrote a letter and asked that the jug be returned, and they refused," Carr lectured. "They said if you want it, come back and we will play for it. Thus began the greatest tradition in college football history, the Little Brown Jug."

They got around to playing for the jug for the first time in 1909 and Michigan won it back by a 15-6 score. The Wolverines hold a 62-21-3 edge in the series. The jug has resided here in Ann Arbor for the past 16 straight meetings, taking a place of honor in the museum in Schembechler Hall.

It moved into the team meeting room for the past week as Michigan's attention has shifted to the Golden Gophers. The official steward of the jug while it is in Michigan hands is equipment manager Jon Falk, who was given that responsibility by former UM coach Bo Schembechler.

Carr joked that the suspicions about Minnesota still exist, when asked if he would accept water from the Golden Gophers or their head coach Glen Mason today.

"I would accept water from Glen Mason for my own use," Carr said, "but if it was for our players, no."

Carr said he enjoys and respects the great traditions in college football, and that the Little Brown Jug is a big part of that. He considers the trophy priceless and irreplaceable, so he talks about it instead of hoisting it.

"I don't hold it up in front of the team for that reason," Carr said. "I don't trust myself and I certainly don't want to be remembered as the guy who destroyed the Little Brown Jug. Anybody who handles it needs to be careful with it.

"Sometimes I worry about the games, about the players with it. No, that's not something I worry about," Carr corrected his words.

History lesson over, Carr got serious about Minnesota, a team with recent history of fast starts and mid-season swoons. He lauded the Gophers for this and that, but never mentioned trusting their water, while reminding everyone the Jug was again on the line.

"We're going to play for it Saturday here in Michigan," Carr said, "and we're going to play a football team that is well coached, a team that has a great running back, outstanding offense line, and we're going to have to come up with our best effort."

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