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Published: Thursday, 9/1/2011 - Updated: 4 years ago

UM, Minnesota battle for Little Brown Jug

Winner has received trophy since 1909

Michigan leads series 70-24-3 all-time in nation's oldest trophy game. Michigan players hoist the "Little Brown Jug." Michigan leads series 70-24-3 all-time in nation's oldest trophy game. Michigan players hoist the "Little Brown Jug."

ANN ARBOR -- It's time once again to wheel out the Little Brown Jug, and dust off the story behind its origin.

After a rare two-year hiatus, Michigan and Minnesota will resume the country's oldest trophy game Saturday, beginning at noon, in a Big Ten opener for both teams at Michigan Stadium.

Michigan has dominated the Gophers historically, sporting a 70-24-3 all-time record, and has been in possession of the Little Brown Jug since 2006 after losing it the year before.

The rivalry has been on pause since 2008 when the Wolverines left Minneapolis with a 29-6 win.

"I was there when we won in 2008, but I didn't really touch the trophy because I didn't feel like I did anything to contribute," said senior Ryan Van Bergen, a freshman on that team. "It's a big part of our tradition. That's what makes Michigan what it is. It has these little things we've been a part of for I don't know how long."

The rivalry game began in 1909, but the jug came into play six years earlier. Last Sunday, a day after Michigan improved to 4-0 with a win over San Diego State, longtime equipment manager Jon Falk entered the team meeting room with the jug, which was being stored in a trophy case at Schembechler Hall. Falk shared the story behind it.

In 1903, Michigan, winners of its last 29 games, traveled to play unbeaten Minnesota. Wolverines coach Fielding Yost didn't trust Minnesota to provide his team with clean drinking water, so he ordered his equipment manager -- not Falk -- to purchase a $0.30 receptacle at a nearby store. When Minnesota scored a touchdown to tie the game 6-6 with a couple of minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the home crowd stormed the field in celebration and the game was called prematurely. Michigan was in such a hurry to get out of town that it left the jug behind.

Yost supposedly sent a letter requesting the jug be returned. Minnesota athletic director L.J. Cooke replied: "If you want it, you'll have to come up and win it."

Six years later, in 1909, the Wolverines returned to Minnesota and won 15-6. This time, of course, they remembered to pack the jug.

"It was good to see it again," Michigan senior Kevin Koger said.

"I haven't gotten to touch it in a couple of years. It's nice for the freshmen to get a look at it and touch it and know what it's all about. ... It was interesting to hear about it."

Inscribed on the jug, which is painted half blue and half maroon, are the scores of all 97 games.

Given its unrefined appearance, and the germs presumably accumulated from years and years of being touched by sweaty football players, Van Bergen said, "I don't think you'd want to drink any water out of it."

Today, the Wolverines are heavily favored to claim the jug for the 20th time in 21 tries.

The Gophers are just 1-3 following last Saturday's 13-point loss to North Dakota State.

Despite the predictable outcomes, Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs said this rivalry remains important to the Wolverines.

"I don't know if it is for them, but it definitely is for us," he said. "We're playing for the oldest trophy in the league, and that's something that we take personally.

"We've had it here for a few years now and we don't want to give it back."

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com, 419-724-6160, or on Twitter @RyanAutullo

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