1903 team manager tells tale of the 'Jug'




Published October 9, 2003

Long before the "Little Brown Jug" was the symbol of a one-sided, tarnished rivalry, it meant everything to two prestigious football programs.

The Jug has made its home in Ann Arbor for all but three of the past 36 years, but does anyone in Michigan really care about the Jug or know where it came from?

Because of the Wolverines' dominance, winning the Jug has lost priority to rivalry games against Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State and even regular Big Ten games against Wisconsin and Penn State.

But make no mistake, beating Minnesota was as important as anything for the Wolverines of 1903 and 1909, and in this 100th anniversary of the origination of the Jug, The Michigan Daily will take you back in time through the eyes of 1903 Michigan student and team manager Tommy Roberts.

Roberts, who wrote the following account in the Oct. 18, 1959, edition of The Grand Rapids Press, fetched water for the 1903 Wolverines.

First, let me set the general scene. Theodore Roosevelt is President of the United States. We have recently fought a comic opera war with Spain (The Spanish-American War).

Men's dress was characterized by rolled rim derbies, high stiff choker collars and peg top trousers. Women wore so-called "rats" in their hair, their hourglass figures were draped in skirts that came to their ankles and their shoes buttoned halfway to their knees.

Such was the scene the year 1903, the third of Coach Fielding H. Yost's famous "point-a-minute" teams at Michigan. "Point-a-minute," there's not much hyperbole in that; look at the record and judge for yourself:

1901 - 11 games: Michigan 550, opponents 0.

1902 - 11 games: Michigan 644, opponents 12.

1903 - 12 games: Michigan 565, opponents 6.

That last little bit of history has an important bearing on the story that is to follow. And to properly understand that story, you must remember that in those days the game of football was considerably different from what it is today. Those were the brutal, bruising, bone crushing days. Any forward passing of the ball was illegal.

The yard markers were five yards apart, and you had three downs to make those five yards, and they were plenty tough to make with only running plays available. There was very little sportsmanship or ethics, the idea was to win the ballgame by fair means or foul, and most anything went that you could get away with short of mayhem or murder.

Up to this point, no Yost-coached Michigan team had ever been tied ... let alone beaten. Then came October 31st and Minnesota at Minneapolis.

Frankly, Michigan had misgivings that Minnesota would dupe the drinking water, so the Michigan trainer sent the little student manager out to purchase a receptacle wherein to pack the drinking water, which would be free from suspicion. The Jug was not brought from Ann Arbor, as all the accounts have it, but was purchased in a little variety store in Minneapolis at the cost of just thirty cents. It was a five-gallon jug, therefore not "little," and was originally about the color of putty, therefore not "brown."

Neither team scored during the first half (there were no quarter periods then), and the going was tough and ragged. After the intermission, Michigan came out fighting. And with Tom Hammond, tackle Joe Maddock and the great Willie Heaton carrying the ball, Michigan finally drove across the goalline (a five-point score in those days) and Hammond kicked (the point after). Michigan 6, Minnesota 0.

Michigan then fought valiantly to protect the slim margin of that hard-earned score, but it was not to be in the increasing darkness of an incipient snowstorm and the gathering shadows of a dreary October afternoon. A giant Minnesota tackle is said to have crashed over for a touchdown and kicked to tie the score.

The game still had two minutes to go, but those two minutes were never played. The frenzied Minnesota crowd surged onto the field, sweeping along with it the little student manager who had purposely abandoned his thirty-cent jug which had served its purpose. Michigan's first game in three years that was not a victory became history.

The following Monday morning, when Oscar Munson, a janitor of the Minnesota gym, was cleaning up the litter on the field, he discovered the jug on the Michigan bench and took it to the athletic director, who labeled it with the euphemistic legend, 'Michigan jug captured by Oscar, October 31, 1903."

That game was so brutal that Michigan and Minnesota severed athletic relations until 1909. At that time Minnesota wrote, "We have your Little Brown Jug, come up and win it," which Michigan proceeded to do by a score of 15-6.

Minnesota did not see the jug again for 10 years until 1919, when the Gophers won, 34-7.

I can state these facts with some degree of accuracy because I was that student manager for Michigan.

So tomorrow night, when you watch the 4-2 Wolverines take on the 6-0 Golden Gophers and you say, "I don't care about winning the Jug," remember the trials of your maize-and-blue ancestors, Tommy Roberts and the 1903 Michigan Wolverines.