Gennaro Filice: The quest for the Brown Jug

BY GENNARO FILICE: THE SPORTSMONDAY COLUMN

Published October 10, 2004

Early Monday morning one week ago, it
dawned on me that I’d never seen college football’s
oldest trophy in person.

Gennaro Filice

The last time the Little Brown Jug made a public appearance in
Ann Arbor was at the end of Michigan’s 31-10 thumping of the
Golden Gophers in 2001. And, being a foolish, beer-thirsty
freshman, I had left the game before the Jug’s Big House
cameo.

But why is this postgame celebration the only chance I’ve
had to see the Jug? Michigan’s had it since 1988, so why
hasn’t it been more prominently displayed during my time
here?

I was pretty sure that we were going to win Saturday’s
game. Regardless of the Golden Gophers’ insane skill at
running back, I just knew that, if they couldn’t hold a
21-point fourth-quarter lead at home last year, there was no way
they were going to leave the Big House with the Jug on
Saturday.

So, following this year’s win, I wanted to give the Jug a
new home where everyone could see it in person — at my
favorite Ann Arbor bar, The Brown Jug. But, first things first, I
needed to locate the Jug and speak to its keeper. Unfortunately,
this was much easier said than done.

I e-mailed a member of the football administrative staff,
explaining my grand scheme to give the Jug a stage for the viewing
pleasure of Maize and Blue diehards and I asked for directions to
the keeper of the Jug. His response was short and not so sweet:

“The story that you e-mailed me about is not one that the
department is interested in participating.”

Shadiness in the Michigan football program? Eh, this was nothing
new. So I stayed upbeat and e-mailed a different member of the
administrative staff, hoping that he could at least tell me where
the Jug is kept.

After receiving no response for a few days, I began to
investigate why the athletic department seemed to have a gag order
on the subject of the Jug.

On page 363 of the football media guide, I found my answer
— it all ties back to some Depression-age tomfoolery:

“The trophy disappeared from the trophy case of the
Michigan Athletic Administration building in 1930 and was not found
until 1934. Before the actual jug was found behind a clump of
bushes by a gas station attendant in Ann Arbor, a replica of the
prize was displayed in Michigan’s trophy case. The
authenticity of the original was confirmed by a flaw that could not
be duplicated. Since then, the trophy has been carefully
safeguarded.”

Aha!

I knew then that the University would provide minimal assistance
— taking matters into my own hands was the only way I could
get anywhere. So, I grabbed Shaggy, Scooby and the rest of the gang
(or one of my friends with way too much time on his hands), and
headed down to Michigan football’s epicenter, Schembechler
Hall.

As we arrived at Schembechler, the football team was on its way
out. I lowered my hat bill over my eyes because I was pretty
convinced that one of the administrators I had badgered would
identify me and turn the linebacking corps loose.

Pierre, Prescott, Shawn … sic ’em!

Our first destination was the Margaret Dow Towsley Museum in the
front of Schembechler. The museum features Desmond Howard’s
and Charles Woodson’s Heisman Trophies (both the player and
the University receive a copy of the vaunted hardware), many Big
Ten championship trophies and even Bo’s hat and whistle. But,
curator Paul Lowry informed us that the Jug was not present. He
said its kept in a vault at an undisclosed location.

Does this thing have nuclear capabilities?

Paul led us to the Michigan vs. Minnesota exhibit that featured
a replica of the Jug. As my friend and I took pot shots at the
University for presenting a knock-off Jug to the public, Michigan
athletic director Bill Martin walked by. I swear I saw him do a
double take out of the corner of my eye, and I waited for hired
goons to strong-arm me out of the building.

It’s those pesky Daily kids, who are trying to uncover
the Jug’s location. Security breach! Security Breach!

But Martin passed without incident and we continued to badmouth
the athletic department. Then a bad situation got horribly worse.
Two college-aged men with cameras spotted the Michigan vs.
Minnesota exhibit and simultaneously exclaimed,
“There’s the Little Brown Jug. Wow!” The duo then
informed a third guy of the supposed Jug. I didn’t have the
heart to tell them that they were being duped by the athletic
department (I never saw anything that stated the Jug was a
replica).

My friend and I decided to exit the museum and try to get some
info from the people who worked the side entrance to Schembechler.
As we ascended the stairs outside Schembechler’s north end,
we were harshly eyeballed by a short, stout man with glasses stood
with his face pressed up against the double doors. When we got to
the doors, he slightly cracked one open and asked how he could
assist us.

I inquired about the location of the Little Brown Jug. He said
he didn’t know. I asked him whether he’d ever seen it,
and he said “only on TV.”

But then he expressed that he thought he could help us and began
to lead us through Schembechler.

Whoa! Here we go. I’ve finally cracked into the system!
The man can’t hold me down!

But, he led us back to familiar territory, the front of the
museum.

“There’s a replica of the Jug around the
corner.”

We left Schembechler dejected, as we’d failed to gain any
information on the Jug or its whereabouts. I decided to call The
Brown Jug, to make sure the relocation attempt was worth my
effort.

I explained to the restaurant’s assistant manager,
Francisco Gomez that the University could splurge for a top-notch
security system to keep the Jug in his restaurant —
seriously, where does my $34,000 yearly tuition really go? After
Francisco figured out what I was talking about (think I sprung it
on him a little quick) and verified that, yes, I was serious, he
seemed pretty into my plan. I don’t know whether he desires
the extra dough the authentic Jug would bring to his place of
business or he just loves early 20th century water receptacles;
either way, he said the bar would “definitely” be
interested in acquiring the Jug.

On Saturday, I saw the Jug in the hands of Matt Lentz just 10
feet away from me, and this sighting fueled my fire to make the Jug
more accessible to the student body.

The trophy’s origins go back to Michigan’s famed
“Point-A-Minute” teams of the early 1900s. It’s a
piece of Michigan history that needs to be on display.

But Francisco and I need support and we need it soon.
’Cause before you know it, Minnesota’s going to
actually hold a fourth-quarter lead.

 

Gennaro Filice can be reached at "mailto:gfilice@umich.edu">gfilice@umich.edu.