As the final seconds ticked down in Michigan’s 34-10 win over Minnesota, Wolverine quarterback David Cone connected on a 21-yard pass with tight end Andre Criswell along the right sideline. The crowd applauded the backups, but the real celebration was brewing no more than 10 yards away from where the play ended.
Offensive linemen Adam Kraus and Jake Long, along with injured running back Mike Hart, gathered around a blue box holding the prize that was already theirs.
“Get that out, Big Johnny,” Long said, directed at long-time equipment manager Jon Falk.
Falk complied, lifting the Little Brown Jug from the container and placing it into Long’s hands. Michigan won back the trophy in 2006 with a 28-14 victory in Minneapolis, and its triumph Saturday meant the Jug would stay in Ann Arbor for at least another year.
For the next five minutes or so, various members of the Michigan football team passed around the jug. Long and Kraus held it, then they passed it off to Hart. Soon, the 104-year-old trophy was in the hands of Shawn Crable, who held it above most players’ reach with the aid of his long arms.
The Jug passed through the hands of a couple dozen more players before the team made its way to the locker room to celebrate its seventh straight win.
“Some of these guys know about the Jug, and some of these guys don’t know as much about it,” defensive coordinator Ron English said. “But the nicest thing is to win and keep winning, and that’s the important thing.”
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr had the Jug on display in the middle of the meeting room all week long. Nickel back Brandon Harrison said he and many of his teammates touched it each day, both for good luck and as a reminder of the rivalry.
Others got their first feel of the Jug Saturday night.
“That was my first time. It was a new experience,” linebacker Shawn Crable said. “And it’s heavy. You don’t think it’s heavy, but it’s heavy. It’s like, ceramic or something.”
Crable went on to admit that a fumble of the Brown Jug was one that he wouldn’t enjoy as much as those he forces on the field.
“Yeah, you break that, you might get sent out of here, or they’ll ask you to resign, or something crazy,” he joked.
By the time the Jug reached the tunnel, wide receiver Greg Mathews had it in his grasp. Holding it with just his right hand, the sophomore got a warning from behind him.
“Hold that with two hands, Greg,” someone on the staff yelled.
Mathews’ scolding was just another reminder of the emphasis put on the Jug and the team’s rivalry with Minnesota. Even though the Gophers entered the game just 1-7, Michigan players and coaches alike stressed the importance of the game both before and after the contest.
“When you lose it, it’s a miserable experience,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said during his Monday press conference. “When you win it, you get to keep that jug where it belongs. I mean, we bought that jug.”
Said secondary coach Vance Bedford following Saturday’s win: “Coach Carr made sure we understand the meaning of that trophy. That is by far the oldest trophy in the country as far as a rivalry game, so that was key. We’re glad to keep it right here again.”