Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He has been a Star Tribune sports columnist since 1988. His sportswriting credo is twofold: 1. God will provide an angle; 2. The smaller the ball, the better the writing.

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Big Ten shows no respect for Little Brown Jug

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: April 29, 2013 - 12:39 PM

Minnesota and Michigan first played football in 1892. They did so again in 1893 and 1895, then didn't hook up until 1903.

Fielding Yost had Michigan on a 28-game winning streak when it came to Minneapolis for the game at Northrop Field. The trust level among college competitors wasn't very high, apparently.

Yost had a student manager buy a water jug rather than accept a supply given to him by the Minnesota side. The coach feared that rabid Minnesota fans might contaminate the water supply if Michigan wasn't able to monitor it properly.

Minnesota scored late for a 6-6 tie, sending 20,000 fans into a frenzy. In the chaos, the Michigan water jug was left behind. L.J. Cooke, the head of athletics at Minnesota, had the jug painted and the 6-6 score added to it.

Michigan and Minnesota didn't play until 1909. The message from the Minnesota side was that if Michigan wanted back its water jug, Michigan had to win it back. Thus, the Little Brown Jug was introduced, and became the oldest traveling trophy in college football.

Minnesota and Michigan played every autumn from 1919 through 1998 -- 80 seasons in a row. For the first 50 of those seasons, Michigan was the No. 1 rival on Minnesota's schedule ... not Iowa, not Wisconsin, Michigan.

The arrival of Penn State gave the Big Ten an odd number of teams and shook up the schedules. The Gophers-Michigan series was interrupted in 1999 and 2000, and again in 2009 and 2010. Then Nebraska came along to make it 12 teams, Michigan and Minnesota wound up in the same division, and it appeared the Little Brown Jug rivalry was secure.

Iowa was also in the same division, so that took care of the second important rivalry game for the Gophers. And the protected game with the other division was Wisconsin, so all the ancient rivalries for the Gophers were preserved.

Until Sunday.

On Sunday, the Big Ten made official the alignment necessary to take in Rutgers and Maryland. Rather than Legends and Leaders, it will be East and West:

Rutgers, Maryland, Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Indiana in the East; Purdue, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska in the West.

How Indiana, with its tradition as the worst football program in the Big Ten, was convinced to sign up for a place in the East was one question?

The other question was: Will there be designated, cross-division rivalry games, as was the case with Legends and Leaders?

My guess was, "There have to be, because Indiana and Purdue are required to play for the Old Oaken Bucket.'' And if they were going to protect the Bucket, surely the Big Ten was going to protect the Jug ... an even more historic rophy in college football.

I guess not.

Minnesota and Michigan have played 99 times. They will play No. 100 on Oct. 5 in Ann Arbor. After that, who knows?

The Big Ten announcement informed us that, starting in 2014, the only protected game between the divisions will be Purdue vs. Indiana. The rest of the games between divisions will be played in some form of rotation.

I'm sure this came as a great disappointment to Woody Teague, Minnesota's athletic director, and Jerry Kill, the football coach.

I'm sure at every meeting, Woody was pounding on the table, shouting, "If Indiana gets to keep playing Purdue, our Gophers deserve to keep playing Michigan.''

And then I can see Woody turning even redder in the face -- red to the crown of his head -- and shouting even louder: "Have you never heard of the LITTLE BROWN JUG!''

Meantime, back in the head coach's office, all Country Jer could do was shake his head in dismay and say, "This is terrible. No Michigan every year. Dang it. As I've always said, 'If you want to be the best, you have to play the best.' ''

Tough break for the Gophers, not to play Michigan annually, but they will have to live with it.







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