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Jason Giannini jumps into the arms of his teammates after making a game-winning field goal against Michigan.

Gopher kicker Jason Giannini jumps into the arms of his teammates after nailing the game-winning field goal against Michigan with one second remaining.

One for the ages

U reclaims Little Brown Jug for first time since 1986

By Rick Moore

Published on October 10, 2005

Minnesota sports fans must deal with certain givens. The Vikings will probably never win a Super Bowl. Fans from neighboring states tend to be a bit obnoxious. And the Little Brown Jug--that venerable trophy that since 1903 has gone to the victor of the Minnesota-Michigan football game--isn't often subject to the fingerprints of Gopher football players. (At least it hasn't been in the last three decades or so.)

That last statement isn't meant to be a crass insult; it's merely a fact Gopher football fans know all too well. Since 1967 Minnesota has only beaten Michigan twice: in 1977 and 1986. That's once in the same year Debby Boone brought us the song "You Light Up My Life," and once in the year Robert Palmer had us "Addicted to Love." Do you remember where you were when the Gophers beat Michigan in '86? Some of us actually do, but not many current University students are in that group. They were wearing diapers or bibs, or were just unconceived notions.

We had a taste of what a victory might feel like the last two seasons, but a late-game drive by the Wolverines squashed our hopes last year in Michigan, and an unfathomable fourth-quarter collapse by the Gophers (yes, it had to be brought up) at the Metrodome kept the jug in the Wolverines' paws in 2003.

So everyone is forgiven who expected a different outcome in Saturday's game, even late in the fourth quarter when the Gophers, tied with Michigan at 20-20, took over the ball at their 12-yard line with 2:49 to play. After all, starting quarterback Bryan Cupito was sitting on the bench with ice bags on both of his shoulders and a glazed look in his eyes (he had suffered a mild concussion on the previous series), and the Gophers appeared content to run out the clock in regulation and take their chances in overtime.

Neither little nor brown

The story of the Little Brown Jug is right there near the top of sports lore. According to the Gopher football media guide, the legend goes something like this:

The "point-a-minute" Michigan teams of coach Fielding Yost were destroying everyone in the nation, and had a 28-game winning streak heading into a game at Minneapolis in 1903. The pregame revelry pulsed through the campus, as Minnesota had one of its best teams in school history. When Minnesota scored a second-half touchdown that tied the score at 6-6, fans stormed the field in celebration, causing a pandemonium so great that the game was called with two minutes remaining.

At the time it was common for teams to bring their own water jugs to road games, and Michigan left its jug behind in Minnesota that day. When Yost sent a letter asking Minnesota to return the jug, L. J. Cooke, head of the athletics department, responded with a note saying, "If you want it, you'll have to win it." From that point on, the winner of each contest has taken home the jug.

Then a funny thing happened on a routine handoff on third-and-10 from the Minnesota 26. Gary Russell found a seam at the right sideline created by two terrific blocks and sprinted down the open field. He made it 61 yards, to the Michigan 13, and suddenly a game-winning field goal attempt was just a couple more handoffs away. Those carries brought the ball to the middle of the field, and freshman kicker Jason Giannini's 30-yard attempt split the uprights, giving the Gophers a 23-20 lead with one second to play and utterly silencing the Michigan crowd of 111,117 at the "Big House" (enough to fill our own Little Teflon House two times over). A moment later, the Gopher players were swarming to the Michigan sideline in search of a trophy they'd only heard about, but never touched.

It was one for the ages, literally. Michigan had won the jug 63 times to Minnesota's 21 (there have also been three ties), including 32 of the last 34 meetings. One for the ages and one to savor.

But not for too long, if you're a Minnesota player or coach. The Gophers (5-1 overall, 2-1 in the Big Ten) now turn their attention to the archrival Badgers of Wisconsin this coming Saturday (October 15) at the Metrodome. Minnesota, which returns to the national rankings at No. 22 in the Associated Press poll, will take on the No. 23 Badgers (5-1, 2-1) at 11 a.m. in the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe, another traveling trophy and one that currently resides in Madison. The 114-game rivalry between Minnesota and Wisconsin is the longest running series in Division I-A football, and the winner of Saturday's game will be in no worse than second place in the Big Ten standings. (Penn State, which thumped the Gophers 44-14 on October 1, is the only undefeated Big Ten team at 3-0.)

As of October 10, there were just a few thousand tickets remaining for Saturday's game. For more information, or to read more about Gopher football, visit GopherSports.com.

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