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A Bitter Half-Century

Disappointment, disgust, and only a glimmer of hope mark the last 50 years of Minnesota-Michigan battles. What it means, and what a Minnesota win could do.

An all too common sight--the Jug claimed by the Maize and Blue.
An all too common sight--the Jug claimed by the Maize and Blue.
Danny Moloshok, Getty Images

Rickey Foggie, 1986. When wins in a rivalry have only come once a decade, you remember who's responsible. I wasn't alive in 1986, and I still know who Rickey Foggie is. 1977: a giant falls at Metropolitan Stadium as #1 Michigan leaves, beaten, by the swarming Gopher defense and a Marion Barber, Jr. touchdown. And I won't ever forget the entire Gophers squad sprinting across the field after time expired and Justin $^#%&#$ Giannini's 30-yard field goal reclaimed the Little Brown Jug.

But those moments have been too few and too far between. For every sweet memory, there is a 2003.

Minnesota has won the Little Brown Jug exactly four times in the last 45 years: 1967, 1977, 1986, and 2005. All-time, Michigan leads the series 67-22-3. This isn't even a pre-WWII bragging point for Minnesota. This rivalry has faded in some eyes from the days of Fielding Yost's "Point-a-minute" offenses and Bronko Nagurski reclaiming the Jug in 1927. But the Little Brown Jug remains an icon. As Yost traveled to Minnesota to play the Gophers in 1903, he ordered his student manager to buy a new jug, because he didn't trust Minnesota fans to not tamper with the water supply. In a ruckus after the game, which ended in Minnesota fans storming the field to celebrate a 6-6 tie, custodian Oscar Munson somehow obtained the jug, which he and athletic director L.J. Cooke painted to commemorate the win. When Michigan demanded the jug's return, Cooke replied, "If you want it, you'll have to win it."

Growing up a Gopher in a very maroon and gold household, rivalry games were a chance every season, a glimmer of hope in what was otherwise Glen Mason going 4-0 in preseason and collapsing to a 6-6 finish. When the Axe, or Floyd of Rosedale, or the Little Brown Jug came home to Minnesota, it seemed the crowd around the U of M building at the State Fair would double in size on a daily basis as people lined up to have pictures taken with their state's prize. There are pictures somewhere in my parents' basement of a skinny, shaved-head me with a bucket of Sweet Martha's cookies in one head, beaming next to the Axe.

The Gophers never hoisted the Jug in the Metrodome: the Metrodome for the Gophers marked so many shameful moments in Minnesota rivalries across the Big Ten. Saturday marks the first time that Michigan will visit TCF Bank Stadium.

Ask Iowa how their trips to The Bank have gone. Ask a banged-up Denard Robinson and Michigan how they feel about playing at 11am. Ask Philip Nelson and this Gophers squad on the cusp of bowl eligibility what a rivalry win would mean to them. For Minnesota a new stadium, a new quarterback, and a new coach mark a chance for a rebirth in this rivalry. Gone are the days of talking about "Bringing Gopher Nation to Pasadena", then standing confused on the sideline. Gone are the days of meekly rolling over to better Big Ten competition. Jerry Kill has this team on the right path and knows what these games mean to both this team and this state.

And when I walk past the U of M building at the 2013 State Fair and see the Little Brown Jug back in its rightful resting place, I want to remember who's responsible.