Tim Brewster has proven this year that he has the ability to rise his program from ashen despair. Now, the energetic second-year Gopher gridiron skip needs to show that he can do so in mid-season. The Gopher dug a hole with last week's hiccup Homecoming loss to a respectable Northwestern bunch. Now at 3-2 in the Big Ten (7-2 overall), the U is presented with a final three-game stretch versus three teams that are all below .500 in the conference and, furthermore, all hold some hardware that that U would undoubtedly like to see back in their trophy case.
The three-game spell begins with a showdown tomorrow against a (1-4 Big Ten, 2-7 overall) Michigan bunch that is out of a Bowl game for the first time since 1974. The Wolverines are last in the Big Ten in both scoring and scoring defense and have lost five straight games under embattled and aptly named new coach, "Rich" Rodriguez. Of additional positivity on our sideline is the report that wideout Eric Decker appears ready to play through an ankle injury.
After this weekend, the Gophers visit Wisconsin (1-5, 4-5) and then host Iowa (2-3, 5-4) to conclude the regular season. Here's a look at what each storied contest holds in the way of both history, and hardware:
"The Little Brown Jug," presently held by Michigan after 2007's 34-10 win
11/8/08- Michigan at Minnesota
The yarn: This trophy dates back to 1903 and is recognized as the second oldest D-1A trophy in college football, predated by only the Territorial Cup (1899; Arizona vs. Arizona St.). Michigan holds a 65-22-3 edge in trophy games, and a 69-24-3 edge overall, since the schools began play in 1892. Minnesota has only beaten Michigan twice since 1977, however, and the Wolverines are 11-0 at the Metrodome.
Following the pandemoniumed, game-shortened 6-6 tie of 1903, Minnesota custodian Oscar Munson discovered that famed Michigan coach Fielding Yost had left the jug on the field. Munson proceeded to bring the jug to U athletic director L.J. Cooke. Yost soon penned a letter to Cooke asking for his jug back. Cooke replied in writing, "If you want it back, you have to win it."
"Paul Bunyan's Axe," (predated by "Slab of Bacon,") presently held by Wisconsin after '07's 41-34 win
11/15/08- Minnesota at Wisconsin
The yarn: The Gophers and Badgers boast the most-played rivalry in D1-A football history, with 117 contest played. Wisconsin holds a 23-34-3 edge in trophy games; Minnesota holds a 59-50-8 edge in total games played dating to the first contest back in 1890. In 1930, Dr. R.B. Fouch of Minneapolis created the "Slab of Bacon" trophy out of black walnut, a prize denoted with an "M" or "W" inscribed upon a football atop the trophy, fashioned up or down to denote the year's winner. The trophy was lost in the early 1940's, only to be discovered about fifty years later in 1994 in a storage room at Camp Randall stadium in Madison. The trophy was replaced by the "Axe" in 1948. Strangely, despite the long absence of the "Slab," those who discovered it fourteen years ago noted that all scores between 1930-1970 had still been printed upon the trophy.
"Floyd of Rosedale," presently held by Iowa after '07's 21-16 win
11/22/08- Iowa at Minnesota
The yarn: Minnesota, while sans the trophy at present, holds an edge in both the trophy series (39-32-2) and the all-time series (59-40-2) with the Hawkeyes in play dating back to 1891.
In 1935, to assuage bitter, politically-based athletic tensions between Minnesota and Iowa, Minnesota Governor Floyd Olson wagered a prize pig with Iowa Governor Clyde Herring that the Gophers would defeat the Hawkeyes. The Gophers won that contest, and claimed the prize hog from Rosedale Farms near Fort Dodge, Iowa. (I watched Babe a few weeks back, so I'll spare readers the fate of Floyd herein). The bronze statue survives in his honor, and in the spirit of the lengthy rivalry.
Speaking of trophies, kudos and high-fives go to Twins catcher Joe Mauer for winning his first Rawlings Gold Glove yesterday. The defensive prize, as voted upon by coaches and managers, is no doubt a fine compliment to Mauer's second American League batting title, and serves as overt notice that we have the best catcher in baseball.
Mauer made just 3 errors behind the plate this year and had the top fielding percentage (.997) in the A.L. at his position. He threw out 36% of would-be base stealers, and allowed just 4 passed balls.