Scoring Brownie Points - An Inside Look at the Little Brown Jug

photo of Brian Bode

The battle for the Little Brown Jug is almost as old as the Gophers-Wolverines rivalry itself. In October 1903, following a tie game, a Minnesota custodian found a water jug that the Michigan team left behind. When their coach asked for its return, Minnesota answered with a challenge: “If you want it, you’ll have to win it.” 

And so the tradition began.

The Gophers have earned this coveted trophy more than 20 times since 1919. The latest win was Sept. 27, 2014, when Minnesota beat Michigan 30-14, and promptly reclaimed the jug for the first time since 2005. 

In the days and weeks since, hundreds of Gopher fans have hurried to grab the photo opportunity before it’s gone: Smiling faces beside a stoneware jug that’s neither little nor brown, with the year and winning score clearly in focus.

Given the jug’s historical significance, University of Minnesota Athletics takes the paint job seriously. With each new year and each new win, someone has to update the numbers with great attention to detail. 

This year, it was Brian Bode, a painter with the Signs & Graphics department. Bode began his University of Minnesota career about 20 years ago, after working as a sign painter and billboard artist in San Diego, Calif. He’s responsible for consultations, estimates, designs, fabrication and installation, and has managed the sign packages for a number of new construction projects. He has also painted Goldy Gopher at most locations on campus. 

That Monday morning after the winning game, Kyle Gergely, director of football equipment, called Signs & Graphics with an urgent request. “We took the jug over at about 8:30 and I told them we needed it done by 9:30.”

Bode says he drew out the score with a sign pencil, and then used the brush and sign paint, adding that the process involved “about 15 minutes of stress,” as several people watched over his shoulder as he did the work.

Despite the pressure of painting a 111-year-old antique, Bode and his colleagues delivered. 

“We were very pleased with the work,” says Gergely. “Those guys are true professionals. They have done some projects for us in the past and knocked them out of the park.”

One such project was fixing the Governor’s Victory bell, the trophy between Minnesota and Penn State, among other hand-lettered awards over the years. Bigger jobs include the redesign and implementation of the Gopher Way tunnel and skyway sign system, along with a complete redesign and project plan to replace all ADA and code-related signs in every building on the Twin Cities campus over the next decade.

The department also designs and fabricates most of the donor and honor wall displays, as well a large portion of the digitally printed signs, banners, posters and other graphics across campus.

“My favorite part of this job is being able to work with such a creative and talented group of people,” says Scott Saunders, supervisor with Signs & Graphics. “Our artist team is forward thinking. They’re constantly looking for ways to improve visual communication here at the university."

photo of Brian Bode

photo of Brian Bode