Little Brown Jug, Part 2 – The Bernie Bierman Decade

Minnesota had had its moments of gridiron glory in the early 20th century, but in the 1920s they had floundered for most of the decade, winning some and losing some and never really getting out of a rut.

To put their stagnation in sharper perspective, in the 13 Little Brown Jug wars from 1920 through 1932, the Golden Gophers won but a single game and scored but 32 points. With 9 shutouts among their 12 losses, the Golden Gophers were being derisively referred to as the Golden Goose Eggs.

But then came Bernie Bierman, the Knute Rockne of the north country.

After having turned a so-so Tulane team into a Southern Conference bully, Bierman was hired by Minnesota in 1932 to shake the Gophers out of their lethargy – and did he ever. His first year saw another 5-3 record, but that was deceptive, as the three narrow losses came at the hands of three of the nation’s most powerful teams, including a season-ending 3-0 loss to national champion Michigan. That was to be the last Little Brown Jug game for 11 years where the Wolverines were to triumph.

Once they got rolling, the Bierman boys weren’t exactly subtle about sending a message down to Ann Arbor. Between 1934 and 1937, the once-mighty Michigan eleven were crushed by a combined count of 139 to 6. Beyond the Little Brown Jug, it wasn’t just the Wolverines who found themselves begging for mercy. To this day, no team has ever matched the Gophers’ 1934-36 run of three consecutive national championships.

So naturally when the 1938 Wolverine squad arrived in Minneapolis for their matchup against yet another unbeaten Gopher team, few tout artists gave them much of a chance. And in spite of being outgained by more than 2 to 1 and being bottled up until the last few minutes of the game, the Gophers put it all together for one glorious 90 yard touchdown drive, capped by an extra point that kept the Jug in Minnesota for yet another year. By 1940 and 1941 they were once again on top of the football world, and without the intrusion of the war, who knows what further glories they might have gained?

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