MISSOULA — Montana head coach Bobby Hauck added a familiar piece of memorabilia to his office when he returned to the Griz this season: the Little Brown Stein.
The Little Brown Stein, the rivalry trophy awarded to the winner of the Montana-Idaho football game, will be on the line for the first time since 2003 when the Griz and Vandals resume their series this Saturday.
“It’s somewhere where all our players see it,” Hauck said. “It’s got some importance when it’s sitting there and they come in and see it there.”
The trophy has resided in Montana since 2000, and the renewal of the rivalry required the Stein to be moved from its slumber in the athletic department.
Following the 2003 win over Idaho, the Stein spent a few years in Hauck’s office because the series went dormant. When the athletic department created the Hall of Champions in the mid-2000s, the trophy was moved from Hauck’s office and placed behind a football-specific glass display case centered on the 2000s era.
The Stein sat there, behind a placard describing it, until it was taken out this summer and brought to the Big Sky Conference’s annual Football Kickoff in July in Spokane.
“It’s like anything else in your house or your office, once it sits there for a while, you don’t notice it,” Hauck said. “We’d like to have it here next year, though.”
John T. Campbell, a former Missoulian journalist and Griz sports publicist, is credited with creating the Little Brown Stein. He was working for the Montana Kaimin, the student newspaper, in 1938 when Grizzly Bear Paw booster members asked him how a rivalry trophy could be created, he wrote in a Sept. 19, 1988, edition of the Missoulian on the 50-year anniversary of the Stein’s creation.
Campbell recalled a story his dad told him about Michigan leaving a water jug in Minnesota’s gym in the early 1900s, which became a trophy known as the Little Brown Jug. He adapted the jug into a stein, and the group of students liked the idea and spent about $25 to have a local carpenter make an 18-inch wooden mug, he wrote in that 1988 column.
Before Campbell was a student at Montana, the two schools played for a previous “mug” that was created “in 1930 but was discontinued after a few years because neither considered it of great importance and the winner for several years didn’t even bother to claim it. In 1938, Montana decided to buy the stein and Idaho did the engraving,” according to the Oct. 20, 1965, issue of the Missoulian.
Idaho won the Stein in 1938 and has been its main possessor, going 37-22-1 since its creation. Montana, however, is 8-2 since 1991.
After losing the first game of the series, the Griz won three times in a row. Following the second consecutive win, in 1940, a University of Montana fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, won a homecoming contest in which it made a decoration of “a big Grizzly bear dunking an Idaho football player into a stein. It carried the slogan ‘Dunk ‘Em, Grizzlies,’” according to the Nov. 10, 1940, edition of the Missoulian.
The Little Brown Stein was again the theme of homecoming decorations in 1951. Idaho beat Montana, 12-9, and Montana Governor John Bonner lost a friendly wager with Idaho’s governor and owed him a hat, according to the Oct. 14, 1951, issue of the Missoulian.
In the longest streak of the series, Idaho won every year from 1951-59. Montana won in 1960 and ahead of the 1961 game, Campbell “inspected the Little Brown Stein this week, gave a sad look, and again quoted his famous saying concerning the stein; ‘It’s been a Montana Mug occasionally, but more often a Vandal Vessel,’” according to the Nov. 17, 1961, edition of the Missoulian.
Rumor has it there were issues exchanging the trophy when Idaho was still in the FCS. Because the games between the teams were so meaningful in the conference playoff hunt, the celebration among teammates took precedence over obtaining the trophy.
“If you won and left and you didn’t get it, it seemed like you had trouble getting it sent to you. I guess that’s the diplomatic way of saying it,” said Chuck Maes, a longtime Montana employee and current associate athletic director for internal operations. “We didn’t always get it when we deserved it a couple times. That’s the way I understood it.”
When the schools renewed the rivalry in 1999, they included a provision in the contract that the Stein would be present during the game so the winning team could claim it afterward.
Idaho, which won the last meeting in 1995, retained the trophy. Montana won in 2000 but almost didn’t get the Stein because of some apparent prank.
“I went looking for it because it didn’t show up,” Maes said. “I probably had to ask three, four, five people where it was. Finally, somebody goes, ‘It’s over there.’ He pointed to some pads on the side of the stairs, and I opened it up and it was over there all by itself, so I grabbed it and took it out to the team probably 10 minutes after the game. Nobody was going to come up and hand it to us.”
The Griz haven’t lost the Stein since, winning the next three meetings before the series ended in 2003. With the rivalry resuming, the Stein has been a focal point around the fan bases.
Hauck will bring the trophy to Idaho on the team bus, and Maes will bring it to the stadium from the hotel. The Stein will be on the sideline in a spot where the TV cameras can get shots of it before and during the game, although no location has been decided upon.
There’s no plan on how to exchange the trophy if Idaho wins, but Maes expects either Hauck or Montana athletic director Kent Haslam will handle that if the situation arises.