Battle for "Lil Brown Jug" has stood the test of time
HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - For the 97th time, Laurel and Hattiesburg will line it up on the football field to battle for the "Lil Brown Jug" on Saturday at 7 p.m.
The rivalry has only intensified over the years as the two schools met in the playoffs the last three years.
The longest, continuously-played game in the state hasn't lost any steam since 1922 as folks around town talk about the "Jug" all week long.
"They talk about it every day," said Laurel senior defensive end Tylus Keys. "They've been talking about it even before the season started."
"We're going to keep the jug.," said long-time Hattiesburg fan Willy "Smokeman" Horne. "We're going to keep the jug."
"People driving by [have talked about the jug]," said Laurel head coach Todd Breland. "But I've had teachers and people I've ran into have mentioned it."
"Throughout the whole week, that's the buzz," said Akeem Davis, a former state champion at Laurel (2007) and current grad assistant with USM football. "You go to the barber shop, everybody wants to know about the game. You go to church, everybody wants to know how we're going to do."
To understand why people care so much about a high school football game, one has to know the history.
However, history tends to become legend over time. Some believe the "Lil Brown Jug" name was adopted from Michigan and Minnesota's annual rivalry game in the college ranks.
Others claim the title came from a literal jug that fans bet on before games – that was back when the contest was played toward the end of the season, often on Thanksgiving Day in USM's football stadium.
"The stories that I was told growing up," said Buddy Duke, a Laurel native who holds the distinction of coaching football teams at both Hattiesburg and Laurel to "Jug" victories. "On Thanksgiving Day, the people would ride the train from Hattiesburg to Laurel when it was here."
"Somebody was betting somebody else on a jug of moonshine and it was in a little brown jug," said Hattiesburg athletic trainer Jeff Bryant, a 1985 Hattiesburg graduate who played in three "Jug" games.
Jimmy Bass would know as good as anyone the history of this storied meeting. Bass has seen over 70 "Lil Brown Jug" games, missing just once since 1945. Even when he was off fighting World War II, Bass knew how his Tornadoes fared in the game.
"Back during the war, we had a coach, Cecil Williams," Bass said. "He would write a summary of last night's game and mail it to all the veterans. If you were in the Pacific, you got a letter from coach Cecil Williams telling about last night's ball game."
War could not stop Laurel and Hattiesburg in the 1940s and Hurricane Katrina wouldn't stop them in 2005.
Despite no power, the game went on. The Tigers came away with a 6-2 win.
"There was no electricity, as I remember, in the bricks," said Hattiesburg assistant coach Donovan Tate, who played for the Tigers in 2005. "They were able to get electricity to the scoreboard and I think it went wrong somewhere mid-game. So, they started keeping the score and clock from the sideline."
"It was that important for both communities to make sure this game was continued," said Breland, who's coached in 18 "Jug" games.
"Laurel and Hattiesburg, they just can't quit playing," Bass said. "We can't let that happen."
Ninety-six years after Laurel opened the series with a 12-0 win, the contest has only intensified over time. The Golden Tornadoes lead the overall series 48-43-5, but the Tigers have captured the trophy for the last four years.
A lot has changed in Mississippi since 1922, just not the battle for the "Lil Brown Jug."
"It's special," said Hattiesburg head coach Tony Vance, who enters his sixth "Jug" game. "And that's one thing me and coach Breland don't take for granted. We both talk about it all the time, just how special it is to be coaches in this game."
"There's going to be no surprises Saturday night," Breland said. "We know how good they are. We feel like we're bringing a good team down there. Great entertainment – you can't get entertainment anymore for seven dollars."