I received notification the other day that Bill Daley, one of Minnesota’s most revered former football players, had passed on at ninety-six. I remember him being the first college football player I ever connected by name.
When I was a young boy, a weekly Saturday treat was going to our local movie theater in Queens, New York, with childhood friends to see a double feature which started at nine a.m. and included a screening of Movietone News.
In the fall, the news would include clips of the previous week’s top college football games, always in black-and-white. My best friend at the time was Kenneth Daley, a schoolmate who lived a block away from us.
This one Saturday, I remember hearing the name Daley and the words Little Brown Jug on the news during the football clip. Daley stuck with me because of my friend’s last name and Little Brown Jug because I just couldn’t figure the connection with the football game and the name of a song we had sung in class going to the game’s winner, in this case being Michigan.
I would find out in the ensuing seventy years the nearly spiritual connection of Little Brown Jug and Minnesota-Michigan football.
Bill Daley is the only player who never lost a Little Brown Jug game, while playing on both sides.
Daley, from a small town in Minnesota named Melrose, population then 2,020, went to the University of Minnesota and played on Gopher national championship teams in both 1940 and 1941. He played again in 1942 when Minnesota beat Michigan for the seventh straight time.
After that 1942 season, with one year of eligibility left and World War II underway, Daley enlisted in the Navy. Originally assigned to the officer training program at New York’s Columbia University, he was re-assigned to the University of Michigan’s V-12 training program awaiting an opening in New York.
At Michigan, all cadets had to undergo vigorous athletic training or play varsity intercollegiate sports, if qualified. Before long, Daley was playing football for the arch-rival and hated Wolverines, who, over the previous three years, he had helped defeat while a Gopher, keeping the lionized Little Brown Jug trophy safely in its glass case back in Minneapolis.
However, in 1943, Michigan trounced the Gophers in Ann Arbor, 49-6, with Daley leading the way and claiming the trophy. He played in only six games that season before leaving for Columbia, but enough to earn him All-American first team honors.
It was that specific traditional rivalry game I had seen as a child in 1943 that stuck so vividly in my mind for so many years because of that last name shared by Bill and Kenneth Daley and that catchy tune I learned in class about a drinking vessel of some kind.
I never could have imagined that I’d have the honor of playing in that treasured contest three different times years later.
I remember when we adjourned to that dirt lot around the corner from the movie house to play football, Kenny Daley thought himself every bit Bill Daley and wanted to carry the ball on every play all afternoon.
I have never forgotten that.
This week, Michigan travels to Minnesota for the 102nd game in the rivalry. Having been secured last year with a win, the Little Brown Jug will sit guarded on the Gopher sideline.
Will it stay or will it go to Ann Arbor?
Tune in to find out.
And, whomever you root for, keep a good thought about Bill Daley.