One of the little pleasures in this job comes early in every high school football season, during the week before the annual Battle for the Little Brown Jug.
I dig into the archives, pull out my dog-eared copy of the list of year-by-year scores for the rivalry and type out a fresh copy, updating, of course, with the score from the previous year and the series record.
It’s like clockwork. Every year since 1922, no matter what, Hattiesburg High and Laurel have met on the football field. It’s still the longest continuously-played rivalry in Mississippi.
Sometime around 1930, the two schools got the idea of creating a trophy to go to the winner in the rivalry between the nearby towns, someone else offered an old moonshine whiskey jug and, just like that, one of the best trophies in all of high school sports was created.
Typing up these scores is like taking a walk through the history of Mississippi football, from the days of leather helmets to today’s sophisticated gear, from the single-wing offense of the 1920s and ’30s to the spread offense of recent vintage.
More than that, though, it allows me to talk a walk through the history of the past 92 years. As I rolled through the years, I thought about what was happening in those particular years.
In the ’30s, I wondered about all of the dirt-poor kids in the Depression, and the fans for whom an afternoon or evening watching an exciting ball game was a brief respite from their economic hardships.
Then as I wrote in the score from 1941, I thought about the attack on Pearl Harbor that was just a few weeks away, and about the young men who played in the game during World War II, went off to serve their country and never returned.
As I go through the 1960s and into the ’70s, images of blacks struggling for equality came to mind, and how these two schools had to deal with the changes that integration brought.
And, as the rest of the scores were put to paper, I reflected on the fact that both Hattiesburg and Laurel have now become predominantly black in enrollment.
Despite all of the changes – the demographics of the schools, the fact that the game no longer counts in conference or district standings, the fact that it’s now an early-season game instead of a season finale (once played on Thanksgiving Day) – this is still a rivalry that matters.
Hattiesburg and Laurel still care about this game, still care about the Little Brown Jug. One had to only hear HHS athletic director Cheyenne Trussell, talking to the Tigers after Saturday’s game against Petal, to understand how much this game means.
“Next week is the Jug game,” Trussell said. “We’ve got to bring it back where it belongs.”
As it happens, Laurel leads the series 48-39, with five ties. A quick perusal of the year-by-year scores shows that each school has taken its turn in dominating the series.
There was a period from 1936 to 1950 when Laurel was 12-1-2 in the series, but then Hattiesburg won five years out of the next seven, with a tie in that period.
Laurel owned the 1970s, winning 12 of 14 meetings and eight straight at one point, but the Tigers ruled in the late ’80s and most of the ’90s, winning 11 of 13 games and posting win streaks of six years and four years.
But the two teams have spent the past four seasons handing the Jug back and forth. Currently, the Golden Tornadoes have possession of the trophy. Indeed, Hattiesburg’s largest margin of victory in the entire series came just two years ago, when the Tigers won 38-0.
Friday night, the Tigers and Golden Tornadoes will take the field at D.I. Patrick Stadium and write another chapter in the history of one of this state’s great rivalries, carrying on a tradition that stretches back into the mists of time.
Contact Stan Caldwell at (601) 584-3137.