From the Historian: The Little Brown Jug

Jim Burlingame

Due to the current pandemic situation the fall football season has been canceled, but memories of past games remain with us. The following is one of them.

In the long history of local sports rivalries, the Little Brown Jug high school football series between the East Rochester Bombers and Fairport Red Raiders must have been one of the largest.

The early local games were played in the East Rochester village’s Eyer Park. Football, baseball and track teams had to put their uniforms on in the school buildings located on East Avenue and walk up East Filbert Street and then Filbert Place to a path down the hill to the park. The park was situated in a low-lying area bordering Irondequoit Creek. It was the first high school to install electric lighting (1947) outside of the city of Rochester. A major disadvantage of this location was that, in the evening when the lights were on, a fog would sometimes settle on the field. The quarterback would fade back and pass up into the fog to a receiver down the field who sometimes did not know where the ball would appear. Later games were played on Harris Field off Fairport Road without this hindrance.

The two schools faced each other on the gridiron every year from 1939 to 1987, fighting for the coveted trophy “The Little Brown Jug,” which the winning school would keep until next year’s game.

The jug was about 1 foot tall, with red white and blue ribbons tied to the handle and was purchased at a local hardware store for just 50 cents. It was not truly the jug itself that was treasured, but the title, honor and bragging rights for the community holding the jug.

Each year’s game set off a weeklong celebration in the schools and communities, with pep rallies, spirit events and a bonfire the night before the game. Then, on game day, so many people packed the stands that some brought stepladders to see over the crowd. To add to the excitement, after each game the losing mayor had to push the winning mayor in a wheelbarrow across the field.

The Little Brown Jug series ended after 49 years when the enrollment in Fairport High school grew so large there was a significant size and weight disadvantage for East Rochester. The final record, however, reflected how evenly matched the teams were for most of those years: East Rochester 26, Fairport 22. So, there would be no argument, a duplicate jug was created so that each school could have its own to keep.

In July 2014, the two communities came together to celebrate the series with a Little Brown Jug reunion, which was part of the opening night of the East Rochester Fire Department carnival. Both jugs were on display side-by-side for the first time ever. The big question was, which jug was real and which one was the copy?

Jim Burlingame is historian for the town/village of East Rochester.

The Little Brown Jug, 1939-87.