The Old Brass Spittoon: An Unknown Rivalry Game

Written By Sammy Jacobs (@SammyJ108)

Sparty Spartan vs. Howie Hoosier.png

Most Indiana fans are intimately familiar with one of the trophy games that the Hoosiers play for.  That is the Old Oaken Bucket which is a staple in Hoosier culture and has been contested by Indiana and Purdue dating back to 1925.  However, there is a second trophy game that practically nobody, outside of a select few truly know about. 

That trophy is the Old Brass Spittoon and has been awarded to the winner of the Indiana-Michigan State football game.  While the series dates back to 1922, the first time the trophy was up for grabs was in 1950.  The trophy has a rather unusual story to say the very least.  It is so unique and obscure that it actually was named in a Sports Illustrated for Kids article that listed college football’s most unusual trophies. 

The Story of the Spittoon started when a Michigan State graduate named Gene McDermott purchased it from an antique shop in Lansing, Michigan.   According to a 2012 article in The Morning Call, McDermott procured the spittoon in order to avoid a let down in the game against Indiana just a week after knocking off rival Notre Dame.  The Spartans won the game 35-0, and the legend of the Old Brass Spittoon was born.

The Spittoon represents the untamed Midwest in the early 1800’s, when hunters from what would later be Indiana would come up to the Lansing area and use the spittoons at local establishments.  The history of this game is about as lopsided as that first battle for the trophy in 1950 was with the Spartans leading the series 42-14-2.

The lack of overall success for the Hoosiers and the on again, off again schedule of the rivalry may be the reason why so few Indiana fans know about the trophy, and even those who do generally don’t know much more about it than Indiana and Michigan State play for it.

When asked about the Old Brass Spittoon, former Hoosier receiver Lance Bennett who was on the team the last time IU clamed it said, “It doesn’t mean much to me, but I’m not sure historically.  Purdue (The Old Oaken Bucket) means the most.” 

When a trophy no longer holds meaning amongst some of the players, it is sure to be lost amongst the fans.  This is clearly displayed when we asked current students at IU if they knew what the Spittoon was.  A typical response was voiced by Evan Morgan, who replied, “No, Should I?” when asked what the Spittoon was. 

However, the meaning is not lost on everyone.  Another former player, Tyson Beattie remembers winning the trophy back in 2006 46-21.

The Hoosiers hosting the Old Brass Spittoon after their 2006 victory

The Hoosiers hosting the Old Brass Spittoon after their 2006 victory

“When we beat them in ’06 it was the one and only time I had won the Spittoon.  I had played against them every year since 2002 and we got killed in every game, but in ’06 it was like they couldn’t touch us.” 

When asked about the best thing about winning the obscure trophy Beattie replied, “The best thing was getting that spittoon, it was such an ugly, smelly sort of trophy, but you just wanted to hug it, kiss it, even though (people) had spat in it.”  Beattie also spoke to the distain he had for loosing to the Spartans, “a loss you felt harder than others, Purdue was the worst obviously, but Michigan State was a big rivalry…It was difficult seeing them walk off with the spittoon I just wanted it so bad, it was nice to win in the final year”. 

While the Hoosier-Spartan rivalry has not been played yearly in the past, starting in 2014 Indiana and Michigan State will both be in the East division of the Big Ten.  This will mean that the two programs will match up annually for the right to take home the Old Brass Spittoon.  One has to believe that playing every year should only increase the exposure and passion of this rivalry to fans of both teams.  While it is not a geographical rivalry like many other trophy games in college football, the Battle for the Old Brass Spittoon should become one of the games to watch on the Big Ten calendar.  The rivalry will continue on in Week Seven of the 2013 football season.   If you haven't already be sure to check out the Old Brass Spittoon page on our Hoosier History section for further details and statistics from this series.