MOSCOW, Idaho – The plaza outside the University of Idaho student union building is a campus crossroads, a meeting place for everyday life for all things Vandal.
On a spectacularly sunny, mild autumn afternoon Wednesday, it provided the venue to showcase one of Idaho’s biggest football triumphs in years.
The Little Brown Stein, the traveling trophy for which Idaho and University of Montana football teams have battled intermittently since 1903, is back in Moscow for the first time since 1999 after the Vandals overcame the Grizzlies 30-23 last Saturday. Perched on a black-draped pedestal under a canopy adorned with UI logos, the stein occupied a happy confluence between a lunchtime university community curious to check out what the occasion was all about, and a football coach, Jason Eck, who not only has an appreciation for college football trophies but an easy manner that allows him to connect with anybody, any time.
Eck took off an hour from preparing the 17th-ranked Vandals (4-2, 3-0 Big Sky Conference) for their game against Portland State Saturday to meet and greet students, faculty, staff, fans and at least a couple of dogs, and to have his picture taken with them and the stein.
“I love traveling trophies,” he said.
Eck played college football at Wisconsin, where the Badgers annually contested for Paul Bunyan’s Axe with the University of Minnesota.
“When you won, you could go around the field pretending to chop down their goal posts,” Eck said.
“To me, traveling trophies are a college football tradition. You don’t see those in the NFL or in college basketball.”
Eck said he has enjoyed bringing the Little Brown Stein back to Idaho. It has been around Moscow since the Vandals reclaimed it.
“It was at the Corner Cub,” the iconic Vandals bar, “Saturday night. It was at my house for a little bit when the coaches were celebrating,” Eck said.
It has been photographed with staff in front of the pictures of Idaho’s Hall of Fame members, and following its appearance outside the student union, it was slated to appear at Eck’s weekly coach’s show at the Fairfield Inn.
“Then it’s going in the trophy case,” he said.
The UI slice of life photographed with the Little Brown Stein and the coach Wednesday ranged from people who kind of knew what the tradition was all about to those who were being educated on it.
“We won it when I was a student here in 1989,” said Rula Awwad-Rafferty, head of the Interior Architecture and Design program at the UI. “I’m excited for our Vandals. I love this opportunity.”
She said some of her students were angling for extra credit for being photographed with the stein.
“They were afraid of holding it,” she said. “But I held it up.”
Chrissy Shelton, director of development for the UI College of Business and Economics, is new to the Little Brown Stein tradition. But she is checked out on rivalries, the Apple Cup specifically, as a former Washington State University student.
“I like rivalries like this,” she said. “It’s always fun to see the trophies come home.”
Tammy Renfrow, events and administrative coordinator at the UI College of Business and Economics, remembered the Little Brown Stein tradition from her student days at Idaho in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Like nearly everyone who posed with Eck and the stein, she planned to put the picture on social media.
“We’ll see how many likes we get,” she said.
Adriana Gutierrez, a freshman from Dubois, Idaho, said, “I don’t know much about it,” but said posing with the football coach and the trophy “was a good opportunity to show school pride. It’s a unique opportunity to get students together to show support for our teams. I thought it was really cool.”
A number of people went to the Vandals-Grizzlies game. Mark Warren, a sophomore from Sandpoint, and James Taurman-Aldrich, a sophomore from Lewistown, Montana, were in Missoula reporting on the game for UI student media.
They missed an opportunity to be photographed on the field with the stein after the game, Warren said, but they made up for it Wednesday.
The game itself “was insane,” Taurman-Aldrich said. “Even in the press box, you could feel the energy of the fans.”
The two of them had plans for their photo with Eck and the stein.
“Twitter profile picture,” they said in unison.
Harleigh Johnson, a UI senior from Dillon, Montana, was at the game, too. She said of her photo with Eck and the stein: “I’ll definitely send it to my friends and rub it in a little bit.
“I think it is really unique the coach is out here connecting with students.”
Her grandmother also weighed in after Idaho’s victory, according to Johnson.
“She said, ‘I see you got the big mug back.’ ”
Johnson was joined by Cade Crookshanks, a junior from Carson City, Nevada, who transferred to Idaho this year, and Madison Sotin, a senior from St. Maries.
“It’s awesome to come out here and support the school spirit,” Crookshanks said.
Sotin was not aware of the traveling trophy tradition until the game Saturday.
The Vandals are making it fun to be an Idaho student.
“I think it’s really cool, all the school spirit we’re starting to get back,” she said.
Kenyon Coles, a junior from Boise, didn’t know about either the Little Brown Stein or the Vandals’ win against Montana. He was walking through the plaza when he was talked into scooping up his 3-month-old German shepherd puppy, Luna, and getting photographed with the Little Brown Stein
Sarah Miller, a UI sophomore chemical engineering major who grew up in Moscow, was similarly unaware of the Little Brown Stein until she happened upon the photo op Wednesday.
“I got a cool pic,” she said. “I’ll show it off to my mom,” a UI alum.
For Renfrow, it was a short walk from her College of Business and Economics office to the student union plaza. But the satisfaction of being photographed with Eck and the Little Brown Stein was a long time coming.
“It hasn’t been here for 20-plus years,” she said. “That’s why I came today.”
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