It’s hard to believe it has been one year since the 2012 Cortaca Jug, but oh how time has flown. And here we are on the eve of the eve of yet another Cortaca Jug — the 55th edition of one Division III football’s greatest rivalries. To preview the game, Sport Media graduate Meghan Herlihy ’12 takes a look at some of the facts you might not know about the Route 13 Rivalry.

Editor’s note: The piece below was originally published on 11/11/11. Stats/facts are updated to the best of our abilities. Apologies in advance for inaccuracies. You can blame me. Or registration week.

By Meghan Herlihy ’12

There are numerous aspects of the Cortaca Jug game that are common knowledge. Everyone knows that it’s a rivalry game between Ithaca College and SUNY Cortland that began in 1959. Everyone knows that Sports Illustrated proclaimed Cortaca, “the biggest little game in the nation.”

But how many of us know how the Jug game came into existence? Where does the Jug reside in each school when they win it? Why the students, those who don’t know the difference between a field goal post and a signpost, flock to the game?

Armed with my writer’s curiosity and audio recorder I set out to discover some hidden truths and facts about this D-III rivalry game, from the initial matchup in 1930, to the founding of the Cortaca Jug in 1959, right up to the current teams.

1. Ithaca and Cortland did not play annually until 1948

Ithaca College and SUNY Cortland first played each other in football in 1930 in Cortland. Cortland won the first contest, 12-0. The two schools played again from 1931-34, but had to wait until 1948 to square off for a sixth time. They have played each other every year since.

2. Cortland pretty much dominated the pre-Jug era

Ithaca has so many more Cortaca wins than Cortland (the Bombers lead the Jug series 34-20) that it’s easy to forget the Red Dragons dominated the series with Ithaca back in the day. In the 16 times the teams squared off before the Jug came into existence, Cortland won nine times to Ithaca’s four victories. And when Cortland won, they won. These are the scores of the games from the years Cortland beat Ithaca:

1930- 12-0
1948- 19-0
1949- 32-7
1952- 39-6
1953- 32-0
1955- 28-0
1956- 37-0 (ouch)
1957- 32-13
1958- 16-6

Even the four times when Ithaca managed to beat Cortland in the pre-Jug era, it was usually by a touchdown or less:

1931- 12-6
1934- 7-0
1950- 7-6
1951- 13-6

A few of you might be saying, “Wait! Three years are missing! There is no score for 1932, 1933 or 1954!” Which brings me to my next point . . .

3. Three Ithaca-Cortland games have ended in ties

The contests between the Bombers and Red Dragons are more often than not very close, hard-fought games. Thirty of the games (counting the pre-Jug era) have been decided by a touchdown or less. (Again, everyone probably knows that.) What many do not know is that there have been three ties in the game’s history, back-to-back ties in 1932 and 1933, and again in 1954. In fact, in the 1932 contest, there wasn’t a score at all. The game ended as it had begun: 0-0. The following year the teams tied 6-6 and then tied 13-13 in 1954.

Luckily, a tie has yet to occur in the Cortaca Jug game. It would make figuring what to do with the Jug that year a very tricky issue.

4. The Cortaca Jug, a prize that countless young men have sweat, bled and cried over, cost only $2

This particular story, the history of the founding of the Cortaca Jug game, is interesting.

The Cortaca Jug originated in 1959. Despite the rivalry still being in the earlier stages, it was already quite competitive and fierce. Tom Decker, the football captain of SUNY Cortland at the time, was driving through Homer (a nearby town) in 1959 before the Ithaca game. He stopped at a yard sale being held by a Homer farmer named Freddy Moss. At the yard sale, Decker spotted a jug, and he decided that this jug would be the perfect item to use as a trophy in the now-annual game against Ithaca. So he bought it for a grand total of $2. (The Cortaca Jug — so cheap, a college student can afford it!)

Decker then called up Dick Carmean, the captain of Ithaca’s football team. The pair of them painted the jug blue and gold for Ithaca and red and white for Cortland, and the rest is history.

Interesting side note: Decker and Carmean were actually very good friends.

5. The original Cortaca Jug ran out of space for the scores more than 20 years ago

When I was doing my background research on the game, this is probably the fact that caught me the most off-guard. Whenever I walked past the jug as a freshman or sophomore in the trophy case in the Hill Center, it never occurred to me that the prize displayed was not the original. So you can imagine my shock when I read that the original $2 jug purchased by Tom Decker ran out of space for the scores in 1985 — several years before I was even born.

When Ithaca wins the jug, the current jug is displayed in a trophy case in Hill and Coach Welch keeps the original in his office. When Cortland wins, both jugs are displayed in the Hall of Fame room on campus.

6. The Cortaca Mic

The night before Cortaca, the sports and news radio staff of Ithaca College’s student-run radio station, 92 WICB (91.7 FM), play a football game against the sports and news radio staff of SUNY Cortland’s radio station, 90.5 The Dragon (WSUC). The game is known as the “Cortaca Mic” and it even has its own trophy for the victor. The game takes place at Cortland every year.

Here’s a fun fact that I can almost guarantee no one knows unless they were/are on one of the radio staffs: The school that wins the Cortaca Mic game usually loses the Cortaca Jug the next day. We affectionately refer to it as the Cortaca Mic Curse. True to form, WICB won the Cortaca Mic in 2010 but Ithaca lost the Jug (WICB lost the Mic in ’07, ’08, and ’09, all Ithaca Jug victories). The 2011 matchup broke the “curse” as WSUC and Cortland captured the mic and jug.

7. Alumni still tune in, even if they can’t be at the game

I can’t speak for Cortland alumni, but I know that Ithaca students and alum in both Los Angeles and New York City actually have special viewing parties for the Cortaca Jug game.

Those residing in L.A. travel to Studio City, California and watch the game in a place known as The Casting Office. This viewing party has been dubbed “CortaCal.” The NYC alumni gather in a bar in Brooklyn called Berry St. Bar to watch Cortaca. While this viewing party doesn’t have a special name, onlookers have described it as rivaling Halloween and New Year’s in its, um, “energy.”

8. The game was not always the last game of the year

I discovered this little nugget of information when I was talking to Ithaca’s current head football coach, Mike Welch (more on him in a minute). Coach Welch has been coaching Ithaca’s team since 1994, and he told me that when he started here, Cortaca was always played at midseason. It wasn’t until seven or eight years ago, he said, that it became the last game of the year.

9. The current head coaches and a couple of coincidences

As mentioned above, Mike Welch is currently Ithaca’s head football coach and Dan MacNeill is head coach of the Cortland squad. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to ask both of them some questions while I was writing this piece, and I found a couple of interesting parallels between the two coaches.

For starters, both Coach Welch and Coach MacNeill actually played football at the colleges where they now coach. Coach Welch was a running back for Ithaca College and Coach MacNeill was a linebacker and defensive end for SUNY Cortland. Both coaches also served as one of their team’s captains as seniors. (However, they wouldn’t have faced each other on the field; they missed playing each other by a year or two.)

Coach Mac’s team won a 33-28 contest in 1997 during his first year at Cortland, a victory that was maybe a little extra special for him, as he had never won Cortaca as a player. “In 1997, I took my first team to Ithaca, where we won and snapped a 30-year win streak Ithaca enjoyed as the home team,” he said.

10. Neither team really has any unusual rituals for Cortaca

I asked both coaches if they do anything special to get their players riled up for the game, whether the night before or during the week at all. Both said no, they generally do everything the same. The only difference I could gather was Coach Welch mentioning that Dick Carmean, the Ithaca captain who co-found the Jug, usually comes up Friday before practice to say a few words to the team. Other than that, nothing out of the ordinary takes place. As both coaches mentioned, the anticipation and excitement of Cortaca by itself is enough.

11. However, both coaches do a little something special for the seniors

Coach MacNeill told me that the night before the game, he allows the seniors on the Cortland squad to address the team. At Ithaca, Coach Welch always requires his players to jog up the hill by the practice field before walking the rest of the way to the locker room. The Thursday of Cortaca week, however, the seniors have the privilege of being carried up the hill by the younger players in honor of their last Cortaca game.

12. The jug is not presented on the field

I’m sure the average Cortaca-goer is too caught up in the emotion of the game to notice, but the Cortaca Jug is not actually presented to the winning team at the field. I wasn’t able to discover why this is the case, but it’s a fact.

13. The game actually benefits the community

No, not just by creating more jobs by hiring extra security to deal with the increased crowd size. Students from both schools take part in a number of community service projects:

The Cortaca Climate Challenge: Students, faculty, staff and alumni from both Ithaca College and SUNY Cortland compete against each other to see who can reduce their carbon footprint the most, via RPM Ecosystems donates a hardwood tree to the campus that has enrolled the most members two days before the game. The Cortaca Jug is more environmentally friendly than you imagined, huh? It gets a number of people involved in reducing environmental waste.

The Cortaca Blood Drive Challenge: In October, both campuses held a blood drive for the American Red Cross to try and collect as many units of blood as possible.

Habitat for Humanity of Tompkins and Cortland Counties: In 2010 eight students from Ithaca and 10 students from Cortland teamed up to help build a home for the Hutchings family in Cortland.

14. My reasoning as to why students care so much

I’m sure I wasn’t the first person to wonder about all the loathing that goes into the Cortaca rivalry. I am a lifelong sports fan, so I know how deep hatred can run when it comes to sports rivalries. (If you care.) And the truth is a majority of students on both campuses generally don’t care about D-III football, even if they are football fans. So why is Cortaca such a big deal?

After talking to my fellow students and reading about various Cortaca experiences from Ithaca and Cortland fans, I think I’ve strung together multiple reasons that explain the Cortaca hype and the hatred between the two schools.

The proximity of the game plays a large role in its popularity. Ithaca and Cortland are only 21 miles away from each other. Only a highway separates the two campuses. If Ithaca students want to sneak into Cortland’s locker room and spray paint it blue and gold, they don’t have to drive hours and navigate complicated routes to do so. If you don’t trust your neighbor, you’re a lot more wary of them than you are of someone you don’t trust in a different state.

It’s an old rivalry too. As I mentioned above, the first matchup dates back to 1930. The most history there is between two teams, the most they dislike each other.

One aspect that I think is often overlooked is that Cortland, as a New York state school, is comprised of mostly New York students who knew what Cortaca was before going to college. A majority of their students grew up on this rivalry. If you’re born and bred despising Ithaca or hating Cortland, the game matters that much more to you.

On top of all of this, students are, to an extent, just doing what we’re told. When I took a tour at Ithaca College as a junior in high school, I specifically remember my guide telling us about the Cortaca game and how if we were to go to Ithaca, we’d have to root against Cortland in everything. I guarantee tour guides at Cortland say the same thing about Ithaca. We know coming into school that we’re expected to automatically dislike the other campus. I’m sure most Ithaca students are indifferent to Cortland most of the time (even the tour guides) and vice versa. But when we face them on the football field, a lightbulb turns on in students’ heads. Oh yeah, I forgot, we “hate” you guys!

Finally, the game’s reputation combined with all of this just provides more fuel for the fire. If someone mocks something important to you (like the school you chose to attend), you naturally want to defend it and mock theirs right back. Students know they’re supposed to care about this game. So they do. And they will continue to do so. It’s simple psychology.

So there you have it. Fourteen obscure facts I managed to dig up after countless hours of research. (Okay fine, I’m exaggerating a little.) I knew almost none of these facts before writing this feature, and now I feel like I have a better understanding of “the biggest little game in the country.” So the next time Cortaca rolls around and it’s time for to slip on those “Beat Cortland!” and wait in line for your Cortaca ticket, you’ll be much more informed and educated about the game.

Edited by Gavin Cote ’12


1 Comment so far

  1. Nick Gulvin on November 16, 2013 5:16 am

    Great article Gavin!

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