My View from South Hill
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Looming ahead of me through the gray mist, a sea of red jackets and a wall of sound. Just behind me, a sea of blue jackets and another wall of sound. Directly ahead, 22 big bodies each tensed in a crouch, facing each other in two lines of eleven each. Somewhere a whistle blows and the noise becomes still more deafening.
The Cortaca Jug is about to kick off.
College sports has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I was an undergraduate at The University of Michigan during the height of the Bo Schembechler – Woody Hayes rivalry. It is an unforgettable experience to stand with 110,000 other fans in the big bowl in Ann Arbor and cheer on the home team. But that pales next to the experience of standing on the sideline next to the Ithaca College football team. The ground level perspective completely changes your understanding of the size and speed of the athletes. On those occasions when the play comes directly at you, you look for a hole to dive into.
That this is the “biggest little game in the country” makes the sideline atmosphere all the more intense. Ithaca College and SUNY Cortland have played each other all but a few years going back to the 1930s. The rivalry was already well established nearly a half century ago, when childhood friends Dick Carmean and Tom Decker were elected team captains for Ithaca and Cortland respectively. They decided that the two teams should be playing for a trophy of some kind, and shortly after that noticed a row of jugs on the porch of a farmhouse in the nearby town of Homer. A brief negotiation with the farmer led to the purchase of one of the jugs. Forty-nine years later, the two old friends return to this rivalry game, bringing the jug to the center of the field and pledging it to the winning team.
Last Saturday, the undefeated Cortland Red Dragons met the once-defeated Ithaca Bombers with NCAA playoff seedings at stake. Ask any Ithaca College player, though, and you would learn that for them the real stakes of this game are possession of the Jug, bragging rights for the year to come, and the life-long pride that come from being able to answer the question that every Bomber fan will ask for the rest of their lives: “How did you do against Cortland?”
It rained almost constantly during the 2008 Cortaca Jug game, alternating between a light drizzle and a heavy downpour. Had any of the fans actually sat down they would have found very wet seats, but none did. The Ithaca College students kept up their cheers and chants for the entire game, pausing only to roar their approval of a big play. In a complete reversal of the usual role, cheerleaders on the sidelines would pick up on the chants coming from the stands rather than the other way around.
Three hours later, the fiftieth line of print was ready to be painted onto the Cortaca Jug. It will read: 2008 – Ithaca 35 Cortland 13.
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