My View from South Hill
Tagged as “football”
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.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
I had the opportunity recently to join a group of Ithaca College alumni, parents and friends in the owner’s box for a Tampa Bay Buccaneers football game, courtesy of Ed Glazer, co-owner of the team and member of the Ithaca College class of ‘92. The evening before, we took a tour of the team’s new training facilities, including an opportunity to talk with Coach Jon Gruden. As we walked from the magnificent lobby through locker rooms, weight rooms, training rooms, meeting rooms, and media centers, our group of Ithaca College supporters could not help but note features that we might want to incorporate into our own Athletics and Events Center, an ambitious undertaking on which the College hopes to break ground next spring.
The most striking aspect of the tour, though, was to see how strongly team images were incorporated throughout the facility. Our first hint was the giant Buccaneer flag that flies between that stadium and the training center a half mile away. Within the training center itself, the Buccaneer red and silver is everywhere, along with the team logo. Giant photographs of players in action adorn the walls, as do reminders of the team’s triumph in Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003 In the weight room, where players push their capacities and in which the team gels into a band of brothers, banners spur the players on with such slogans as “You Get What You Deserve” and “How Much Do You Want It?”
An NFL team in a typical year will have a large number of players who were not on the team the year before. Since the average professional career is less than five years long, a significant fraction of the players will be new to the league. Others will be new to the team through trade or free agency. Molding 53 athletes into a cohesive team is a challenge renewed every fall.
A college campus, by contrast, is a bastion of individualism. Students are on campus to extend their horizons and hone their skills as individuals. Dorm rooms and faculty offices are decorated according to personal taste, and adornments are carefully chosen to proclaim one’s unique identity and interests.
Despite those differences, a professional sports team and a college campus are united by the pursuit of excellence. Every day on South Hill sees the creation of several thousand stories of striving for greater insight, capacity or performance. Breakthroughs are made in studios, seminar rooms, laboratories, clinics, practice rooms, and rehearsal spaces. Students have their “Eureka!” moments in the library and on stage. Although we never come together as a single unit on Sunday afternoon to measure our progress in competition against an opponent, the Ithaca College campus is as focused on the development of human potential as are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
On the day we were there, Tampa Bay soundly defeated the team that had previously been in first place in their division. You get what you deserve.