A Family Affair

If you were asked to describe a Cortaca Jug game to a total stranger, you’d probably have a specific image in your mind: getting up early to tailgate with your friends before heading to Butterfield Stadium and trying to beat the crowd to a good spot. You’d probably be clad in Bomber blue, looking down (literally) on the players beneath you, perhaps letting your eyes wander from time to time to the view of Cayuga Lake stretching out in front of you.

But if you could hop into a time machine to follow members of the Steenberg family throughout their four decades of being involved with the Cortaca Jug, you’d get a much more complete picture of everything the game embodies from both sides of the field.

The early views Lynn Bacon Steenberg ’78 had might mimic your own, as she cheered on the Bombers—and her future husband, Matt Steenberg ’77, MS ‘78—from the bleachers before moving down to the sidelines for her junior year, breaking barriers and setting the stage for Sarah Piebes ’06 and countless other female athletic training students to follow in her footsteps.

Matt might still be fired up from the night before, when the seniors would speak to the rest of team about the importance of the Cortaca Jug before ripping off their shirts to fire up the squad. Then he’d be in action, first as a tight end and then as a wide receiver, running routes and helping the Bombers to a perfect record in jug games when he was a player, extra motivated on this day because Cortland didn’t recruit him.

Flash forward to 1984, and suddenly, you’re not looking out at Cayuga Lake anymore. You’re on the visitor side of the field, looking at Butterfield Stadium’s iconic rock wall as you watch Matt, now clad in Cortland red as an assistant coach for the Red Dragons, walk out onto the field before the game to embrace and have a few words with Jim Butterfield, before his former coach, who never forgot a member of the Bomber family, would ask him, “How’s my Lynn?”

A little more than a decade passes and you’re back on the sidelines watching Matt, now in his second stint as a Red Dragon assistant, still seeking out Jim Butterfield before the game for a hug and a quick word as Butterfield, now retired, still inquires about his Lynn. But out of the corner of your eye, you might catch a glimpse of Matt’s son, Ryan ’05, zooming around as the Cortland ball boy, getting yelled at by good-natured fans intent on a little razzing.

Before long, Ryan’s old enough to go to college, and—what do you know—he’s playing for the Bombers, first as a quarterback and then as a linebacker, where Lynn can watch him from the familiar home bleachers, next to Matt, who is no longer coaching for Cortland. If you watched Ryan in a jug game, you would see that he never stops giving maximum effort, which is the reason he earned the Whistleman Award, just like his father, for his continued effort until the whistle blows.

After Ryan graduates though, the Steenberg clan once more turns their backs to the lake, as Matt returns to the Cortland sideline for a third time, first as an assistant coach, and now as a staff member who works with the players on developing mentorship and leadership skills. By this point, he jokes, his family’s been involved with the jug “in every way except cutting the grass before the game.”

But there’s one common theme in all those changes, over all those decades, over the lake disappearing and reappearing from view as they were drawn from one side of the stadium to the other. For the Steenbergs, like so many before them, the Cortaca Jug is more than a game. “It’s a family affair,” Lynn said. “Part of our hearts are on both sides.”