Countdown to Cortaca: The Road to MetLife Stadium, Part 10

By Kerry C. Regan, November 8, 2019
Cortaca enthusiasm runs from coast-to-coast during game day viewing parties

The 61st Cortaca Jug football game between Ithaca College and Cortland State University will be played on its biggest stage yet this fall — MetLife Stadium, the home of the National Football League’s New York Giants and New York Jets. To shine a light on this historic matchup, we will run a multi-part series in this space leading up to game day on Saturday, Nov. 16 at 1 p.m. We’ll cover all things Cortaca — interviews with Cortaca Jug legends, plans for alumni gatherings around the nation, ways the game is being incorporated in academic programs and other topics. This is the final installment in the series. Previous stories can be found here.

For many Ithaca College students, Cortaca isn’t just a football game. It’s a campus-wide social event that brings together students across schools, majors, and years.

So it should be no surprise that these students still feel a strong affinity for Cortaca even after they leave South Hill and transition to alumni. As a result, official Cortaca viewing parties have sprung up across the country, so IC grads can still pull for the Bombers against their rivals from Cortland while rekindling old relationships—and in some cases, sparking new ones.

Evan St. George ’08 came to the 2013 viewing party in Boston ready to watch the Bombers try to break a three-year Cortaca losing streak.  A lifelong sports fan whose father, Mark Boronski ’73, played under legendary Ithaca Head Coach Jim Butterfield and was a teammate of his successor, Mike Welch ‘73, St. George had helped organize the Boston party for years.

Evan St. George and Erin Leonard

This photo of Evan St. George ’08 and Erin Leonard ’10 was made possible by a Boston-based Cortaca Jug viewing party.

At that year’s event, he ran into Erin Leonard ’10, whose mother Jeanne (Stokoe) Leonard graduated from Ithaca in 1980. The pair had never met while on campus, but while chatting, they came to realize that they both had participated in a post-Hurricane Katrina Habitat for Humanity trip to New Orleans. The two agreed to go to dinner the next week.

Not long after, they were dating, and eventually married in 2017—coincidentally the same year the Bombers’ broke their seven-year Cortaca losing streak under first-year Head Coach Dan Swanstrom.

“Meeting her was obviously my standout memory from that game,” St. George said. (Most Bombers fans probably want to forget the crushing 28-24 loss.)

Most years, as many as a dozen viewing parties are held across the country, thanks to alumni who work closely with IC’s Office of Engagement and Constituent Relations to stage them. The college offers advice or assistance in getting the broadcast feed sent to the needed location, and manages the invitation and RSVP processes. They also provide name tags, registration sheets, Cortaca koozies with commemorative designs, pompoms, signage, decorative beads and a small budget for snacks. The alumni do the legwork of finding a venue and working through the onsite logistics.

“What makes Cortaca special is getting together with people from college, getting to see people you haven’t seen in a year or two years or five years, and catching up, reliving old memories and making new ones.”

Peter Davis ’06, on the power of Cortaca viewing parties.

The first Cortaca viewing party was held in Los Angeles in 2006 and “CortaCal,” as it’s called, is now an annual tradition on the West Coast. What initially began in 2006 as a small gathering in an alum’s apartment has swelled to several hundred people infiltrating the bar 33 Taps early in the morning.

Peter Davis ’06, who attends CortaCal every year, recalls the turnout at the first event there shocked the bar’s staff. “The manager walked in and her jaw hit the floor because she wasn’t expecting this D3 school to have so many people at a game at 9 a.m.,” he said. “Because they had a Notre Dame viewing party there the previous week with fewer than two dozen attendees. She had to call in reinforcements immediately because her poor bartenders were absolutely shell-shocked.”

And while the game might be on, it isn’t necessarily the focus. In fact,  Davis, who never attended a Cortaca game while he was a student, treats them as social occasions. “What makes Cortaca special is getting together with people from college, getting to see people you haven’t seen in a year or two years or five years, and catching up, reliving old memories and making new ones,” he explains. “The football portion of it is a backdrop.”

CortaCal also has developed its own traditions, among them re-written musical numbers. Alums have changed the lyrics to the popular song, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” to, “I’d like to go to Cortaca, but I live in LA. There must be someone else out here who’s feeling the same way.” 

All told, as many as 1,300 alumni attend Cortaca viewing parties each year, according to Maura Donovan, associate director of regional programs in the Office of Engagement and Constituent Relations. Last year more than 700 attended the New York party, according to event organizer, Sam Gelman ’13, who each year reserves either Irving Plaza or Gramercy Theatre. For the last two years, Andrew Buraczenski ’12 has entertained as his DJ alter ego, DJ Zenski, leading up to kickoff, during half time and periodically throughout the game. “Then we get the game up on the big screen, the room is full and everyone’s in their IC gear,” he said. “It’s a really, really fun atmosphere.”

In fact, it’s not unusual to see Cortland alumni at the events. And despite the rivalry, the spirit of camaraderie runs high, and the Red Dragons always welcomed and even assigned their own cheering sections.

It’s all part of the experience, said Gelman. “The Cortland fans on the other side are the fans we cheered against. And there’ll be alumni from various generations, so there’s a reunion aspect to it. Cortaca is something that sticks with you and is relevant whether you’re 25 years out of college or a student in your senior year. You always have this common ground.”