Countdown to Cortaca: The Road to MetLife Stadium Part 6

By Kerry C. Regan, July 19, 2019
Cortaca Bloodlines: Garone family ready for one last Cortaca Jug.

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. Previous stories in the series can be found here.

When Ithaca College seeks to extend its two-game winning streak over Cortland this November, several Bomber streaks will be coming to an end, courtesy of the Garone family. Current Ithaca co-captain Nick ’20 will be anchoring the Bombers’ linebacking core at MetLife Stadium while wearing the number 51.

Bob Garone '87

Bob Garone started the family tradition of wearing number 51 when he was an All-American on the offensive line for the Bombers in the 1980s. (Photo courtesy of Ithaca College Athletic Communications.)

The two previous Garones to wear that number for the Bombers, Bob ’87 and Bobby ’15, will be in attendance, hoping to see their family exit the Cortaca rivalry with a winning record. This game will be the ninth straight Cortaca in which a Garone has participated as either a player or coach, beginning with Bobby’s freshman season in 2011.

Currently, the Garones, who have taken part in 11 Cortaca games, sport a record of 6-5 as players, (with Bobby being on the losing side of the 2015 game as a graduate assistant coach) all while wearing the unofficial family number.

That’s a lot of Cortaca history in one family, though the success has been a bit of a mixed bag. Bob was an All-American center whose teams went 39-7 in his four-year career, including winning all four Jug games during an extended period of Ithaca dominance.

His oldest son Bobby was an all-conference center and long snapper from 2011 to 2014, when Cortland took all four games (three in last-second fashion) a part of a seven-game winning streak.

Younger brother Nick has helped restore the family’s winning ways. Last season, he registered seven tackles and a sack in Ithaca’s 24-21 victory.

And while Nick will be the Garone patrolling the MetLife turf in November, it was Bob who helped set the historic Jug game in motion, serving as a metropolitan New York representative to the nonprofit National Football Foundation (NFF), which invited the two schools to play the game as part of a celebration of the 150th season of college football.

Tickets and Merchandise

Tickets for the game are sold through Ticketmaster and at can be purchased at

Cortaca Jug 2019-branded T-shirts and other merchandise has arrived at the campus store and also is available on the website at:

The Garone’s Cortaca connection began with Bobby, who was recruited by future Hall of Fame Head Coach Jim Butterfield. And while Butterfeld understood the importance of the game, the Bombers often had bigger fish to fry.

“Cortaca was always a big rivalry for us,” Bob said. “But we were in national prominence back then. Cortland wasn’t a gimme game, but we handled them most of the time.”

Bob was a standout on the gridiron, and graduated with a degree in exercise science, and IC has always been a special part of his life. And although he married a woman, Lori, who went to Cortland for three years, the family blood runs blue, in part because Lori’s younger brother, Jason Nichols, played for Ithaca, and developed into an All-American linebacker.

Although all three of Bob’s children became Bombers (daughter Carly ’16, was captain of IC’s volleyball team, and although number 51 wasn't an option, she wore number 15) neither Bobby or Nick say their dad pushed them to go to IC. But, Bobby noted, “I always had interest in Ithaca, between stories from my dad and my uncle playing there.”

Jason Nichols and Bobby Garone

After Bob and Lori were married, Lori's younger brother Jason Nichols '96 (pictured here holding a two-year-old Bobby) also suited up for the Bombers, earning All-American honors at linebacker in 1994. (Photo submitted)

Bobby actually has an even earlier Cortaca experience, that’s become part of Cortaca family lore. At two years old, he attended his first Cortaca game amidst a typical boisterous crowd. “I was walking around with my parents, and everyone was screaming the ‘F’ word,” he said. “So I started screaming the ‘F’ word and running around, and they couldn’t catch me to make me stop.”

So, when the time came to pick a school, the choice game down to red and blue. But Cortland only offered him a chance to walk on, so the decision became easier.

“I told myself ‘I’m going to Ithaca, and I want to destroy Cortland when we play them,” he said.

Alas, the Cortaca gods were not on Bobby’s side. Not only were his Ithaca teams winless against Cortland, one of those losses was perhaps the most painful one in Cortaca history.

As the last seconds ticked down in the 2014 game, Cortland hurriedly set up to attempt a game-tying field goal, but their holder was late getting on the field, then he fumbled the snap. Amidst the ensuing chaos he recovered to find a receiver had slipped into the end zone and hit him with a game-winning touchdown pass. Just like that, a win became a loss—one that was replayed on ESPN’s Sportscenter several times.

Bobby was standing on the sidelines at the time, and as the play unfolded he said he was so upset that he tried to run out on the field to stop it, but a coach grabbed him by the shoulder pads. When Cortland scored, he collapsed to the turf.

“It was devastating to say the least,” he said. “I can still see it .”

So can Nick, who was a spectator at that game. “It was like a nightmare,” he said. “I remember watching it unfold and saying, ‘How does this happen?’

Although Nick had heard about the Jug from listening to his father tell stories from his playing days, going to the games took it to another level. "Once I saw my first Cortaca, I realized how big it is and how crazy the rivalry really is,” he said. "I couldn't even hear myself think."

An All-State player in his senior year at Eastport South Manor High School, Nick knew he was going to play football in college and was recruited by more than a dozen schools, including some in Division IAA and Division II. “It was a big decision, but I really focused on Ithaca,” he said. “My brother and father played here, my sister went here, and I’d been coming to games since 2011, so I felt comfortable there.”

Nick Garone '20

Nick Garone will step on the the field at MetLife Stadium as one of the Bombers' co-captains. (Photo by Perry Bindelglass)

A business major and first-team All-Conference honoree last year, his teams have a 2-1 record in Cortaca games, and his family has been to all of them, which has been especially rewarding for his older brother. “One of my regrets is that we never beat Cortland, so it’s really been rewarding to see my brother beat them a few times,” Bobby said.

For years, Cortaca has served as a defacto a Garone family reunion, and with the game not far from Bob’s firm, Long Island-based Rosemar Contracting (where Bobby currently works) it’s going to be even bigger. They expect dozens of extended family members to attend, as well as several dozen former IC teammates and high school friends. The family began planning the tailgate plans in the spring.

As a player, Nick is thrilled. “I never thought I’d play in MetLife,” he said. “I don’t have words for it. It’s going to be crazy. Hopefully we’ll bring the Jug home again this year.”

Bobby shares his brother’s excitement, but he notes the game will also have a slightly somber tone. “It’s going to be bittersweet when Nick graduates,” he said. “Ithaca College football has been a big part of all our lives for the last eight or nine years.”

Bob has also taken stock of the final chapter of the Garone family’s Cortaca book. “I’m very proud that my children went to Ithaca College and experienced what I did there,” he said. “And to watch my two boys play in Cortaca— a game I played in—that’s special to me.”

Up Next

We talk to players, current students, and alumni about how they and their families are celebrating Cortaca's move to MetLife Stadium this season.