Cortaca 2016: The 57-year Fight for the Cortaca Jug Continues
Two red, white, and gold jugs covered in handwritten dates and scores look out of place in the SUNY Cortland Hall of Fame. After all, the case where they sit displays various NCAA championship trophies and other historical athletic memorabilia. But, those two jugs might be the most prized possessions in the history of NCAA Division III football.
The Cortaca Jug is awarded each year to the winner of the annual football game played between the SUNY Cortland Red Dragons and the Ithaca College Bombers; the colleges are separated by less than 21 miles. Their rivalry is arguably the biggest at the Division III level.
SUNY Cortland and Ithaca College have played each other every year since 1948. But, according to the Ithaca College Athletic Department’s website, the Jug came into existence 11 years later, when the captains of the two teams decided that a prize should be awarded to the winner of the game. The original jug was purchased for $2 from a local farmer in 1959. In the mid-1980’s, the jug no longer had space to record the score of the games, so a second jug was added to record recent results.
Ithaca dominated the series early on, winning 16 of the team’s first 23 match-ups. The Bombers then won in 18 of the 20 contests from 1973-1991, including a victory over Cortland in the Division III playoffs during the 1988 season.
The Cortaca game typically sells out, with thousands of fans packed into the stadium. In 2015—when Cortland topped Ithaca 11-8 on the Bombers home field—over 10,000 people attended the game, which is incredibly unusual for a typical Division III football game.
Bill Castro, who played on the offensive line for Cortland from 2008-11 and is currently an assistant coach for the Red Dragons, says that people in his hometown are always curious about the results of the game.
“Back home, you talk to your friends—if you go to Cortland, if you go to Ithaca—the first question they ask is, ‘Hey did you win Cortaca this year?’” Castro says.
Dan MacNeill, the current head coach at Cortland, graduated from the school in 1979 and played four years for the Red Dragons at linebacker and defensive tackle. He never won the Cortaca Jug as a player.
“We knew Cortaca Jugs existed, we had no idea what they looked like because they were always kept over at Ithaca,” MacNeill says about his experience playing in Cortaca.
But recently, the series has belonged to the Red Dragons. Since 2002, Ithaca has won just four of the rivalry games and Cortland has topped the Bombers in each of the last six years.
Nate Burgo’s eyes light up as he describes the experience of playing in Cortland. He caught two passes for 16 yards in last year’s contest for the Cortaca Jug.
“Once Cortaca week hits, you just feel the energy… everybody is hyped up about it,” Burgo, who currently serves as the team’s receivers coach, says. “You have the students, who won’t stop talking about it. Even your professors are so into it. It really brings a sense of school pride.”
SUNY Cortland is hosting this year’s game in November. Ryan McKenna, a senior sports management major at Cortland, says that students are already excited for the game and the atmosphere that normally surrounds it.
“It’s been circled on my calendar,” McKenna says. “I’m going to the game no matter if it is snowing, raining. It’s probably the most exciting part about being at Cortland, at least for the fall. It’s the one thing everybody looks forward to.”
Cortaca is expected to bring many visitors to the Cortland area, which Mayor Brian Tobin said helps community businesses.
“The more people that you have coming in, being excited about the game, spending time in the community and going out to local establishments, the better it is for business owners.” Tobin says.
Cortaca 2016 is set to be played November 12 at The Cortland Stadium Complex, home of the Red Dragons. MacNeill says that every year the game is special, regardless of what side you’re supporting.
“There will be a lot of big memories as you look back,” he says. “Being a part of the majesty of the game, the way it’s been promoted and brought forth and how it sounds and resonates to everybody. It’s neat.”