The Evolution of Cortaca

Cortaca, plain and simple, is all about tradition. Portmanteau is a word that means a fusion of two words, both in sound and meaning. This word is symbolic of the journey that Cortaca has been on. The meaning of the game was created when the Jug was implemented as a trophy for the winner of the annual matchup. In 1959, Cortland football team captain Tom Decker bought a jug from a local farmer for $2. Both him and his close friend, as well as captain of the Ithaca football team, Dick Carmean decided to decorate the jug and use it as a trophy for their upcoming game. Separated by only 21 miles, this was the beginning of tradition and rivalry. The reason the Jug was created as the trophy was to simultaneously create excitement for fans of either school. It wasn’t just a game anymore, it was bragging rights too. There was no such thing as Division III until 1973, so this was the closest thing to a playoff or championship that there was. It was a successful marketing campaign that helped strengthen the fan bases of both sides.

Starting in 1973, Cortland lost 14 of the next 15 Cortaca games. Ithaca surged as a DIII football powerhouse during this time, appearing in 4 of the next 8 Stagg Bowl (Division III championship game) games and winning it all in 1979. Cortland’s team was weak. Ithaca was our biggest rival and watching their success had to have been difficult. This is the time when the meaning of the game became even bigger than before. Beating Ithaca would be an indication of change for Cortland. In order to bring success back to the program, it started with winning Cortaca.

Let’s remember that when Cortaca officially began in 1959, the meaning was to give fans a playoff and/or championship feel, to drum up excitement and make the game more fun than it was. The sound, or vibe, of the game was merely a good rivalry with good football being played. People paid attention to the quality of the game.

It is a common saying that winning makes everything better. Well, the opposite is that losing makes everything worse. For a long time, Cortland wasn’t very good. While gathering content for this article, I found that there was a period in the 80’s where Cortland was considering getting rid of their football program. The truth of this information has yet to be confirmed, but is worth noting.

Cortland, whether it debated getting rid of its football program or not, was determined to improve its team. In 1988, both Ithaca and Cortland entered the Cortaca Jug game at 8-0. This Cortaca Jug matchup was covered by the media as the biggest Division III game of the year, and possibly the two best Division III schools in the nation facing off against one another. Cortland won that year in a 21-20 thriller. This game was the beginning of Cortland’s football program becoming the power it has always wanted to be.

A rematch was in the near future. In the quarterfinal of the NCAA Division III playoffs, Ithaca revenged Cortland 24-17. The bitter rivalry grew even more tense. Perhaps it was the attention of the game, recent success of both schools, and historic tradition that drew some of the best Division III athletes to either of these schools for years to come.

Fast forward 28 years and here we are today, the day of the 58th Cortaca Jug. Cortland has won the last 6 Cortaca Jugs and has continuously been team to be reckoned with. So, why does Cortaca feel so different now? How come we can get 10,000+ people to show up to this one game and can barely get a couple hundred at any of the other games? Why is there such a monopolization of attendance?

The obvious reasons are tradition and proximity to Ithaca. By now, Cortaca is a well known game in Central New York. Buffalo St. vs. Cortland is not as well known nor are the schools relatively close to each other, for example. But there is still something different about Cortaca now.

When speaking with alumni of both Ithaca and Cortland, they talk about Cortaca like it’s a predictable Super Bowl that gets better each year. The alumni I spoke with also emphasized how much they enjoy the game, not necessarily the experience. To some, the vibe of the game in the past five to ten years has given the game itself bad taste. The meaning to them is still the same it was in 1959. But something has changed. This opened my eyes to something I call Cortaculture.

We as students have lost interest in the game itself and mainly only care about the experience of the day. If Cortaca wasn’t free to attend for students, would you go? Probably not. It isn’t worth the money to see the game, but it is worth your time to go to the game for free. We as millennial college students have grown up with impressive technology. The kind of college culture relayed to us through media like TV shows, movies, and music engrained the idea that we as students have the right to party and go wild and have fun because we are young and in college. It may sound crazy, but it is true. This, I believe, is the reason for the unfortunate events of Cortaca 2013. The meaning of Cortaca is now no longer about the quality of the game itself but the experience it gives you as a student. We try to create the experience ourselves, and this leads to some people making poor choices. That, is Cortaculture. It happens. 2013 happened, let’s get over it.

Cortaca is a day to celebrate a tradition that gives a tiny college town a big-time Division I football game feel. It makes the community come together and experience something as a whole that otherwise, we wouldn’t have at all. It’s important as students that we keep this tradition alive and in good health. What we have with Cortaca is unique. We may not remember each play or anything other than the score, but in 30 years when were sitting behind a desk and thinking about the good ole college days, we will reminisce on the memories we made each Cortaca. We will miss these days. Let’s cherish this experience with each other while we still can.

Let’s go Cortland!

One comment

  1. Scott Conroe

    Nice article. I was there in 1988, covering both games for the Syracuse Herald American. I covered the NCAA title game, the Stagg Bowl, where Ithaca won. Now I live in Cortland, and a few years ago interviewed the 1959

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