A football rivalry between the SUNY Cortland Red Dragons and the Ithaca College Bombers has been ongoing for nearly a century, dating back to when the teams first met on the gridiron in 1930. It now culminates in a high-profile game that’s known as “the biggest little game in the nation.”
Cortland and Ithaca played each other regularly since the series began, but the Cortaca Jug was first awarded as a "traveling trophy" for the winner in 1959. That year, Tom Decker '61, a Cortland captain, and his friend Dick Carmean, an Ithaca captain, thought of creating a trophy prior to the game. Decker bought a ceramic milk jug for $2 at a yard sale run by Freddy Moss, a farmer in nearby Homer, N.Y. The jug was painted in Ithaca’s blue and gold and Cortland’s red and white, and was first awarded to Cortland after a 13-7 win by the Red Dragons at Ithaca in 1959.
Every year the score of the rivalry game is added to the Cortaca Jug. A second jug was created in 1985 when the first one ran out of room for scores, and a third jug, created by Giotto Zampogna '15, made its debut for the 2016 game.
Ithaca leads the Cortaca Jug series, winning 37 of the 62 contests between 1959 and 2021 (the 2020 game was not played as both teams had their seasons canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic). Ithaca also leads the overall series between the schools, 42-34-3, including a non-Jug home victory in the second round of the 1988 NCAA Division III playoffs just a few weeks after Cortland had captured the Jug, 21-20, in Cortland.
Sportswriter John Walters helped coin the rivalry's nickname in a story in the Aug. 26, 1991 edition of Sports Illustrated when he wrote: “The biggest little game in the nation could turn out to be Ithaca vs. SUNY Cortland by the shores of New York state’s Cayuga Lake on Nov. 9, 1991.”
The games have often lived up to the hype, as 31 of the Jug games have been decided by a touchdown or less. Both colleges have dominated stretches portions of the series. Between 1969 and 1995, Ithaca didn’t lose a Cortaca Jug game at home. SUNY Cortland won seven straight games from 2010 to 2016, including a dramatic 23-20 last-second victory in 2014 that led off that evening’s SportsCenter and made ESPN’s list of the top 10 college football plays of the year.
The game reached new heights in 2019 when the teams played in front of an NCAA Division III record 45,161 fans at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., and the 2022 contest is scheduled to be played at Yankee Stadium.
Alumni from both schools trek back to campus to watch the game in person and thousands more attend watch parties at locations across the country.
|2020||Season cancelled (COVID-19)|
*Cortland won the regular-season game for the Jug in 1988 by the score of 21-20. Ithaca won, 24-17, in a rematch in the NCAA Division III playoffs a few weeks later, but the Jug was not on the line in that game.