Was Cortland State the New York Jets' Lucky Charm
News article from The Post-Standard on January 23, 2010 titled "Was Cortland State the New York Jets' Lucky Charm".
By Scott Rapp
SYRACUSE, NY-- Erik Bitterbaum and some friends were cheering the New York Jets to their second playoff win Sunday when someone in the group blurted, “Who would have thought the road to the Super Bowl would be through SUNY Cortland.”
“Everyone in the group just nodded and smiled. Later on, I thought how true, how true,” recalled Bitterbaum, the president of the State University College at Cortland.
How true, indeed. The Jets — Bitterbaum’s favorite team — stand one win away from playing Feb. 7 in the Super Bowl. All they have to do is corral Peyton Manning’s favored Indianapolis Colts in Sunday’s AFC championship game.
As Bitterbaum’s party pal pointed out last week, the Jets’ flight path to Super Bowl XLIV was launched in Cortland. Thanks in part to Bitterbaum’s efforts, Cortland State landed a one-year partnership with the Jets for the team to train at the college last summer.
The deal scored big for both the Jets and Cortland. The Jets are in the AFC championship game for the first time since 1998. Cortland welcomed 34,000 fans during the three weeks of team practices and felt the impact of more than $4 million being spent in the local economy. The arrangement showered the Division III school with national media exposure, which could bolster its recruiting and fundraising efforts.
This small college town has embraced the team and its winning ways. Many football fans here are quick to point out that Cortland helped lay the foundation for the Jets’ winning season. “We certainly think so. We’d like to think we had something to do with their success,” said Machell Phelps, executive director of the Cortland Regional Sports Council.
Phelps is rooting for the Jets, even though she’s a Dallas Cowboys fan.
Cortland high school senior Dennis Gallagher, who swears that he bleeds Jets green and white, took it one step further. He believes that his hometown has become the team’s lucky charm — and he’s not alone with that sentiment in Cortland. “I do think so,” said Gallagher, who got an autograph from rookie quarterback — and fan favorite — Mark Sanchez on his cell phone at a practice in the summer.
This week, Rex Ryan, the Jets’ first-year coach, sprinkled some credence on this community’s belief that it had something to do with his team’s unpredicted success. Speaking to reporters, Ryan said his decision to move the team’s summer training camp from New Jersey to Cortland State allowed his players to become a “band of brothers,” because there were far fewer distractions at Cortland’s relatively secluded campus.
At Doug’s Fish Fry on Route 281 — a couple football fields’ distance from where the Jets practiced at Cortland State — owner Mark Braun is basking in the Jets’ success. He has rooted for the team all his life and has held season tickets for the past 15 years.
Ryan, along with several of his players and team executives, dined at Doug’s more than once in the summer, and Braun has proof hanging on a large wall in his restaurant. There, dozens of photographs of Jets players — many of them with Braun and his wife and children — are on display. There’s also a large wall graphic of a Jets helmet that was signed by Ryan, several Jets players and New York City reporters who cover the team.
Like others in this small city, Braun thinks Cortland has become the Jets’ good-luck charm. “I’d like to think so. Cortland was a perfect fit for them ... This team is so united and is as hot as anyone going into the playoffs. A great deal of that had to do with them being in Cortland, where they were able to develop that bond,” Braun said.
Longtime Jets fan Rob Morgan also buys into the theory Cortland has brought the team good luck, but he says there are other coincidences that are hard to ignore and could bode well for his team. For example, the Jets won Super Bowl III 10 months after the team announced it was moving its summer camp from Peeksville Military Academy to Hofstra University.
Also, Ryan’s father, Buddy, started his professional coaching career with the Jets and coached Jets linebackers when New York won the Super Bowl in 1969. “Changing the venue seems to be a lucky charm, too. I just hope they don’t change venues next summer,” chuckled Morgan, who watched many of the Jets practices in the summer and has an office brimming with team memorabilia.
Talk on the street has the Jets returning to Cortland in the summer, but neither Bitterbaum nor the Jets would show their hands. Bitterbaum said the Jets contacted him last month to say they would wait until after the playoffs to discuss holding summer camp at the college again. “They seemed to be real interested, but they made no promises. I took that as a positive sign,” Bitterbaum said.
The Jets reportedly left some weight-training equipment at the college, but all Bruce Speight, who speaks for the team, would say is, “We definitely enjoyed the experience, and we appreciated all the support we received from the college and the surrounding community.”
For now, fans like Gallagher only hope the Cortland connection lands the Jets in the Super Bowl. “That would be pretty cool, because it all started here in Cortland last summer,” Gallagher said.
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