ROOM WITH A VIEW
Ithaca College coach Jim Butterfield has a lovely view from his office window: a sweeping panorama of South Hill and, far below, the shimmering blue surface of Cayuga Lake dotted with sailboats. Of course, there's a pleasing view from the other side of the building too. From there the coach can look out at Jim Butterfield Stadium.
In the 26 years that Butterfield—the man, not the stadium—has been at the west-central New York school, his record is 195-65-1. And every one of his seniors has graduated. So after Butterfield's Bombers won their third NCAA Division III national championship last season, the school decided it would be only fitting to rename South Hill Field.
The latest win for the 64-year-old Butterfield—or Butts, as he is affectionately known around Ithaca—came last Saturday on a bright and breezy afternoon in his personal stadium. The Bombers, with their option attack clicking behind the powerful rushing of senior fullback Jeff Wittman, rolled over Division II Springfield College 31-7. The victory left Ithaca undefeated through four games of this season and, considering that Springfield was the only team to beat the Bombers in 13 games last season, poised for a run at another national title.
"This was the first time we were under pressure all season," Butterfield said after the game, presumably referring to the Chiefs' first-quarter touchdown, which made the score 7-7, the only points given up by Ithaca in the first period this year. "But the kids responded. They stepped up together to the next level."
Together. Butterfield insists that "everybody's equal at Ithaca." From the sign in the locker room that reads RENEW THE FAMILY HUNGER to Butts's insistence on daily blocking drills for the entire team to the closed-door team meetings at which players all take turns speaking, the emphasis at Ithaca is on family.
As in any family, however, there are favorite sons. Foremost among them is Wittman, a 6'0", 210-pound battering ram from Rochester, N.Y., who is one of the best small-college backs in the country. In only three quarters against Springfield, he rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. It was the 17th 100-yard game of his career and his fourth straight this season.
Once determined to run over defenders, Wittman has developed under Butterfield's urgings into a swift and evasive runner. Says Wittman, "When I first came here, Coach watched me and said, 'Wouldn't it be fun if, instead of running into the guy, you put a move on him and got around him and maybe scored?' He was joking, but I looked at the size of some of the guys I was running against, and I realized he was right."
The big question for the Bombers going into '92 was who would replace graduated All-America quarterback Todd Wilkowski. The answer is a former Olympic Festival team handball player named Joe Fitzgerald, a 6'1" senior from North Babylon, N.Y. Fitzgerald, a close friend of Wilkowski's, won the job in the preseason, then laid to rest any lingering doubts about his ability by taking the team 83 yards, capping the drive with a 40-yard touchdown pass, on the Bombers' first series in their opening game, against Albany.
Last Friday, Butterfield sat in his office and tried to explain why he still coaches. "I first decided to become a coach when I was in the fifth grade, back at the Eli Whitney School in Westboro, Mass.," he said, the sound of New England still sharp in his voice. "Well, I am a coach, and I'm still as excited about it now as I was when I was dreaming about it back in 1937."