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Now the town is trying to get a step-over toehold on the fact that it has a winner, indeed, a champion, even though Cornell hasn't won an Ivy title since 1971, when it shared the championship with Dartmouth. Says Bomber Linebacker Bill Rosecrans, "I know it's like comparing apples and oranges and all that, but we've beaten a few Division II teams while I've been here. I have to think we'd give Cornell a good game. To tell you the truth, I think we could beat them."
Why such confidence? A 17-game winning streak doesn't hurt. Outscoring opponents 591-183 doesn't either. And last week's victory over once-beaten Wagner is the biggest reason of all. The Bombers had to come back from a 13-10 halftime deficit, but they did so convincingly. Ithaca went ahead on a one-yard run by Bob Ferrigno and put the game away with three more touchdowns and a safety.
A year ago there was less optimism. The Bombers made the playoffs despite two losses (to Division II teams), but on the eve of Ithaca's departure for Dubuque, last year's first-round opponent, Butterfield learned that his brother Jack, a vice-president of the New York Yankees, had been killed in an auto accident. Butterfield's family persuaded him that his brother would have wanted him to go on with his team, and he did. The Bombers defeated Dubuque 27-7 and then beat Carnegie-Mellon and Wittenberg, the latter in the title game (known as the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl) in Phenix City, Ala. After that game, everyone on the team was thrown into the chilly motel pool—everyone, that is, except Butterfield. "I have been in some extremely cold water in my time," he said, having been a guard at Maine when Bob Hollway, now defensive coach of the Minnesota Vikings, and Coach Tubby Raymond of the University of Delaware, were assistants, "but not as a 52-year-old man. When all that started developing, I locked my wife and myself in my room and wouldn't open it for anybody."
Wet or dry, the victory over Wittenberg made Ithaca the biggest fish in its small pond. How small? So small that the Alabama-Auburn game, played simultaneously some 130 miles away, drew a crowd about 10 times the size of the one in Phenix City. And so small that the cost of a set of championship rings (around $7,000 from Ithaca's share of the profits from the gate of the post-season games) equaled about a sixth of the team's operating budget for the season.
The championship rings were classy enough, with names, numbers and positions engraved. Nevertheless, Ferrigno had two diamonds mounted on his. "They could tell the metal wasn't silver, but an alloy when they drilled," he said, "because it chipped a little, but I wear it everywhere anyway."
Ferrigno is a low-to-the-ground (5'10", 200 pounds) runner timed at 4.69 in the 40. Having averaged more than 130 yards rushing a game and scored 16 touchdowns in the regular season, he's also the Bombers' biggest star. At John Glenn High in Huntington on Long Island, both his head coach and an assistant were Ithaca alumni, and he warmed even more to the place when he met Butterfield at a sports banquet. He liked the way Butterfield talked: "No, not so much what he said, but his accent, you know. Sometimes it looks as though he's talking out the side of his mouth."
Not long ago, Ferrigno sat at a table at The Ground Round, a restaurant in the Ithaca Commons, discussing the season. "Every team we've played this year has been sky-high for us," he said. "You always hear the good hits on the opening kickoff and all that, but then we always score the first time we have the ball and the other team kind of loses some of its enthusiasm."
One of the reasons for the effectiveness of the offense is that Ithaca calls many of its plays on the line. "We do it constantly," says Quarterback Tim Connolly, "because everybody is always cooking up something new just for us. It got to be dumb to call anything but the formation and the count in the huddle, since we'd just have to change it when we saw how the defense was aligned." The system obviously works: Ithaca had 406.6-yard and 38-points-a-game averages for the regular season.
"I know we win a lot of games because of the automatics, and the way the front works," says Ferrigno. "They communicate really well, and they've got a different scheme for whatever they see."
On an average practice day, Butterfield will spend a half hour or more with the line, going over blocking assignments on the combinations and permutations of the automatic calls. Depending on the situation, even the count of the snap changes with the audible.