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The B.C. curse

Ever since 1993 upset, Boston College has been Notre Dame's nemesis

Posted: Wednesday October 27, 2004 3:37PM; Updated: Wednesday October 27, 2004 5:01PM
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Tony Gonzalez
Boston College receiver Tony Gonzalez celebrates his last-minute touchdown catch against Notre Dame.

"We're leaving Boston College just enough time to break our hearts."

There was 2:51 remaining in the fourth quarter last Saturday in South Bend when I said this to my friends Boler and Fink (really, that's his name). Notre Dame had kicked a field goal to go up 23-17, and for those of us college football fans who enjoy doing doomsday math in the waning moments of games, we all know what that meant: B.C. would win 24-23.

I'm sorry. I know that you probably hate Notre Dame, but it's where I went to school (I blame Joe Montana for this) and so I cannot help but love the Fighting Irish. The way that Meadow Soprano cannot help but love her dad. I never cheer for them when I'm working because I believe in the two fundamental tenets of American sportswriting:

1. No cheering in the press box
2. No parking on the dance floor

Which is not to say that I have never heard sportswriters cheer against the Irish in the press box. In 1993, I sat in the press box in Columbia, S.C., for the Clemson-South Carolina game and listened as sportswriters whooped it up while B.C. was building up a 38-17 lead against the top-ranked, unbeaten Irish. This was during the Clemson-South Carolina game.

Anyway, last Saturday was the day that the 5-2 Irish were supposed to humble B.C. The Eagles had beaten the Irish three in a row and four out of the last five. Plus, if it hadn't been for a terrific game-ending goal-line stand at Chestnut Hill in 1998, the Irish would have lost five of the past six to B.C.

And that is, to use a term that Catholics know well, blasphemous. It would be like St. Peter being placed at the kiddie table during the Last Supper. Like learning that the Gospel of Luke had been an "As Told To" and had been ghost-written by Bruce Vilanche. Like discovering that everything that Dan Brown included in The Da Vinci Code is true.

So last Saturday, we were out for vengeance. Because, you see, for the first three games of this series (which began in 1975, in Dan Devine's debut as Irish head coach), the Irish had thought of B.C. the way the Skipper did Gilligan: as our li'l buddy. We were both Catholic schools, and we'd defer to B.C. when it comes to hockey prowess and college town atmosphere, but we Domers had a stifling superiority complex in almost all other arenas (as the "X" depicts):

Sportswriter alums:
B.C.: Mike Lupica, Bob Ryan
N.D.: Red Smith (X)

Sideline reporter alums:
B.C.: Lesley Visser (X)
N.D.: Maryann Grabavoy

Actor types:
B.C.: Chris "Scent of a Woman" O'Donnell
N.D.: George "Norm!" Wendt (X)

Unctuous yet Loveable Talk Show Hosts:
B.C.: ???
N.D.: Regis (X)

Last-Minute Legends:
B.C.: Doug Flutie
N.D.: Montana
* OK, I'm calling that even

Not Quite/Not Yet U.S. Presidents:
B.C. (Law): John Kerry
N.D.: Josiah Bartlett (The West Wing)
* I'll let you decide that one

But, basically, it all came down to our take on an old joke that we Domers would unleash at the drop of a crucifix whenever we encountered an Eagle:

Q: What do Notre Dame and Boston College students have in common?
A.: They both got into Boston College.

Oh, we were insufferable. In 1992, Notre Dame martyred Boston College 54-7. I was in Tucson that day, watching No. 1 Washington be upset by unranked Arizona. This was before the Internet or the cell phone. So I left a message on the phone of our managing editor, Mark Mulvoy, a B.C. alum. In the message I said that I hadn't had a chance to see who has won the B.C.-N.D. game and wondered if he knew the score.

(Two years later, and one year after B.C. had ruined Notre Dame's unbeaten season with its breathless 41-39 win in South Bend, Mulvoy, who was as passionate a sports fan as ever worked at SI, got his revenge. He sent me to Chestnut Hill to cover the game, telling the college football editor that we'd only be writing a story if B.C. won. Which they did, 30-11.)

But it was that 1993 game, which had everything that makes college football so much more thrilling than the NFL, that provided a tidal shift not only in this religious rivalry but in Notre Dame's future. One week earlier the Irish had taken down No. 1 Florida State, 31-24. That afternoon was also the first time that ESPN's College GameDay had done a show from a campus. It was the zenith of the Lou Holtz era. All the Irish needed to do was beat Boston College, a team that had opened the season 0-3, the following week, then avoid a rematch with the Seminoles by playing Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, and Holtz would have his second national championship in six seasons. The Irish were on top of the world.

They were also on the cover of SI that week, under the cover line: "We Did It!"

One week later, We Blew It.

And, though that game happened 11 years ago, Notre Dame and its fans still seem to be in a funk. Winning last Saturday would not have exorcised those demons (we Catholics are big into those exorcism metaphors), since the Irish came into the game 5-5 against B.C. since the traumatic '93 defeat. But, knowing that B.C. wasn't on the schedule for the foreseeable future, and seeing as how the Irish had cracked the Top 25 a week earlier for the first time since 2002, last Saturday appeared to be the ideal time to make the Eagles do some penance.

But it wasn't to be. Notre Dame led 20-7 at halftime, but by the fourth quarter you could see that Boston College was playing fearlessly. The Irish were playing as if they had something to lose.

Up in Section 106, Boler, Fink and I attempted to disguise our anxiety by creating Frasier-esque cheers:

"HARASS THEM TO THE THRESHOLD OF CONSTERNATION!" I cried, while Fink, who six days earlier had completed his second Hawaii Ironman, opted for the more succinct "MAKE THEM FEEL DISCONCERTED!"

Meanwhile, the Glamazon (half glamour girl, half Amazon; thanks to SI's Mark Beech for coining that term) sitting to our right just looked at us as if we were strange. In truth, we knew that we were whistling in the graveyard. In the final nine minutes the Irish looked at times to be indifferent, intimidated or incompetent. Sometimes all three. To wit:

1. With 8:49 left and the Irish leading 20-17, Notre Dame faced a fourth-and-5 at the Boston College 30. With his offense, and potentially his place-kicker, staring into a headwind, Tyrone Willingham opts to punt. It's a prudent, if not inspired, strategy. How often do you see anyone punt from their opponent's 30? The punt travels a net 15 yards.

2. The Notre Dame defense holds and the Irish this time drive to the B.C. 26. Facing third-and-7 with 3:42 remaining, the Irish call timeout. The Irish call a safe dive play into the middle of the field, which accomplishes two things: it kills a good chunk of clock, plus it puts the ball in the middle of the field. Again, a prudent move, but another one that had all the moxie and charisma of Gareth from The Office. D.J. Fitzpatrick (Is he the first Irish hip-hop impresario?) hits the field goal, so the Irish lead 23-17.

3. After B.C. scores on a drive that saw gritty Eagles QB Paul Peterson complete a fourth-and-13 pass for 17 yards, the Irish get the ball back -- at their 12 -- with 54 seconds on the clock. Four plays, two timeouts and 31 seconds later, the Irish have advanced 14 yards. Somewhere, Norm Chow was shaking his head in disbelief.

Worse, Notre Dame called a timeout on fourth-and-1 at its 21, which was understandable, but on the subsequent play, after quarterback Brady Quinn had gotten the first down on a sneak, the Irish spiked the ball. To review: the Irish called a timeout with 0:27 on the clock to determine that they'd run a quarterback sneak, but never thought to call a second play at that time.

By that point in time Notre Dame fans and students, who are a genuinely loyal and optimistic bunch, were either murmuring "Lou!" or something that sounds like it.

And so, Boston College won, 24-23, their fourth straight win against the Irish. And, as Lupica suggested the following morning on The Sports Reporters, B.C. is now Notre Dame's "daddies". Which is sorta funny, because Notre Dame translates to "Our Mother". So now B.C. is my Granddaddy.

Don't lose heart, Notre Dame fans. The night before the loss, the Irish did beat Boston College's top-ranked hockey team in overtime. So maybe, just maybe, between Boston College and Notre Dame, there's some sort of sports transfiguration going on. In the meantime, I wonder if B.C. will get up for playing Notre Dame when and if we meet again on the gridiron.

John Walters writes for SI On Campus and is a frequent contributor to SI.com