In the gloaming at Notre Dame Stadium, at the end of the most gripping game in one of the most baffling college football seasons in memory, Boston College's fortunes rested in the hands of senior quarterback Glenn Foley—which was perfectly fine with fans of the Irish.
Sure, the red-haired Foley had been brilliant in guiding the Eagles to a shocking 38-17 lead over top-ranked, 10-0 Notre Dame early in the fourth quarter. He had completed 26 of 41 passes for 264 yards and four touchdowns, the last one a perfectly lobbed two-yard toss to tight end Pete Mitchell in the Irish end zone. Mitchell caught the ball just a few yards from some members of the Notre Dame band, whose silence eloquently posed the questions that were on everyone's mind: How could this be happening? How could Notre Dame be losing by so much to Boston College only a week after it had gained the No. 1 ranking by upsetting supposedly invincible Florida State on this same field?
But then, after the Irish had shown signs of life with a touchdown and a two-point conversion, Foley was betrayed by the very hands that had served him so admirably for more than three quarters. He let Notre Dame back into the game by twice failing to complete the shortest pass in football—the center snap. The first bobble led to a Notre Dame touchdown that cut the gap to 38-32 with 4:02 remaining. The second fumble occurred on third-and-nine during the next BC series. Foley recovered the ball, but the Eagles were forced to punt with 2:59 left. The rejuvenated Irish then stormed downfield and scored on fourth-and-goal from the BC four when quarterback Kevin McDougal hit Lake Dawson with a perfect strike in the back of the end zone.
When Irish kicker Kevin Pendergast made the extra point, putting his team ahead for the first time, 39-38, with a scant 1:09 left on the clock, the crowd of 59,075 erupted in a kind of mass catharsis. After all, hadn't Notre Dame saved its top ranking and its national-championship hopes? Wouldn't the Eagles, who lost to the Irish 54-7 on this same field last year, be content to go home with such a redeeming near miss? And wasn't Foley more likely to fumble another snap than to drive the Eagles into field goal range?
Clearly the crowd wasn't aware of some important things about Foley. Such as his uncanny ability to forget his mistakes. And his intense determination to pay back Irish coach Lou Holtz for rolling up the score in last year's game. And—most important—the crowd was unaware of Foley's mastery of the two-minute drill.
Since Tom Coughlin became BC's coach in 1991, virtually every Eagle practice has included work on the two-minute drill. Usually the challenge is this: Go 90 yards with 1:10 left on the clock and only one timeout. At Notre Dame, Foley said, "When I looked at the clock and saw that 1:09 was left and we had three timeouts, I felt good. I have all the confidence in the world in our two-minute drill."
The game was in his hands.
The final home date of Notre Dame's season was supposed to be a party, a celebration of an unbeaten record and Holtz's big-game coaching. Although Holtz had cautioned that the BC game was more than a "victory lap," nobody paid much attention. The main topic at the tailgate parties was how unfair it was that the bowl coalition might force a Notre Dame-Florida State rematch at the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.
And what about the chance of an upset by Boston College? Naaah. Last season in South Bend the Irish had undressed an Eagle team that came into the game undefeated and ranked No. 9 in the nation. In intradenominational disputes, Touchdown Jesus always favors the Irish. How else to explain that Notre Dame had never, not in 106 fabled years of football, lost to another Catholic school?
Boston College's loss in South Bend last November was the beginning of a slide in which it dropped three of its next four games, including a 38-23 whipping by Tennessee in the Hall of Fame Bowl. Then the Eagles began this season by losing their first two, 23-7 to Miami and 22-21 to Northwestern. But just when BC fans were beginning to wonder if Coughlin should have accepted the New York Giants' offer last January to become their coach, the Eagles beat Temple 66-14 and began a seven-game winning streak that they would ride into their return bout with the Irish.