Of all the great rivalries in sports, in only one can the victors claim that divine intervention played a role. Every year since 1992 thousands of students from Boston College and Notre Dame have piled into campers and made the 900mile, 13hour pilgrimage to be a part of the holy war between the only two remaining Catholic institutions playing Division IA football. This week the caravan journeys from east to west, as Eagles fans travel to see 4--2 Boston College play 5--2 Notre Dame in South Bend. Forged from a friendship between former Boston College athletic director Bill Flynn and his Notre Dame counterpart, Edward (Moose) Krause, Notre Dame--BC has become the modern-day version of David versus Goliath, as a middle-of-the-pack program goes up against a football juggernaut with 11 titles.
"Playing Notre Dame trumps everything around here," says BC coach Tom O'Brien. "The atmosphere, the excitement--everywhere you go, it just permeates Notre Dame week."
The first game between the two schools, broadcast nationally on a Monday night in 1975, drew a capacity crowd of 61,501 to Foxboro, Mass. Though BC lost 17--3 in coach Dan Devine's first game for Notre Dame, a rivalry was born that would carry over into an '83 Liberty Bowl matchup and take off in earnest in the '90s. The rivalry gained national attention in '93, when 16th-ranked Boston College walked into Notre Dame Stadium to face an Irish team coming off its biggest win of the season, a 31--24 triumph over Florida State that had catapulted it to the top of the national rankings. The game was viewed by most observers as a tune-up before a potential Fiesta Bowl rematch with the Seminoles, but Boston College jumped out to a commanding 38--17 fourth-quarter lead and won 41--39 on walk-on junior David Gordon's field goal as time expired. The loss spoiled the Irish's national title hopes.
While that win and two subsequent upsets of a highly ranked Irish team have helped make the rivalry far from one-sided--Notre Dame has won nine games, Boston College six--it's clearly more important to the Eagles than to Notre Dame. "BC is a very fine football team," says Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham, "but probably doesn't have the tradition of a USC, Michigan State or Michigan." Says O'Brien, "You only get someone's attention when you beat them. Having won the last three years, I think we have their attention now."
Familiarity, of course, can breed contempt. Following a 14--7 BC win in 2002 that spoiled an undefeated Irish season, Eagles players stormed the field of Notre Dame Stadium, ripping up clods of dirt and hoisting them over their heads in triumph. "That game, because of the turf, changed things," says Notre Dame receiver Carlyle Holiday, a veteran of four games with BC. "There are a lot of guys on this team that don't like that school, me being one of them. That's just the way it is."
Neither team is highly ranked this year, so Saturday's matchup is significant mostly in the context of the history between the schools. After this week the two will not meet again until 2007. God will have to wait until then to choose a side.
A Holy War
Five great moments in the football history between Boston College and Notre Dame
Dec. 29, 1983, Liberty Bowl, Memphis In their only postseason matchup Notre Dame edges Boston College 19--18 as running backs Allen Pinkett and Chris Smith combine for 215 rushing yards.
Nov. 20, 1993, at ND A week after ND's big win over Florida State (above, left), David Gordon kicks a 41-yard field goal as time expires and BC defeats the Irish 41--39 (right).
Oct. 8, 1994, at BC Eagles tailback Justice Smith carries for 144 yards and two touchdowns in a 30--11 victory that knocks the Irish out of championship contention for the second straight season.
Nov. 7, 1998, at BC With 11 seconds left ND safety Deke Cooper completes a four-play goal line stand to seal a 31--26 Notre Dame win.
Nov. 2, 2002, at ND Wearing ceremonial green jerseys for the first time since the 1999 Gator Bowl, fourth-ranked Notre Dame is stunned by unranked BC 14--7, handing new ND coach Tyrone Willingham his first loss.
JUMP FOR JOY
The Eagles were ecstatic after knocking the Irish out of contention in '94.
JOHN BIEVER (COVER LEFT)
JOE RAYMOND (COVER RIGHT)