So clearly the fire was all about the Irish. For those uninitiated, here is my somewhat long but hopefully thorough take on BC-Notre Dame.
The Eagles and the Irish had separate identities for most of their existences. BC was the Jesuit school in Boston providing an education to the middle class Catholics of the Northeast. Notre Dame was a small school in Indiana that rose to national prominence on the shoulders of its football program. BC changed with Father Monan’s term as BC Pres and Doug Flutie’s attention grabbing play. The regional Catholic school transformed into a national university competing for the same student who applied to Notre Dame and Georgetown.
Athletically the schools’ paths rarely crossed. The Irish remained independent and developed rivalries with Michigan and USC. BC played mostly Eastern Independents and eventually helped found the Big East. As BC athletics thrived, our original rival Holy Cross deemphasized sports and left BC without a traditional gridiron rival.
As an independent, Notre Dame prided itself on its “national schedule” and in the late ‘80s agreed to a series with the only other Catholic school playing Division IA football -- BC. The series seemed perfect to both sides. The Irish got a series where they received more home games, played in a major East Coast market and got to play a school that shared their perspective on the student athlete. (The contracts were signed when the “Catholics vs. Convicts” were getting national headlines, fights were breaking out in the tunnels and Irish fans were getting pelted with garbage at the Orange Bowl.)
BC got to rub elbows with the Irish and use the national platform as a recruiting tool. Then a few things happened. First Irish fans were dismissive of BC, pissing off Eagle fans everywhere. Then Holtz ran up the score in the first meeting. Then BC coach Tom Coughlin used that slight to motivate his team for the next year, which culminated in BC upsetting No. 1 Notre Dame in South Bend. The loss ruined ND’s 1993 title run and many fans point to Gordon’s kick as the demarcation point in the current decline in Irish football.
Those two games changed BC fans forever. Notre Dame was now THE biggest game of the year. And Notre Dame’s continued arrogance and flippant response to any rival talk fueled the fire. BC followed the 1993 win with another upset this time in Chestnut Hill. Although the Irish dominated the next few seasons, the game still meant something to BC. (BTW, my roommate T-Ray was the first to disrupt an Irish pep rally.)
1997 brought new coaches to both schools. And while Bob Davie was unable to bring consistent performance to South Bend, Tom O’Brien was able to turn BC into a consistent winner. O’Brien’s stubbornness and charisma void was overlooked by BC fans as he started beating the Irish on an annual basis. Frustrated by mediocrity, Notre Dame booted Davie, mishandled a coaching search (George O’Leary) and ended up with Ty Willingham. Willingham got off to a bang. The Irish were undefeated and thinking National Title when BC returned to South Bend. Despite his shortcomings, Willingham knew his history and warned his team not to overlook BC. Then he did the unthinkable -- he broke out the green jerseys. The green jerseys are part of Notre Dame lore and by donning them against BC, he nonverbally acknowledged the importance of the game. BC upset the Irish again and Ty’s time at the Golden Dome was never the same.
With every win, BC fans gloated and taunted ND fans (mostly via message boards), savoring the victories and Notre Dame denials. Irish fans responded with the type of bile they normally reserved for Bo Schembechler, Jimmy Johnson and O. J. Simpson, referring to BC as Backup College and Fredo. (Irish fans were also furious over BC players pulling turf off the field in 2002.) This became the most heated “non rivalry” the Irish had. Add the Irish meddling in BC’s move to the ACC and recent upset of the undefeated hoops squad and there is plenty of bad blood.
Notre Dame has a new coach and a new president. Irish fans have got their admins thinking more about their BCS rankings rather than the latest U.S. News and World Report rankings.
BC is off to a new conference, the ACC. Fans are thrilled about the new opponents. The administration is thrilled with being grouped with like-minded schools like Duke, Virginia and Wake Forest.
With a two-year respite in the football series and the schools in other conferences, BC and ND will have fewer opportunities to take the rivalry to the field. Both fans are saying “good riddance” and “we don’t need them.” But the Gallup episode shows, both sides still care.
BC’s future is certain. We are in the ACC and will have an opportunity to compete for quality bowl games and be seen on national TV in all sports. BC no longer needs Notre Dame for cash and recruiting platforms.
The Irish’s future is more uncertain. Regardless if Charlie Weis succeeds of fails, Notre Dame will always draw attention and be a desirable opponent. But much of their athletic schedule is tied to the fledgling “New Big East.” If the conference falls apart, will the Irish save it? Join the despised Big Ten? Or look to recreate their Big East deal with another, more viable conference. Independence is primary to most Irish fans, so I imagine a partial membership or alliance with the ACC is more appealing then any other scenarios. But what would be in it for the ACC and who would bring the Irish to the negotiating table? It seems like BC would be the logical candidate.
We’ll see what happens. In the meantime this BC fan will miss the Irish over the next two seasons. It is one less win we can count on!