Ealier this year in a BC preview on Deadspin I played off of Deadspin’s “Jerky Columnist” series by noting that Bob Ryan and Mike Lupica are both BC grads. While I don’t know Lupica, I have met Bob Ryan few times and can tell you he is not a jerk. In fact when I was at BC he was more than willing to come on student radio halftime shows and give his opinion on anything. Despite our meager audience Ryan would rant and rave for 10 minutes as if he were on the Sports Reporters. It was appreciated then and now as he is willing to pick up our conversations eight years later. Part I of our email exchange follows below, as we touch on BC’s potential and walking the line between journalist and alum. Tuesday I will post Part II where he touches on media, blogs and BC chances this fall.
ATL_eagle: The football season is just around the corner and the consensus from fans and analysts is more of the same for BC -- beat the little guys, lose to the heavyweights, finish about 8-4 and go to a third-tier bowl. This predictability is dividing the online fan base into two camps. One has the “we are what we are” mentality and is happy the BC runs a clean program that wins more than it loses. The other is growing frustrated by this glass ceiling and wonder if BC, and more specifically Tom O’Brien, will ever put it all together for one magical run. What do you think the upside of the program is? Can BC win the conference and real bowl game occasionally? After nine years should we expect more from O’Brien or should we just be happy that BC is a consistent winner?
Bob Ryan: I believe many BC fans take the basic success of both the basketball and football teams for granted.
BC is at a distinct recruiting disadvantage in comparison to prime rivals. The fact is that there are more (qualified) kids in high school who are looking to go to a school where their college sport is a dominant local fan and media topic than there are (qualified) high school kids who would appreciate all that a BC has to offer and are willing to accept less coverage and adulation because Boston is essentially a pro town.
I believe what BC has done in the last several years under Al Skinner is tremendous, and no more can be expected. Asked, yes. Hoped for, yes. Expected? No.
I sympathize with those who love football and who yearn to take that final step. It would be nice. But I personally don't expect more. I'm happy BC scared Notre Dame away for a while; that's for sure. But I don't expect BC to be a Top 10 team.
What did hurt, without question, was the Syracuse game in '04. I was appalled by the lackluster performance in such a big game. I would think the blame would have to start with Tom O'Brien, but he didn't miss the tackles or play with such a lack of emotion. I ripped them in print and I ould do so again.
I also think people underplayed beating the likes of BYU and Clemson on the road last year. I was in attendance at both, and I tried to convey the difference in emphasis and the general atmosphere. It's an entirely different world out there when a college team is THE focus. It just is, and it will never be that way for either BC football or basketball.
Summation: BC is pretty lucky to have Tom O'Brien. Remember the circumstances under which he came here. I'm surprised he's still here.
But I must stress that I care more personally about basketball, and have always been more of a football alumni front-runner. When the football team is down, I'm not as upset as I am when it's basketball taking hits. File that under full disclosure.
ATL_eagle: You won't find a bigger fan of Al Skinner than me. O'Brien is a much more difficult guy for me to get a hold of...even after nine years. There are so many things I like and I am thankful for, but the "what the hell happened" losses every year really take their toll as a fan. I understand the limitations of BC (school, location, etc.) but in the past fifteen years we've seen schools like Northwestern and Stanford play in BCS games. Why can't BC? Why can't O'Brien? And since you mentioned you tend to be an "alumni front-runner" and as a veteran writer with a good nose for spin and BS, do you sometimes get the sense that the Football program is constantly spinning their accomplishments (six bowl, winning seasons, grad rates) and slipping in excuses about BC's lack of tradition and tough academics and worst of all the rehashing the gambling scandal. It's been ten years -- as an alum I am tired of hearing about what a mess it was. Henning and the scandal were horrible, but he also left behind two Hasselbecks, Hovan, Damien Woody, etc. Do you think the spin would fly at Notre Dame, Alabama, etc? And since BC is under the radar in Boston are you able to write more as a fan/alum when writing about the Eagles than you would writing about the Pats or Sox?
Bob Ryan: A to last Q: Not really. I put it aside when I write about BC. Again, I don't get all worked up over football. I pretty much take it as it comes,with the exception of that horrible Syracuse display…
Northwestern had the one flicker under Barnett. Stanford? Big time in every way. No comparison.
ATL_eagle: Stanford big time? They’ve had some high points, but so have we. But this is not about the Cardinal. It’s about BC.
As you’ve said, you are generally proud but have been critical at times (most recently with BC’s decision to end the Holy Cross basketball series). Yet when you take a stand one way or another, you get skewered on the BC message boards because some feel you are being disloyal to your alma mater. Do you care what fans and alumni think about your stances?
Bob Ryan: I find it discouraging that in this day and age there are people who are so unsophisticated they don't understand a writer's role. If I'm writing about BC, I am doing so as a writer from the Boston Globe, not as Bob Ryan, BC '68. My job isn't to kiss-ass. When they do something good, like produce some very entertaining and worthy basketball teams in the last few years, or produce, as usual, excellent hockey teams, I write nice things. When they do something bad, such as mail in a vitally important game against Syracuse, or stink up the joint against Texas in the NCAA, I say so. When they do things of which I do not approve, such as leave the Big East to join a conference where they do not belong, I say so. When they drop Holy Cross in basketball, which is downright shameful, I knock them. So what they say in the chat rooms really doesn't concern me if their problem is my alleged "disloyalty" to BC. Did these chat room critics appreciate my Jack Concannon column? Probably not.
I treat BC as a journalistic enterprise the same as I do BU, Harvard, Northeaster or Northern Arizona. Occasionally I pull rank and reminisce about BC happenings, sure. Otherwise, I play it straight.
I like and admire Gene DeFilippo, even though I am opposed to his pet thing, the ACC deal. He knows this and I do not believe it has interfered with our friendship because it's business, not personal. I loathed Chet Gladchuck. That was no secret. I loved Bill Flynn. That was no secret, either.