Monday, April 11, 2005

BC-ND: past, present and future

There is little news coming out of Spring practice, so Barry Gallup Jr. signing with Notre Dame fired up a lot of Eagle fans. Why the fuss over an undersized Massachusetts wideout? Part of the furor is because Barry Sr. is a former Eagle standout and current BC assistant AD. But if Barry Jr. had signed anywhere else no one would have batted an eye. It was the Irish aspect that sparked calls for Barry Sr.’s head and questioned our ability to recruit vs. the new Irish regime. However, I see nothing wrong with kids going to schools other than the ones that employ their parents. Gene D. and Jerry York both sent children to Notre Dame. BC benefits from this open-minded philosophy too, as the Eaves brother served as the recent core of our Hockey team. If they followed the no place but where dad works mantra they would have been scoring goals at Wisconsin instead of the Heights.

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!


Colin said...

Just a random comment...John York, owner of the 49ers and Notre Dame graduate is sending his twin daughters to BC.

dvd said...

Hmm, very interesting to read this post over 2 years later. In fact, on the last day of regular season for both ND and BC. ND went 3-9 while BC is heading to the ACC championship game. How things have changed!

Some of the things you got right, some wrong, and, frankly, some you left out in your post. For example, it's true that Holtz ran up the score the year against BC in 1992. But there was a reason that is rarely mentioned: ND lost a game that they had a big lead (sorry, I can't remember which game) and Holtz wanted to make sure that it wasn't going to happen again. Hence, the score was run up. There was nothing wrong in Tom Coughlin using it to motivate his team, since coaches do it all the time. But the real reason for ND's behavior in 1992 was distorted and remains little-known to this day. When seen in the context of what really happened, the 1992 actually showed that Holtz and the Irish took BC serious, not dismissive as it has been alleged ever since.

Though a ND fan, I actually don't blame Eagles fans for the bad blood. Instead I blame both sides. Exhibit A: ND fans calling BC "backup college," as you mentioned. Exhibit B: Your own reference to your ex-roommate disrupting a ND pep rally, an almost unheard-of act of antagonism in college sports. The two examples show that if it takes two to tango, it also takes two to escalate dislike and hatred. Although the hatred doesn't reach the level of hatred ND fans have for Miami (in the 1980s) or Michigan (ongoing), it's pretty bad. Enough that I for one consider it a good thing to have the ND-BC series end in a few years.

Mutual antagonism aside, you're right in calling this "the most heated 'non rivalry' the Irish had." I happen to have handy a list of ND rivalries, and you can see that the BC series is among the lowest in the history of Irish football.

Rivalries of 50 games or more:
ND-Navy: 80 games so far; ND leads 70-9-1.
ND-USC: 79 games so far; ND leads 42-32-5.
ND-Purdue: 79 games so far; ND leads series 51-26-2.
ND-Michigan State: 69 games so far; ND leads series 42-26-1.
ND-Pittsbugh: 63 games so far; ND leads 44-18-1.

Rivalries of 20-49 games:
ND-Army: 49 games; ND leads 37-8-4.
ND-Northwestern: 47 games; ND leads 37-8-2.
ND-Michigan: 35 games so far; Michigan leads series 20-14-1. (Recently series gets extended for 20 years.)
ND-GT: 34 games so far; ND leads 27-6-1.
ND-Indiana: 29 games; ND leads 23-5-1.
ND-Air Force: 27 games so far; ND leads 22-5.
ND-Iowa: 24 games; ND leads 13-8-3.
ND-Miami: 23 games; ND leads 15-7-1.
ND-Stanford: 22 games so far; ND leads 16-6.

Rivalries of less than 20 games:
ND-Penn State: 19 games so far; series even at 9-9-1.
ND-BC: 17 games so far; ND leads series 9-8.
ND-Wisconsin: 16 games; ND leads 8-6-2.
ND-Nebraska: 16 games; Nebraska leads 8-7-1

In other words, ND-BC "rivalry" is among the fewest-games-played rivalries, which translates to be a non-rivalry. In fact, because the series doesn't have a lot of games, BC is in a position to tie or even lead the series when the current schedule ends in 2010. Which is similar to Nebraska leading the series.

(I should add that BC was lucky in not playing against ND in 2005 and 2006. The Irish had a horrible 2007 season and was rightly beaten up by Matt Ryan-led Eagles team. But it's hard to think that the 2005-2006 high-scoring Brady Quinn-led Irish teams wouldn't have poured touchdown upon touchdown on the Eagles of those seasons. So let's just say that BC shared some of the luck of the Irish.)

In the end, I agree with your take on the future of this series. The two programs are different in so many ways. The Irish has never been in lack of rivalries; BC, on the other hand, is still in search of lasting rivalries ever since the end of its rivalry with Holy Cross. Maybe BC will find them in the ACC. Which isn't easy, because other ACC teams already have primary rivalries - e.g., Clemson-SC, FSU-Florida, VT-Virginia. BC will have to learn to be content to be a secondary rivalry to these schools. But perhaps the BC-NCSU rivalry will be huge one day. ;)

BC once needed ND to get known nationally, and the games over the last 15-20 years have done just that. Many things have changed since: parity has contributed to the college football landscape, BC left the Big East and joined the ACC, etc. Who knows, maybe one day ND will join a conference too, most likely the Big-10. (After all, it already has several rivalries with Big-10 schools.) So it sounds right to me that the series will end in 2010. Each school has its own priorities: e.g., ND needs to recover from a horrible season in the short term and work back to nc-level in the medium term; BC needs to win the ACC championship in the short term and keep being competitive against VT, FSU, etc. in the medium term. I have no ill will towards BC and wish you guys luck. And, trust me, you will need plenty because FSU and Miami will rise up again to make the ACC even more competitive. And also because your small fan base (in comparison to other ACC schools) makes it a challenge to land good non-BSC bowl games.

But there are still 3 games left in the series and I look forward to watch them. Whatwith BC losing many players to graduation and ND having mostly underclassmen play this season, I'd predict the Irish win in Alumni Stadium by 2 touchdowns in 2008. ;-)

dvd said...

One more... In the 2002 game, the Irish wore green because Ty Willingham wanted to honor ND seniors. I don't mind if seeing the Irish wear green motivated Eagles players to win the game - such are the stuff of college football. But to say that ND wore it because of BC is a huge stretch. (This season, for example, ND wore green in one home game. However, it had nothing to do with its opponents, but was meant to the 1977 championship team.)

Just as BC fans exaggerated that ND disrespected BC before (it didn't), they exaggerated too that ND took BC more seriously than it did other schools (it didn't).

Unknown said...

If you actually think that ND would've smacked BC around in 2005 and 2006, you're delusional. EVERY good team you played in those years you LOST. Everytime you played a Top 25 opponent, you guys got straight up beat. In 2005 and 2006, BC was in the Top 20.

downtown_resident said...

Absolutely, alexabismyhero. BC is exactly the kind of quality opponent that could, if not would, have given the Irish that third loss that would have kept them out of the BCS in each of those years. Of course then we would have been deprived of the fun of watching the Irish get exposed (again) in a big bowl game.

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