Call it wishful thinking, but Boston College has cost the Irish the possibility of (or at least controlling their own destiny in running for) a National Championship in South Bend twice in the last generation.
In 2002, BC went into South Bend the first game of November with a 4-3 record to face the 8-0 Irish. This was Ty Willingham’s first year as Head Coach of Notre Dame. In his opening press conference at Notre Dame, Willingham proudly announced that “the option is no longer in the playbook”. His West Coast Offense that he brought from Stanford wasn’t quite working out as well as hoped, but the Irish were able to score about as much on special teams and defense as they were on offense. They beat Maryland 22-0 with their only touchdown being on a punt return, and beat Purdue 24-17 by their defense scoring all three of their touchdowns.
On the other hand, Boston College was well on their way to playing Toledo in the prestigious Motor City Bowl.
Notre Dame came out wearing their green jerseys (that move is a little overdone, don’t you think?), but it didn’t matter a whole lot. BC was nowhere near being intimidated. The Eagles defense forced seven fumbles, recovering three, and intercepted ND twice, returning one (a shovel pass) for a touchdown.
BC led the entire way and never looked like they would let up, and they didn’t, walking away with a 14-7 win.
The more devastating of the losses was the final regular season game of 1993. ND had just beaten Florida State in the ‘Game of the Century’ (and one of the very few of those that lives up to the hype. That game was also the first time ESPN College Gameday traveled to the site of the game of the week. The Irish were rather convincing in their 31-24 win against FSU, and had proven themselves as being the best team in the country.
That would last a mere seven days.
BC was still pissed about their 54-7 loss to the Irish the year before. ND converted a fake punt while the Irish were up 37-0. Isn’t it funny how when Notre Dame does it, it’s o.k., but when Miami blocked an Irish punt and ran a reverse in the fourth quarter eight years earlier (in a 58-7 Irish loss), it was ‘bad sportsmanship’? Tom Coughlin had his #13 Eagles prepared and focused only on beating Notre Dame heading into the 1993 game. Notre Dame picked the wrong coach to screw with in garbage time the year before.
BC came out playing like they had something to prove, whereas ND played like they were just trying to get through the day. Glen Foley was almost surgical in their attack on the Irish defense, and built a 38-17 lead. To their credit, Notre Dame woke up and realized that they were pissing away their opportunity for a National Championship. They roared back with three touchdowns and a two-point conversion and took a late 39-38 lead. It was almost like ND could turn their offense on like a faucet. BC was able to calmly move down the field in the final minute and give kicker David Gordon a shot at a 41-yard field goal. He made excellent contact with the ball, and with a single swing of the leg, sent shockwaves through the college football world in knocking off the #1 Irish 41-39.
You could hear 50,000 people simultaneously mutter “Oh shit” as the ball split the uprights.
This had to be one of the biggest swings in emotion from one week to the next in college football history. The funny thing about it was, neither of these games was a fluke. BC beat Notre Dame by 19 points (30-11) in 1994, and the 2002 game was the second of six straight BC wins over the Irish.
Not that I expect BC to beat the Irish tonight, but it wouldn’t be the first time the ‘other’ Catholic school brought the Irish back to earth.