Nostalgia abounded in Chestnut Hill, Mass., on a crisp late-summer Saturday when two historic college football programs renewed a storied rivalry that had been dormant since 1986. The Holy Cross Crusaders (1-2) made the short journey east along the Mass Pike to square off against a familiar foe, the Boston College Eagles (3-0 overall, 1-0 ACC), ranked No. 23 this week in the AP poll. This year’s tilt, a 62-14 victory for Boston College, was the 83rd meeting between the two programs, the most for both schools against a single opponent. The teams are scheduled to meet again at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill in 2020.
Hard to imagine now, the Holy Cross-Boston College football game was formerly one of the premier annual sporting events in New England. The two schools first met in 1896 in Worcester, an Eagle victory. However, it was the second matchup between the two schools that is the more memorable one. Nearing the end of the game, a brawl broke out, ending the game early. (Both teams claimed a win.) In the early twentieth century, the HC-BC games drew large crowds. They played at Fenway Park in 1916, and eight years later the Crusaders shut out their Jesuit rivals 33-0 in front of 50,000 fans in at Braves Field in Boston.
The most famous contest between these two famed institutions, though, took place in 1942 at Fenway Park. The Eagles, having won the previous three meetings, entered the matchup with the Crusaders as heavy favorites. It was the last game of the season, and the only thing standing between undefeated and No. 1-ranked Boston College and its second national championship in three years were the mediocre Crusaders, 4-4-1 on the season up to that point. However, Holy Cross had other ideas. The Purple and White, powered by running back Johnny Bezemes, class of 1943, ran amok on the Eagles for a shocking 55-12 victory, crushing Boston College’s national title hopes in the process. However, the BC team probably did not dwell on the defeat too much, considering the events to unfold later that night. The Eagles preemptively scheduled a victory party at Boston’s famous Cocoanut Grove nightclub, but cancelled it after the Holy Cross upset. Tragically, a fire engulfed the saloon mere hours after the game, killing 492 patrons. Holy Cross may have taken the national championship away from BC, but it inadvertently saved the lives of everyone involved with the team.
Despite Holy Cross’ success in the early days of the twentieth century, the Eagles have dominated the rivalry since 1950, with the Crusaders winning only two matchups out of nineteen from 1967 to 1986. The programs moved in different directions in the last decade of the rivalry, with Boston College boasting stars like 1984 Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie, while Holy Cross chose to de-emphasize its football program by moving to the then-Division 1-AA Colonial League (now called the Patriot League) in 1986, which for many years precluded its member schools from offering athletic scholarships. Holy Cross resumed offering scholarships to football players in 2013. From 1986 to 2013, though, it was not worthwhile for BC to play HC because such a matchup would not count towards the Eagles’ bowl game eligibility. However, once the Crusaders began offering scholarships again, the two sides quickly moved to renew the rivalry.
The 2018 version of the historic clash of Jesuit foes was not really about the game itself. Holy Cross was simply overmatched. Within the game’s first ten minutes, BC sophomore running back and Heisman hopeful AJ Dillon rushed for 149 yards on six carries, three of them for touchdowns. BC head coach Steve Addazio, concerned about the short week ahead of the Eagles’ trip to Winston-Salem, N.C. for a Thursday night showdown with ACC foe Wake Forest, was happy to give his starters a rest, and Dillon was done for the day after
Image Courtesy of Holy Cross Athletics