Holy War Heartbreak: Boston College Drops One to Notre Dame

Brian D. O'LearyCorrespondent IOctober 27, 2009

7 Nov 1998:  Running back Mike Cloud #21 of the Boston College Eagles in action during a game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at the Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. The Fighting Irish defeated the Eagles 31-26. Mandatory Credit: Ezra O. Shaw  /Allsport

Is every October game involving Notre Dame played under the auspices of a blue-gray sky ? Even the soul-crushing "Mike Cloud Game" from 1998 is never not fresh in my memory. I was concerned—a Boston College graduate and fan—as we tailgated in the lot of Notre Dame Stadium.

Having arrived in South Bend early that morning and a mere couple hours later stepping foot on the Notre Dame campus, I had been forewarned whilst eating a below-average—for lack of a better term—breakfast at an airport Chili's To Go in the midst of my travels.

During the transfer leg of my red-eye flight, at roughly 5:30 a.m. local time, Rob Thomas's “This is How a Heart Breaks” did a little more than drone over the Chili's sound-system. Foreshadowing, I'd say, as the last time this power-ballad haunted me was at the hands of one "Dr. Azana," mid-day, at the Palms Casino in Las Vegas a few New Year's Weekends ago. I broke that day—financially and mentally—as her cards gave me a swift kick in the tookus to go along with her life story recounting the war in Yugoslavia during the time of Milošević.

As if it weren't bad enough, a dead ringer for Hugo Chávez shifty-eye stalked me in the middle of Foxtrot concourse in Chicago's O'Hare Airport as I made my way from the restaurant to my gate after breakfast tacos and coffee. Visions of heinous world leaders haunted my exhausted brain as I waited for the puddle-jumper to take me to Indiana. Thankfully, football was gracious enough to intercede.

After a longer layover than expected, I spent 19 minutes in the air, and touched-down in South Bend.

I'd been unable to find a reasonable ticket price, or a legitimate reason to arrive any earlier in enemy territory, so I spent the hours leading up to my flight following, via Twitter , the traditional Friday night hockey game—seats also expensive, and nearly impossible to come by—between the Fightin' Irish and the Eagles. While the Irish battled, the rematch of the 2008 Frozen Four final saw the Eagles come out on top 3-2. Even more disturbing was that I didn't feel I could get so greedy as to expect more than one pot of gold at the expense of the Irish over the course of a weekend.

Soon after I landed, my friend Joe picked me up and we went back to his hotel, where his mixed family—Notre Dame and BC grads both—welcomed me and we got ready to spend the day on campus. We went down and had a continental breakfast. I settled for a fruit plate, some orange juice, and more coffee.

We toured campus and the tailgating area, catching an impromptu concert by ND's Bagpipe Band, finally meeting up with some friends of friends—Domers all—in the parking lot for their tailgate. Hot cider, beef stew, and Halloween candy was the spread. At this point, the sky trended more gray than blue, a brisk wind and drizzle overhead, while a patch of clear sky hovered in the horizon.

Leaving the tailgate, we headed to the middle of campus to see the Notre Dame Marching Band's concert on the steps of Bond Hall. We weren't the only Eagle fans to witness this pageantry either, for it is the type of thing that makes a BC-ND game much more special than, say, a Patriots-Bears tilt. The drizzle began to subside as we made it back toward the stadium, stopping to see the Irish squad on their walk from pre-game Mass into the stadium.

At this point, I started to gain confidence in my team, though I had yet to see them take the field. The Irish, while not completely insouciant, looked nearly to a man as if they felt the inevitable coming—taking one on the chin for the seventh straight contest against BC.

After the players passed, we headed for the entrance and arrived at our seats in the south endzone, looking straight ahead at the iconic Touchdown Jesus. The Marching Band provided the music and pre-game show while the teams prepared in their locker rooms and the skies began to clear.

Notre Dame got off to an early lead with a field goal, and a few series later, the Eagle defense got Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen to intentionally ground a pass in the endzone resulting in an Eagle safety and the atypical—and reverse of the previous night's hockey game—score of 3-2. The general pace of the game was a slog, much like the field conditions. The oft-missed Turf Monster of Eagles games gone-by even came out to make a few tackles for the visitors.

The weather warmed, yet ultimately cooled for good by the half, but with no more rain. I maintained my steady consumption of coffee—to keep me warm, stimulated, and to possibly ward off the swine flu I thought I might be catching due to the exhausting travel.  It worked.

With the Eagles trailing at halftime, 13-9, we watched the Notre Dame Marching Band perform on the full field. While the football teams have been on relatively equal footing over the last decade-and-a-half, this band's show was head-and-shoulders above anything I've seen out of the BC band.

Boston College battled back—largely in part to a breakout performance by wide receiver Rich Gunnell who finished the day with 10 receptions for 179 yards and a touchdown—and led 16-13 until the 8:12 mark in the fourth quarter, when Irish standout Golden Tate caught a pass on the Eagle sideline, shimmied, and made a couple more Eagles miss on his way to a 36-yard touchdown reception. The game ended without another score, but with BC quarterback Dave Shinskie throwing a couple crippling interceptions in the waning minutes, and the Irish emerged the victor, 20-16 .

My heart officially broke, just as I was afraid of some nearly 12 hours previous. It was not a game the Eagles deserved to win, though the Irish did not stake much of a claim to it either. I justified it to myself: Perhaps it was simply time for the Irish to get of the schneid and one Eagle victory over the weekend was better than none.

We finished the day, repairing to an Italian restaurant, though without reservations and a motley half of us wearing the maroon and gold, we were sequestered to the outer banks of the establishment where, amongst other Eagle-clad diners, we sat in the deli wing.  After one IPA, I had to revert back to coffee, like I had during the entirety of my waking day, to keep me upright. We made it back to the hotel fine and the next day was to see me take in the Windy City for an afternoon.

While my plan was to enjoy on Sunday a city I had not but driven through a few times, I had also planned on better spirits and an Eagle victory. We headed back to O'Hare in the van of mixed allegiances, though instead of wishing my goodbyes to the others as we unloaded off the rental car bus and into the United terminal, I got in front of a kiosk to look for a standby ticket back to PDX. I was able to see my friends off to Providence and ultimately got on a flight leaving from the adjacent gate that would only see me tarry in Charlie concourse for little more than two hours.

I was home, decompressing from the weekend, some six hours earlier than originally intended, and finally got some well-deserved sleep. While tiring, the 2009 experience was almost refreshing compared to the hours after the 2008 game—a truly unbelievable tale that I may never completely get into print. Nevertheless, an Eagle victory always makes for better travel.

With Notre Dame now leading the all-time football series 10-9, next year's final (as of now) battle—with what looks to be more experienced squads on both sides—shapes up to be one of the best ever.