BC-Holy Cross football rivalry better left in the distant past

Boston College running back AJ Dillon left Holy Cross in the dust early and often, rushing for three touchdowns in the first eight minutes.
Mary Schwalm/Associated Press
Boston College running back AJ Dillon left Holy Cross in the dust early and often, rushing for three touchdowns in the first eight minutes.

Remember when everyone read newspapers every day? When the Miss America pageant was a big deal? When we all watched Ed Sullivan and thought Jerry Lewis was funny? When we knew the name of the heavyweight champion of the world? When local television anchors were really famous and could get table reservations anywhere in town? When you could smoke in your office and when air travel was fun and luxurious?

That’s when Boston College and Holy Cross still had a football rivalry. They were the Catholic version of the Harvard-Yale game and local sports fans truly cared who won.

Way back in the day Boston College and Holy Cross drew 54,000 for a football game at Braves Field. They annually packed 40,000 into Fenway Park. The Eagles went to the Sugar Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, and the Orange Bowl, while the little school from Worcester also made an appearance in the Orange Bowl. Former Red Sox coach Dick Berardino famously tackled Jim Brown when Holy Cross played Syracuse in 1956.


But the rivalry went away in the years after the Kennedy assassination and the Vietnam War. The Jesuit schools moved in opposite directions athletically. And the annual football game became a rivalry of the hammer and nail. BC started to win almost every year, 17 out of 20. When the Eagles waxed a 10-0 Holy Cross team, 56-26, in 1986, the series was mercifully terminated. And it stayed that way for 32 years.

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Now the “rivalry” is back and in a game only Geno Auriemma could love, Boston College defeated Holy Cross, 62-14, on Saturday at Alumni Stadium. The Eagles led, 21-0, after eight minutes. BC coach Steve Addazio rested his All-World running back AJ Dillon after just three possessions (all ending in rushing touchdowns by Dillon) but it was still an awful 34-0 at halftime.

“I wish we were better,’’ said an upbeat HC rookie coach Bob Chesney after the drubbing. “We’re not there yet.’’

And they never will be. Not with a male student population of 1,400. Not while they are playing in the FCS, alongside Georgetown, Fordham, Lehigh, and Lafayette.

An impressive throng of 40,311 turned out for the beatdown and all of them seemed relatively happy, even the HC folks. Old friendships were renewed (if you’ve hired a lawyer in Boston in the last 40 years you have met someone who attended this game) and a good number of purple-clad fans reminisced about the glory days of the once-great rivalry.


Then came reality. It was like watching Xaverian High vs. the Dallas Cowboys. Boys against men.

The early part of the day was especially rough for folks from Mount St. James as Dillon ran for 149 yards, scoring three touchdowns on six carries in the first eight minutes when BC had all of its starters on the field. It was 28-0 with 13:05 left in the first half. Fortunately, Addazio went to his bench early and often to curtail the carnage.

When it reached 34-0 at halftime, we wondered if the schools would agree to play 10-minute quarters in the second half. BC and Howard did this three years ago when the Eagles were winning, 76-0.

No. We got the full 60 minutes. With BC deep into its depth chart, HC fans finally had reason to cheer when freshman Spencer Gilliam returned a blocked punt for a touchdown with 1:38 left in the third. The Crusaders scored a second TD on a blocked punt and would have actually scored an offensive touchdown if not for a holding call (what referee calls holding when it’s 62-14 with six minutes left?).

Holy Cross senior receiver Blaise Bell and lineman Teddy Capsis said they were glad to have played the game.


“Definitely grateful,’’ said Bell. “It’s something that they can never take away from us that we played in this game, even with the outcome.’’

“When I was getting recruited, I circled this game,’’ said Capsis. “It’s one of the reasons I came to play here.’’

Holy Cross took home $250,000 for its trouble (UMass got $350,000 to take its 55-21 beatdown last weekend). Despite the score, just about every Holy Cross person I spoke with seemed happy to have seen the rivalry renewed.

“We brought something back that’s pretty powerful, regardless of the outcome,’’ said Chesney.

The “rivals” are scheduled to play again two years from now at The Heights.

I asked Holy Cross president Rev. Philip Boroughs if he had any reservations about playing this game again in two years. He did not.

“For Holy Cross alumni, there is a sense of commitment and caring for each other,’’ said Boroughs. “There’s just pride in who we are and how we are received. Obviously, we’d like to win at football, but that’s not the most important thing for us. There’s great energy here for our alumni and for our coach and the future of our team.’’

Swell. But maybe some things are better left alone. As Nick Carraway famously said to Jay Gatsby, “You can’t repeat the past.’’

Boston College-Holy Cross football was great in the day of “Mad Men.’’

Now it’s just madness.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Shaughnessy.