The memories from the “Holy War” are endless.
The rivalry between Boston College and Notre Dame — the only two Catholic schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision — is one of college football’s most storied. From the days of Doug Flutie and the 1983 Liberty Bowl to the David Gordon field goal in 1993 that earned the Eagles their first win over the Irish — who were ranked No. 1 at the time —
For all the mystique of playing in Notre Dame Stadium, seeing Touchdown Jesus, the Golden Dome, and the golden helmets, part of preparing the Eagles for the latest installment this weekend in South Bend, Ind., is reminding them why the game matters so much.
“In today’s world, the history of these things isn’t like the same as it used to be, you know what I mean?” said BC coach Steve Addazio. “So you’ve got to bring it back to life.”
Addazio likened the revival of the Notre Dame rivalry to the way BC has reignited another longstanding series with Syracuse.
“We’ve really worked hard to bring that back to life again,” Addazio said. “It wasn’t that long ago that that was so intense, right? Then that period that it really didn’t play wasn’t the same. It lost something. Things happen quick nowadays, I think.”
The Eagles have experience to pull from on their coaching staff, and Addazio plans to use it this week. Running backs coach Brian White was a graduate assistant on the Irish’s 1988 national championship team. Defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan was Notre Dame’s safeties and special teams coach in 2001. Receivers coach Rich Gunnell was a part of two BC wins over the Irish as a player. Special teams coach Ricky Brown and director of football initiatives Josh Beekman were on the roster for three wins over Notre Dame from 2002-04.
“We’ve been bringing it back to life and talking about it,” Addazio said. “And I’m going to do some other things as the week goes on to try to make sure they understand the intensity of this game and what it means because, yes, these guys, they have not been there.
“But we also deal with guys who are very bright guys, and they get it and understand it, and they feel it. You still are playing a national team, and they get that too, that this is still a grand stage, and if you’re a competitor, you’re playing a top 15 team on a grand stage, that’s what you want to do.”
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly grew up in Everett, but he never considered himself a BC fan. If he watched, it was for BC’s rivalry games with Holy Cross. Otherwise, he said, he always followed Notre Dame.
“That’s all we had on TV,” he said. “Boston College wasn’t on the television set much growing up in Boston. It wasn’t until I was gone from Boston that BC started to be played on radio and television.”
By the time the Eagles program started to gain traction locally and nationally in the 1980s, Kelly was cutting his teeth as a coach at Grand Valley State in Michigan.
From afar, though, he watched the Eagles’ growth.
“From a football standpoint, being in the ACC has obviously benefitted them greatly,” Kelly said. “They have, certainly, a reputation for being a physical football team. They have, obviously going back to coach Coughlin, they’ve either churned out great defensive players or obviously their tight ends or quarterbacks.
“It’s always been a program that has turned out really fine players, year in year out, and an extremely competitive football team that can beat anybody on a given day.”
For the Irish, ranked 15th and winners of 17 straight at home, this installment of the Holy War might not have the same gravity, especially considering the Eagles’ 1-15 record against ranked opponents since 2014.
But Kelly understands the magnitude of the matchup for a BC team fighting to become bowl-eligible.
“When they’re playing Notre Dame, this is a big game,” Kelly said. “And we know that they’re playing for bowl eligibility.”
For the Eagles, keeping their postseason chances alive is just as important as the rivalry.
“They’re well aware of that,” Addazio said. “That’s a goal. It’s a stated goal early in the season. So for all those reasons.
“I mean, there’s a lot going on in this game. Stakes are high, and that’s exciting.”