The Annual Emotional Bonfire: Boston College v. Holy Cross

Program cover of the 1940 Boston College vs Holy Cross football game

Football program, 1940. Boston College Athletics programs, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

In 1942, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, 41,300 spectators packed into a Fenway Park that was nearly 8,000 over capacity. It was the 40th annual Jesuit Classic, the storied rivalry between Boston College and Holy Cross football. Near hysteria gripped the city leading up to the game, with tickets sold for five times their face value, and the Boston Globe filled front pages with gossip and speculation about the game all week. The Boston College and Holy Cross game was the center of the Boston Catholic social calendar in the early 20th century and was a tradition that continuously inspired the school.

When the football rivalry started, in 1896, it was a rare game when a Catholic team was guaranteed to win–given the athletic domination by Harvard and the other Ivies. The early B.C.-H.C. matchups were marked by major turnouts and exciting finishes. Unpredictability was a key element in the rivalry’s popularity, as even in poor years each team saved its best for the B.C.-H.C. game. In 1915, when the B.C. side was heavily favored to win, H.C. stunned them 9-0.

An action shot of the 1916 Boston College vs Holy Cross game

Lowney – B.C., scoring first touchdown, 1916. Boston College Athletic Photographs, BC.1986.019, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The following year, the tables were turned, and the underdog B.C. defeated the Crusaders 17-14 with a last minute play to clinch the win. For the schools and their Boston Catholic supporters, the game each fall became, according to the Globe, “annual emotional bonfire” because each side was desperate to win.

As the profile of the game was raised, B.C. supporters saw the need to celebrate and to capitalize on the school spirit of the annual weekend.

Article from The Heights, No. 10, 4 December 1923

The Heights, 4 December 1923

The biggest student dances of the year took place, and invitations were extended to the local girls schools. In the 1920s, a special reunion “smoker” was instituted to gather all the alumni before the game. As the alumni rose in prominence in Boston city politics and commerce, their attendance at the smoker became headline news and attracted the mayor, his cabinet, and the area’s most important bishops. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the Holy Cross weekend was a major party weekend that at once announced the arrival of a powerful Boston Catholic class and created a sustaining platform to showcase their power.

  • Dan Latu BC 2016, Political Science & Spring 2015 Making History Public Student

The images and content in this blog post are from the exhibit #WeWereBC, which is now on display in the History Department, Stokes 3rd Floor South.    This exhibit was curated and organized by Professor Seth Meehan’s Spring 2015 Making History Public class, in collaboration with the Boston College University Libraries.

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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