Although 40 miles separate Boston College and Holy Cross, the history and tradition of two of the top Jesuit schools in the country, both in the classroom and on the gridiron, is inseparable. In September of 2018, at Alumni Stadium, BC and Holy Cross will renew their storied “Holy War” rivalry, a series that spans 91 years and has yielded thrilling games, outstanding football players on either sideline, and even better men over its long history. The matchup will end a 32 year void that was the byproduct of a changing dynamic and talent level between the two teams, leading to the inevitable end of a fantastic rivalry between two storied football programs.
Over the course of 91 years, the Holy War has seen seven different venues, including historic Fenway Park, Braves Field, the former home of the Boston Braves and current Boston University athletic stadium, the home of the New England Patriots in Foxborough, and various stadiums throughout Boston and Worcester. Fans would gather every year to support their school and witness a game that has produced many memorable outcomes. To believe what the series lead currently stands at would be a question of which institution you align yourself with. The 1896 contest, only the teams’ second matchup in a long lineage of classic games, ended in a result that is still disputed to this day. With just over four minutes remaining in the game, BC’s end back Hughie McGrath was called for a foul, which was heavily disputed by both teams and the officials. As bickering ensued during the play, McGrath picked the ball up off the turf and ran it into the end zone for a touchdown. Holy Cross refused to accept this score as valid, and as they exited the field and boarded their bus back to Worcester, they stood as the winners of the matchup. But seeing as there was still time left on the clock, the Eagles were instructed by the officials to snap the ball, and with no defense on the field, Boston College nonchalantly ran the ball into the end zone to take a 10-6 lead. The Crusaders’ record books will tell you they were victorious, 6-4, while in Chestnut Hill, the score from that afternoon reads, 10-6, Boston College (Carew 23).
Many players within the rivalry were familiar with one another and developed rivalries before entering college. As a result of heavy recruiting in Massachusetts and the Greater Boston area, many players had played against one another in high school and continued their athletic careers at Boston College and Holy Cross (Carew 162). Current Eagles’ head coach Steve Addazio, at his introductory press conference in 2013, stated that as a kid growing up in Connecticut, he would make the trek up to the Bay State every year to spectate the rivalry game (Vega). Every season, the matchup fell on the last Saturday on the schedule, and no matter what the teams’ records stood at, all could either be amended or lost based on the result of the season finale between bitter rivals. In a historic game that ended tragically, the 1942 game saw Holy Cross, a heavy underdog, pull off an upset over Boston College by the lopsided score of 55-12. The defeat stripped the Eagles of their #1 ranking in the national polls and denied them of an invitation to play Georgia in the Sugar Bowl (Oslin 55). Boston College entered the game 8-0, and had planned on commemorating their undefeated season at a popular Boston nightclub, the Cocoanut Grove. Plans were later cancelled after a stunning defeat, shortly before a fire broke out in the overcrowded space and killed 492 people who were stampeded or unable to make their way to an exit in time (Carew 75).
The Holy War has produced incredible gamesmanship and even better student-athletes from each team over the years. One of the best athletes to ever wear a Holy Cross jersey, Louis Sockalexis, played in the first season of the rivalry. He was a Penobscot Indian who, while at Holy Cross, ran track, played offense and defense in football, and was a standout outfielder and hitter for the baseball team (Carew 22). He scored a touchdown for the Crusaders in the inaugural contest vs. BC, and later became the first Native American to play professional baseball, after hitting .444 in his sophomore season at Holy Cross. He was signed by Cleveland and played at such an exceptional level that, after his first season, when the team moved into the American League, they renamed themselves the Indians in honor of Sockalexis.
According to Doug Flutie, the most memorable pass of his career did not happen during the Miracle in Miami, a pass that has been immortalized in statue form outside of Alumni Stadium, but rather in his final Holy War game, when Flutie found his brother, Darren, for the only touchdown connection of their careers. On the day of Flutie’s last regular season game at BC, he looked up and connected with his younger brother on a ball that was slightly underthrown, but Darren’s separation from coverage allowed him to come back to the ball and find his way to the end zone en route to a 45-10 beatdown of Holy Cross at Fitton Field (Carew 204).
At the conclusion of each Boston College-Holy Cross game, the most valuable player is awarded the O’Melia Trophy. In 1984, five votes were cast, two for Doug Flutie, two for Darren Flutie, and a fifth tiebreaking vote that was marked “D. Flutie.” After discussion ensued, it was determined that the voter named Doug the winner, but the victorious quarterback states, “I still think Darren should have won it.” After the game, a private helicopter rushed Flutie to the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City, where he won the 1984 Heisman Trophy, to become the only Eagle to ever win arguably the most prized individual trophy in sports.
During Flutie’s career at The Heights and Boston College’s success in the 1980’s was contrasted by the shrinking football program of their Jesuit rivals from Worcester. Holy Cross did not maintain the same level of excellence, exposure, or talent on the field as Boston College, and the smaller liberal arts college joined the Patriot League at the division I-AA level in 1986, and as a result, cut their athletic scholarships for football (Carew 192). The loss of scholarships prevented teams from playing Division I-A teams in games that would count toward bowl eligibility. A rivalry that spanned almost a century and had yielded many classic contests, upsets, and fanfare was doomed by the different directions each school’s program was headed in.
In the final Holy War contest in 1986, Holy Cross entered the game undefeated at 10-0. They fell flat in their quest for glory, even after getting out to a 14-0 lead.
Former Boston College nose guard and 2017 College Football Hall of Fame inductee Mike Ruth stated, “By the end of the first quarter, we knew that we were going to win, and that the game was over. Holy Cross just didn’t have the number of quality football players to compete with us.” The final score was Boston College 56, Holy Cross 26. He later added, “Some of the best people I have ever met played football for Boston College and Holy Cross. Not one of them is a wimp. They received a solid education; they speak well, write well, and all of them have been very successful in their own fields.” After the game, Holy Cross president Father John Brooks, S.J. met with the school’s board, and made the decision to discontinue the Holy War, after they had lost the last eight contests and 17 of the last 19 in the series (Carew 243).
Brooks, a boston resident and longtime fan of the rivalry, backed up his decision by saying, “I had no reservations, no second thoughts whatsoever about making that decision. It had been a great series. But that time was over. It had been great in its day, but that day had gone by.”
In 2013, the Patriot League added scholarships for their student-athletes, allowing them to once again schedule football contests against Division I-AA universities. Shortly after that, Brad Bates, the now former BC athletic director, announced that the two teams would be playing one another in 2018 and 2020, ending a 32 year discontinuity in the rivalry. What appears on paper as an out of conference game against an inferior opponent in September will hold greatness and tradition behind it. Boston College has faced off against the Crusaders of Holy Cross more than any other opponent in program history. Within the contests have been great athletes, and more importantly, great scholars and Jesuit men for others taking the field to showcase their talents and battle to defeat their cross-state rivals.
For one Saturday in Chestnut Hill in a few seasons, families with long standing history embedded in this historic rivalry and these elite institutions, as well as football fans all across the Commonwealth, will gather to celebrate the greatness of the longest standing rivalry in Boston College football’s illustrious history.
- Matthew Sottile, Burns Library Reading Room Student Assistant & Boston College, Class of 2020
Carew, Wally. A Farewell to Glory: The Rise and Fall of an Epic Football Rivalry: Boston College vs. Holy Cross. Worcester, MA: Ambassador, 2003. Print.
Oslin, Reid, Doug Flutie, and Jack Bicknell. Boston College Football Vault: The History of the Eagles. Atlanta, GA: Whitman, LLC, 2008. Print.
Michael Vega Globe Staff January 31, 2014. “BC and Holy Cross to Meet in Football Again – The Boston Globe.” BostonGlobe.com. N.p., 31 Jan. 2014. Web. 04 May 2017.