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.