Football, Featured Column, Column

Football Proved It Can Win, Now It Must Finish the Job

Let me take this opportunity to apologize.

In a way, this curse was partially my fault. You see, I am a mush. My fandom has always been me as a mush. Everything I touch—the Mets, Giants, Knicks, and Islanders—turns to trash. By trash, I mean losses. Losses and sadness. And so when I took over the sports editor job on The Heights in January 2015, that meant touching Boston College football, too.  

Prior to Saturday, I had personally covered and been in attendance for 16 of BC’s 19 games in the 2015 and 2016 season, plus the Pinstripe Bowl in 2014. My record in those games is 6-11. I suppose that could be worse, in hindsight. But nine of those losses come as part of The StreakTM. Yes, The Streak, the stretch of Atlantic  Coast Conference games that BC participated in without a victory. Since Nov. 29, 2014, the Eagles had not won an ACC game in football. Some of the defeats were embarrassing blowouts. Others were punches to the gut, face, and throat all at once. The long string of losses made not just the athletic department, but the University, a national laughingstock.

As is custom on The Heights, the three sports editors chose our road trips prior to the season. I took Wake Forest over Thanksgiving in an effort to not see my family, and Florida State under the Friday night lights, because honestly, when else will I go to Tallahassee? Riley Overend took Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium, the site of great BC memories and, from what I hear, a Chipotle that delivers via drone. That left Annabel Steele with the North Carolina State game on Halloweekend, the one no one wants to take. NC State isn’t a flashy opponent, Raleigh isn’t a typical college town, and God forbid an 18- to 22-year-old misses one of the treasured nights of dress up (or for me, little packets of candy).

Look at us now. I was left in my off-campus room looking on in shock, happiness, pride—a whole mess of feelings—as Steve Addazio and a very deserving group of players left to cheers off the field at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C. for that elusive, first ACC win. Annabel was down there writing the gamer I had been waiting to get for so long. She listened to the new rallying cry of the Eagles—”Grove St. Party” by Waka Flocka Flame—on the flight back to Boston, while I was stuck listening to Muzak while grocery shopping after the game. She’s got the golden touch, and I’ve got the kiss of death.   

I’m sorry, it’s my fault. It’s the life of a mush, I suppose. But hey, I get to write the column afterward.

So let’s let that soak in one more time. BC won an ACC game. And it’s a party, it’s a party, it’s a party in the Eagles’ locker room. Now what?

Now it’s time for them to finish the job.

The silverback gorilla of an ACC losing streak is off BC’s back, once and for all. The team couldn’t do it against Georgia Tech, when it had every opportunity to do so and got burned on a 4th-and-19 in the fourth quarter. It didn’t do it against Syracuse, the team many expected the Eagles to beat but instead got torched through the air by Eric Dungey.

And before we get into what’s right, don’t forget, too: the Eagles easily could’ve lost this game in the same, devastating fashion they lost the last two. They lucked out when a Stephen Louis touchdown got called back for an ineligible man downfield. Patrick Towles’s interception deep within NC State territory that led to the Wolfpack’s second touchdown gave off a sense that another late-game meltdown was in the works. And some of the coaching staff’s tactical decisions—such as calling a timeout prior to essentially freeze Mike Knoll before his 42-yard field goal got blocked—were questionable.

But there’s a quote from yesterday’s press conference that speaks miles more than anything about BC’s on-field product.

“Tough times don’t last,” Addazio said. “Tough people do.”

There are a lot of great Xs and Os coaches out there. Ones who have tactical genius, and can out-think you at every turn. They know the plays to call. They know what the other coach is thinking before even they do. Many of those coaches are successful.

No one is saying Addazio falls into that category. But his style is more than that. He’s a great motivator. The guys want to play for him—quotes from Towles, Harold Landry, Kamrin Moore all include an element of loving this program and loving their coach.

Addazio has done something that many great Xs and Os coaches can’t do. He kept the locker room together. To many outsiders, the blowout losses to Clemson and Virginia Tech, the defeated look to BC in the second half of each—those indicate a broken team. But a road victory against an ACC opponent shows that this team still has plenty of fight left in it.

It is not a prideful thing to finish a season with six wins, nor is it an accomplishment on a grand, national scale. Administrators may or may not have set that as a goal for Addazio and Co., but fans expect better. Contrary to the current narrative, BC is not completely incapable of becoming a national powerhouse. The program has shown that it can recruit well enough on its unique pitch—academics, ACC, Jesuit values, near a big city—to hit the rankings regularly, as it did under Tom O’Brien only a decade ago. BC isn’t a team that had been mired in years of failure, like Duke, pre-David Cutcliffe, or Baylor, pre-Art Briles/rampant unlawfulness. It’s one whose fans should expect, and have been conditioned to expect at minimum competitiveness, at most a bowl every year.

But reaching a bowl is a stepping stone that was thought to be impossible as recently as last week’s defeat against Syracuse. Now that this blockade of an ACC streak has vanished, the Eagles are back on the path to that goal.

The road is pretty clearly defined. BC has four games left. Two are against nationally ranked opponents in No. 5 Louisville and No. 19 Florida State. Those two, for obvious reasons, won’t be easy. The Eagles have struggled against spread offenses like the one Lamar Jackson and the Cardinals have run. While BC has a more realistic shot against Florida State than the other big names on its schedule because of its Dalvin Cook-based offense—ask NC State’s Matthew Dayes what he thinks of BC’s run defense—that game is still in Tallahassee and the ’Noles are still great.

But those other two games are against Connecticut and Wake Forest. The Huskies are 3-6, including an embarrassing loss in the Civil ConFLiCT at home. Though the Demon Deacons have two ACC wins (Duke and Syracuse, but still), they’re trending downward considering their loss to Army. The Eagles match up well against both, and at this point, they have a lot more to play for.

So now, the Eagles have a mission to complete. The ACC win is nice, but they must defeat Connecticut and Wake Forest to make this season salvageable. In the process, these players who seem to love Addazio so much may save his job. Whether that’s rightful can be up to your interpretation. I believe getting this team to the bowl justifies one more shot. It would mean that he had been given an expectation and met it. If the Eagles can’t get to a bowl, it’s hard to justify no changes. But it’s difficult for any program to keep starting over with new coaches every four years, that cycle does not work.

They’re aren’t in the clear yet. Far from it. But, at long last, there’s reason to believe they can get there.

I’d like to be there to see it this time.

Featured Image by Savanna Kiefer / Heights Editor

October 30, 2016