Football, Column

College GameDay Showed That BC’s Football Tradition Can Be Restored

For one week, Boston College felt like a football school again.

As soon as College GameDay—ESPN’s iconic three-hour pregame show—announced that it was coming to Chestnut Hill for the first time since 2009 and just the third time in school history, excitement swirled on campus. Students, parents, and alumni shared the news on social media, and the team instantly became the topic of discussion wherever you went.

On the Eagles’ flight back from Blacksburg, Va.—hours removed from beating Virginia Tech for the first time in four years—head coach Steve Addazio walked to the front of the plane, took control of the intercom system, and proudly addressed his team.

“[For] the third time in the history of the school, we’re going to be on primetime ESPN [College] GameDay 8 o’clock prime game Saturday night versus Clemson,” the sixth-year Eagles coach said, per Director of Athletics Martin Jarmond. “That’s your hard work men, making it a meaningful game playing the No. 2 team in the country with the primetime crew. It’ll be a hell of a night in Chestnut Hill, enjoy.”

It certainly was a hell of a night—just not in the same way that Addazio would have hoped. Without starting quarterback Anthony Brown, who was knocked out of the game on BC’s first possession of the night, the Eagles struggled to establish any sort of offensive rhythm. BC—which entered the pivotal Atlantic Division matchup averaging 440.2 yards per game—only mustered 113 through four quarters of play. And of those 113 yards, 52 came in the final frame.

Backup quarterback E.J. Perry was thrown into the line of fire on national television against the third-best defense in the FBS and four future NFL defensive linemen. Still, BC held its own, allowing just 27 points, the fewest the Tigers had scored since their narrow Sept. 29 victory over now-No. 12 Syracuse. Regardless, the game’s outcome hardly diminished the week as a whole, especially the previous 15 hours of mayhem—a day that BC fans will never forget.

Leading up to the weekend, students threw around the words “what if” like it was nobody’s business, conjuring up every possible situation in which the Eagles could upset No. 2 Clemson. They marveled at the College GameDay set on campus as they walked to and from class. Some understood the gravity of the matchup, while others simply knew that Saturday was a must-see event. Even professors couldn’t help but mentioning the game in class. All of a sudden, going to Alumni Stadium wasn’t just a social event—it was deemed a marquee experience with serious championship implications. A win could very well have set the stage for an ACC Championship run and maybe even a College Football Playoff push.

“It’s a special time for our athletic program, our football team, our university,” Jarmond said, per Boston 25 News Chief Photographer Adam Liberatore. “Any time you get to showcase this beautiful place, you’ve gotta take advantage of it.”

Boy, did he and the athletics department make the most of the opportunity. Ever since Jarmond was hired as AD back in April 2017, he has gradually changed the way people look at BC Athletics, introducing new ideas by the month. Not only has he overseen the completion of the Harrington Athletics Village, the Fish Field House, a Student-Athlete Fueling Station, and the newly renovated hockey, women’s soccer, and field hockey locker rooms, but he’s also locked down a rideshare partnership with Lyft, expanded beer and wine sales in both Alumni Stadium and Conte Forum, and created a Fan Council—just to a name a few of his accomplishments.

Working quickly and efficiently, the 38-year-old has won over the student body and alumni. Quite simply, the name “Martin Jarmond” resonates with the Eagles faithful. He more than lived up to his reputation this past week, pulling out all the stops for GameDay.

After receiving approval from the City of Boston, Jarmond extended tailgating to four hours, permitting fans to start pregame festivities at 4 p.m. That said, the decision came with one major condition.

“I need you in the stadium by 8 o’clock,” Jarmond said in his video address. “We’re going to start the process of moving everybody a half hour before to make sure Alumni Stadium is rocking by kick.”

In order to do so, Jarmond made sure to set off fireworks in Alumni at 7:30 p.m., as a signal for fans to start making their way to the stadium. It worked to near perfection. Twenty minutes before kickoff, the student section was practically full—an anomaly of sorts for BC—waving their “Beat Clemson” rally towels that were handed out to the first 10,000 fans in attendance.  

Later in the week, the second-year AD made another social media announcement. This time, he promised that BC Athletics would provide coffee and donuts to students at 7 a.m. on Saturday, just two hours before the start of GameDay. Almost hand-in-hand, the BC Bookstore spread the news that it was selling poster board on sale and providing markers to students interested in crafting GameDay signs. Jarmond and BC were doing everything they could to ensure that Stokes Lawn was packed and rowdy for the ESPN broadcast—but when Saturday morning rolled around, all of those worries dissipated.

At 5:30 a.m., a line of students stretched from the top of the Million Dollar Stairs to Fulton Hall, awaiting what was one of the biggest events in BC Athletics history. Donning Eagles gear, students waited for something that they couldn’t have dreamed of when they first arrived on campus. After all, the year prior, BC won its first ACC home game in three years. The season before that, the Eagles were outscored by Virginia Tech, Clemson, Louisville, and Florida State by a combined 202-24. And then, of course, in 2015, BC infamously finished the year 0-8 in ACC play. Since the Eagles last hosted GameDay in 2009, they have yet to log an eight-plus win season. BC is 51-60 during that span, including just 26-44 against conference opponents.

On Saturday, all of that misery and losing seemed to have served a purpose. For upperclassmen, it really had come together, and it was beautiful. Some saw GameDay as a reward for suffering through seasons of embarrassment, others believed that it was the start of a new era, but everyone embraced the moment. Crowding the GameDay pit, students jumped up and down on Stokes Lawn amid the picture-perfect gray and brisk New England morning. Signs poking fun at Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and referencing BC’s 3-1 all-time record against Alabama coated the sea of maroon and gold. From start to finish, SuperFans were loud, energized, and passionate, patiently waiting for the prediction segment.

All week, GameDay hosts Rece Davis, Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard, and David Pollack had been saying that, while the Eagles had talent, it would take quite a performance to knock off Clemson. It was clear that, deep down, they were all going with the Tigers—that was, until Howard took everyone in Stokes Lawn by surprise: The former Heisman Trophy-winning wide receiver picked BC to upset the vaunted Tigers, spurring absolute pandemonium behind the set. Just like that, a win looked all the more obtainable in the eyes of Eagles fans.

Hours later, Michael Walker housed a 74-yard punt return to hand BC a first-quarter lead. For about two minutes, Eagles fans forgot about Brown’s injury and Clemson’s ferocious defense. The crowd went wild, rivaling the Duke court storming for current students’ most memorable moment on campus. Although the Eagles failed to reach the end zone again, that play won’t be forgotten, that game won’t be forgotten, and the entire day will go down in BC Athletics history.

BC doesn’t have the luxury of tailgating space or a massive stadium, but it does have tradition. Sure, winning creates a domino effect and turns non-football fans into team supporters. But success only does so much at the college level. The rest lies in the perception of the program—if presented with the opportunity, Jarmond can restore the rich tradition that graced Chestnut Hill during the early ’80s and ’90s and all throughout the 2000s. In fact, he and his staff are already halfway there. Last Saturday was just a sneak-peak.

Featured Image by Jess Rivilis / For The Heights

Photos by Jess Rivilis and Andy Backstrom / For The Heights and Heights Editor

November 16, 2018