A Rivalry Renewed
Aug 26, 2013
By Reid Oslin
A wonderful Sister of St. Joseph, Sister Helen John, used to admonish her rambunctious parochial school students with the command: "Good Catholic boys don't fight!"
She must not have been thinking about the Boston College - Villanova football rivalry.
On Saturday, for the first time since 1980, the Augustinian-trained Villanovans will meet BC's Jesuit-bred Eagles in football competition and fans here at Alumni Stadium have every reason to expect the "rock-`em sock-`em" style that became the trademark of this old Eastern rivalry from its beginnings some 90 years ago.
"Villanova is one of the top FCS teams in America," cautions BC head coach Steve Addazio, who will be making his Eagle coaching debut on Saturday. "Two years ago they had a veteran team, and they were just dynamic. They have been rebuilding with young players who are now all veterans.
"This is going to be another one of those really good Villanova teams. You'll see," Addazio says. "They have a very good football team and our kids know it."
BC's players first found out about Villanova football through a hard lesson, back on November 9 1922, when future Hall of Fame coach Frank "The Iron Major" Cavanaugh and his 2-2 Eagles hosted the Philadelphia boys in the old Alumni Stadium on campus - now the site of the sparkling new Stokes Hall classroom building. Perhaps the Chestnut Hill lads had their eye on a big game against Baylor the following week, producing a somewhat lackluster effort against the visitors and losing the ball on fumbles several times that afternoon. Only late-game heroics by BC star Grattan O'Connell - who blocked a punt and recovered the ball for a touchdown - gave BC breathing room in an eventual 15-3 victory.
Over the years, the teams played a spirited rivalry - with BC capturing 29 of the 46 games played between the two schools and Villanova winning 15. The 1929 game ended in a 7-7 tie.
Several games at the end of the series draw some additional interest from BC football aficionados. In 1976, Coach Joe Yukica's BC team opened the year with a stunning 14-13 victory over nationally-ranked Texas. The Eagles scooped a national ranking and went on to win five of their first six games before getting bush-whacked at Villanova, 22-3, on October 30 and dashing all bowl hopes in spite of an 8-3 finish. Years later, an old coach was introduced to Yukica at a glitzy football function and asked him point-blank: "What the hell happened at Villanova?"
On September 22, 1979, the Eagles scored a 34-7 triumph over the visiting Wildcats before a paltry crowd of 16,000 in Alumni Stadium. At the game's conclusion, BC's students rushed onto the field and tore down the goal posts. The reason? The win had broken the Eagles' 13-game losing streak - longest in school history - that included an excruciating 0-11 death march under Coach Ed Chlebek in 1978.
The last meeting between BC and Villanova came in 1980 and followed by one week an exhilarating 30-13 Eagle win over 11th-ranked Stanford - quarterbacked by John Elway. The BC team must have spent the week reading their press clippings as they were stonewalled 20-9 by the Wildcats in Philadelphia the following Saturday. Chlebek analyzed the game for the media: "We played well against Stanford, we did not play well against Villanova." Ya' think, Coach?
Chlebek's morbid play-calling in this game was a nail in his coaching career coffin, and he was encouraged to look elsewhere for employment at the end of the year.
Perhaps no game in the series was more entertaining than the 1970 meeting, which was a back-and-forth 28-21 BC victory in Philly that was not finally decided until two local Eagles - quarterback Frank "Red" Harris of Malden and wide receiver George Gill of Arlington - hooked up on a late-game scoring drive.
Tim Cohane, the late, great bard of college football, started his report of that game with a bit of gridiron doggerel:
Eagles in a pickle;
It really was a dill.
Chances worth a nickel
`Til Harris passed to Gill.
Sportswriters don't write like that anymore. But good football rivalries go on. Boston College and Villanova is one of them. Enjoy.