Oct. 28, 1999
By Kara McGillicuddy
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -
Treasonous Marie Antoinette lost her head Oct. 16, 1793.
Two hundred and six years to the day, the Boston College football team decapitated a bigger monster: the thinking machine that proclaimed its offense incongruous and its defense porous. On that day, derailed was the train of thought that dismissed the team's first four wins because of a 24-14 stumble to lightly regarded Temple. BC's 20-16, come-from-behind victory over a steely Pittsburgh squad provided restitution for something never really lost, according to senior captains Pedro Cirino and Chris Hovan, but worth fighting for again, respect.
That win marked Boston College's best start (5-1) since going 7-0-1 in 1992, while also ensuring that the 1999 team would finish with an improved record over previous back-to-back 4-7 campaigns. And even the heartbreaking 31-28 come-from-ahead loss the next week to Miami did little to diminish the respect regained on that day.
A crowd of 33,574 fans and espn2's TV audience witnessed fiery free safety Cirino, per usual, wearing his heart on his sleeve, figuratively, while Hovan actually did. If you couldn't make out the word RESPECT scribed in blood red cryptic letters on a bandage wrapped around the defensive lineman's sinewy biceps, then you felt it. This was war. Hovan, whose extra-heavy face paint emulates his role model, Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle John Randall, dressed for the occasion.
"I remember him (Randall) giving an interview one time, and he was saying 'when I put this paint on, I feel like I am going to war with my teammates'," Hovan said. "And that is where I kind of got the whole scenario. When I put that war paint on before a game, I know that I'm going to war for four quarters. Going to war with my teammates."
It took four quarters for the Eagles to create Redemption Day with a cast somewhat hampered but nonetheless determined. Down 16-13 in the final 3:09, BC used a quick-strike offense to score the go-ahead touchdown in 1:21 on seven plays for 66 yards, culminating with Tim Hasselbeck's 36-yard bomb to Dedrick Dewalt down the right sideline.
Hasselbeck, wounded in the Temple defeat with a mild shoulder separation, did not start the game and came in relief of fallen comrade Brian St. Pierre, who left with a concussion early in the third quarter.
Pittsburgh got the ball back at its own 28 on the ensuing kickoff. Thanks to sacks by Sean Guthrie and Hovan for losses of eight and 10 yards, respectively, the Panthers' cause was stymied 18 yards behind the original line of scrimmage.
"I just remember being on the sidelines with about four minutes to go," Cirino says, "we were down a few points to Pitt, and we (Cirino and Hovan) were both just saying that nothing can get past us. We were pumped up and could not wait to get out there and get the chance to make plays. And just watching him (Hovan) out there, they could not block him. One-on-one, no one could block that kid. He is a monster, and I am just happy that we have been together four years. It is very exciting."
BC's defensive impasse surrendered only one touchdown and three field goals in the visitors' five trips inside the red zone, in addition, BC held Pitt to only 45 yards rushing.
Hovan finished with six tackles, backpedaling Panther rushers to minus 26 yards in the process. Cirino's performance did not pale in comparison as he compiled nine tackles, highlighted by his first collegiate sack in the first quarter that caused a Pittsburgh fumble into the hands of BC teammate Frank Chamberlin.
"I think that when I play with Pedro, the excitement that we have feeds off each other, when he makes a big play I go over and congratulate him, and when I make a big play, he does the same," Hovan Says. "I just know that I can trust him and whatever happens, he's got the backfield, and if a receiver is going for a pass, he is going to be around to cause a big hit. I am hoping that I do that on the line, so it is kind of like a give-and-take relationship."
Although prestigious national awards have recognized the Eagle tandem in preseason lists, both players steer personal attention toward enlightenment of team accomplishments. Regardless, their individual accolades can't be ignored. Honored with an appearance on the preseason Playboy All-America Team, Hovan was also recently named a semifinalist for the Rotary Lombardi Award. He merited the candidacy for the Bronko Nagurski and Outland Trophy awards. The Jim Thorpe Award watch list for the country's best defensive back included Cirino.
The season is not finished by any means for these captains. The individual accolades were never enough, and however monumental BC's victory over Pitt, the duo knows that achieving respect exceeds a one-day or even one-game experience. Let's face it, football is a game-by-game season with more ups and downs than Disney World. And one week after reaching the peak of that roller coaster, emotions took a downward spiral with the Miami loss.
"Respect is something that you earn in life," Hovan says. "I think it is something to work for day in and day out, and that is how you earn it here. Respect is not handed to you, I think that you have to go through your life to earn it."
How does Hovan earn it? The old-fashioned way.
"I say that Chris is probably one of the hardest-working players I have ever been associated with in my 13 years of coaching," defensive line coach Mike London says. "He is dedicated to doing the things that are necessary to make himself a great player, from weightlifting to watching film to staying out and doing extra reps at practice."
Hovan's extraordinary work ethic, which often includes warfare with double-teaming offensive lines, does not fall too far from the tree. His mom, a secretary, and father, a truck driver, instilled pride in Hovan through their example, raising three kids in Rocky River, Ohio.
"I see them go to work every day in the morning and how hard they work and never come home to complain about it," he says. "They take pride in their work every day. Maybe it is something that they did not plan to do, maybe it is not what they wanted to do, but they did it every day, day in and day out, without complaining."
Cirino delineates a different illustration of respect. "Respect has a lot of meanings to me," he says. "Most importantly is having the guys you line up against accept you as a player, as a good athlete they would want to play with. That is the biggest thing. I want everyone I play against to wish I was on their team."
Defensive backfield coach Bob Shoop is glad Cirino chose BC four years ago. "Pedro is like a stick of dynamite, he is explosive, he makes the plays during the course of the game that really catch your eye," Shoop says. "He is a big hitter, he plays with a real sense of urgency. Pedro plays the game the way it is meant to be played, he gives 150% every single time that he steps onto the field. He plays with tremendous desire and tremendous heart. If I were in the battle, I would certainly want him on my side and not on the other side."
Although many challenges are ahead for the Boston College football team, much adversity has been left behind. Appropriately, two four-year seniors spearheaded an Eagle rise at the expense of a PITT-fall. For these seniors, whose BC road has, at times, been bumpy, Redemption Day was four quarters in the time but four years in the making.