These Eagles Could Land In A Bowl
Nov. 9, 1999
By HOWARD ULMAN
BOSTON (AP) - Doug Flutie left Boston College 15 years ago after winning the Heisman Trophy. Tom Coughlin left as coach six years ago after two straight bowl games.
So much for the highlights of the past two decades.
Now the Eagles are 6-2 with a good chance to end the '90s with their first postseason game since the 1994 Aloha Bowl. A win at home over West Virginia (3-6) on Saturday should do it.
The Mountaineers lost 22-20 to No. 2 Virginia Tech on a last-play field goal last Saturday. The Eagles are rested, coming off a bye week.
"As I said to them Sunday, it's exciting," BC coach Tom O'Brien said. "It's November now and we're playing for something."
Back in 1996, it was much different. Coach Dan Henning wasn't a stern disciplinarian. Late in the season, the gambling scandal broke.
"I think every guy who came in with me (in 1996) was really nervous about whether we would ever go to a bowl game considering the way things started for us," quarterback Tim Hasselbeck said.
"I contemplated transferring because it was so bad," said Cedric Washington, BC's leading rusher. "Growing up as a kid in Massachusetts, I watched Flutie and I watched all the good players come through here. I kind of wondered where that went."
The turnaround began with the hiring of Virginia offensive coordinator O'Brien. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he brought discipline.
BC endured consecutive 4-7 seasons before breaking through this year despite the loss of quarterback Scott Mutryn, running back Mike Cloud and the top five receivers.
"He's a very calm and cool coach," said defensive tackle Chris Hovan, BC's top pro prospect. "He believes in us and he trusts us to get the job done."
The Eagles have held up under pressure, winning four games by four points or less.
"We came into this year talking about our mental toughness, our will to win, hanging in there and playing 60 minutes," O'Brien said. "I think we've done that."
Unlike Dan Henning's final team, which lost four of its last five games, the current Eagles - none of whom has had a winning season or played in a bowl game - have a reputation for hard work.
"I was amazed at the number of guys that just didn't care," Hasselbeck said of his first BC team. "There were some guys in my class saying, `we've got to stop this. We can't have it be like this.'
"It was almost uncool to work hard and to try to get better," he said. "Now it's uncool not to work hard."
The Eagles' first six games this season were the easiest - Baylor, Navy, Rutgers, Northeastern, Temple and Pittsburgh. They went 5-1, slipping only at Temple.
BC won the first three games last year, too, then lost six in a row.
"We're just more mature," Washington said. "We knew that we couldn't let up like we did last year. We know that we can't take the next three games lightly."
The last five games on the schedule are the toughest - Miami and Syracuse, followed by West Virginia, Notre Dame and Virginia Tech.
BC stunned Miami, going out to a 28-0 lead late in the third quarter before losing 31-28.
"Whenever you lose a game that close you worry about the weeks to come, as far as a test of character," linebacker Frank Chamberlin said.
The Eagles passed the test, winning at 24th-ranked Syracuse 24-23 as Chamberlin stopped Syracuse one yard short of a first down that would have set up a late field-goal attempt.
"The last two games have shown us we have the confidence that we can go in any game and win," said Chamberlin, who had 25 tackles against Syracuse.
With three games left against strong teams, a sweep is highly unlikely. But, with this BC team, it wouldn't be a shock.
"I knew that somewhere down the line, coach O'Brien was going to have this program turned around," Washington said. "I'm glad I stayed here."