Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bleachers Archive: Eagle Go Bragh

Back in my college days I used to write a sometimes syndicated column called the Bleachers (the syndications outlet being The Heights so, clearly these are titles I gave them). This game came up in a conversation with a Notre Dame fan last night and I thought I would just throw it up there. Mind you, it's a few years old and I haven't updated it since then, so apologize the anachronistic mindset.

My writing style was still a little rough back then but, hey, you have to start somewhere. This is also a stall because I have promised my co-author that I'd have two more conference previews up by the end of the weekend. So, look for my Big Ten and Big 12 previews by Monday(ish).

One of the teams was nationally ranked in the top twenty. As a quote from the Boston Globe read the Monday after the game, "There was no time to watch the horror film of Saturday's 45-20 loss to Syracuse . No time to mourn. No time to be miserable."

17 years ago, though, there was no Fiesta Bowl potentially awaiting either participant. Syracuse was charging through what ultimately wound up to be an immensely successful 10-2 season. The Orange left Chestnut Hill that Saturday, nationally ranked and well respected. The Eagles, though, were obliterated. There was lots of good news on the horizon.

To begin with, Mark Kamphaus, the quarterback slated to lead the Eagles through a victorious season, was finally returning from 7 weeks of recovery following a broken jaw against Texas Christian earlier in the season. It was possible that he would have been able to play in that Syracuse game, but, Coach Jack Bicknell opted to give the Upperclassmen the week to rest against Army.

Save Holy Cross (82 games), BC has played more games against Army then any other non-conference opponent. In 34 games, the Eagles carry a .647 winning percentage, having outscored Army by a total 154 points in 22 wins. They've lost once to the Cadets since 1986. But, of all these games, none is more memorable than a very special game in 1988.

No one celebrates 17th anniversaries, but, come this fall, that's exactly how long it had been since the Emerald Isle Classic took place, the first ever Division I-A game to be played in Ireland. It was a regular season showdown between the disappointing Eagles (2-8) and the dominant Cadets (8-1). All anyone could talk about the week before was how BC would get trashed, exhibited by their defeat at the hands of the Orange 's running game the previous Saturday. Army's ground attack was even better, averaging 370.9 rushing yards a game through the old fashioned Wishbone set.

The inclusion of BC in the Classic was meant to be a gift from Ireland to commemorate the rich Irish tradition of the University. Marking the 125th anniversary of the school's inception, the school has always had rich ties to the Irish communities of Boston . The five Jesuit priests who opened the school in 1863 were aiming their education at the children of Irish Immigrants who were not getting the chance at other Boston schools (*COUGH* HARVARD). It had been established well before the beginning of the season, and BC's unexpected floundering looked to be bad news for the competitive nature of the game.

This game was slated to be a slaughter, a bore, and the Eagles would be the victim. Dublin 's Lansdowne Road Stadium was ready to become a graveyard. The Irish fans who filled the stadium to capacity knew little of the American sport, except, as many records show, they loved the tradition of the Wave.

Some accounts show how much the BC Players loved Ireland as well. It wasn't like Coach Bicknell gave the players full reign over their evenings, but the team had the opportunity to go out, enjoy the Irish traditions. The stories of the players themselves include all sorts of shenanigans, including junior Fullback, Ed Toner, who offered up a stirring rendition of "Feelings." Jim Biestek and Mark Murphy, two members of the team, recalled in a Commentary for the Heights, "There was nary a dry eye in the house. Long and loud was the ovation for Ed, and deserved it was."

Other writers talk about the overwhelming generosity of the players: always willing to socialize with the Irish people, sign autographs for kids, give away equipment. These were not just guys going through Dublin from pub to pub, but acting as responsible Americans and complete BC students. Even their peers were raving about how well the team represented the school.

What happened on the field is only one of the many highlights of the weekend. The Eagles broke through on offense and shut down the highly-touted Army run game. Kamphaus returned, completed 15 of 20 passes for 194 yards and added one score on the ground. The defense continually prevented the Army offense from getting anything going. All the statistics aside, the 38-24 victory meant much more than just another W in the win column.

BC would never see that side of the table again, and would finish the season the next week with a 20-point loss in Philadelphia to Temple. But, for one weekend, they showed exactly why BC was worthy of a trans-Atlantic flight. They played like they were the best team in the country. And, for one weekend in Dublin, Ireland, that's exactly what they were.

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