It’s been called the “Holy War.”
Boston College and Notre Dame, the two most prominent football programs at Catholic universities, face off for the 25th time on Saturday.
Although the rivalry is relativity young, the Boston College Eagles met the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame for the first time in 1975, their common heritage gives the contest a unique angle.
“I just think it lends itself to a natural rivalry kind of game,” Boston College Head Coach Steve Addazio said at a press conference this week.
Addazio, who served as an assistant coach at Notre Dame for two years, noted that both schools prioritize values not common among Division I football institutions.
“You’re talking about placing tremendous emphasis on academics, and scholarship, and faith, and character and all those things that go into making these two Catholic institutions elite,” Addazio said.
Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly lauded his opponent’s consistent preparation ahead of the matchup.
“They will be ready to come here and play their very best. They always do,” he said. “They’re always very difficult games.”
Kelly’s words might trigger unhappy memories for Notre Dame fans, who have watched the Eagles snap unbeaten records for the Irish during previous November meetings.
The most famous late season upset occurred in 1993. Notre Dame entered the game as the top-ranked team in the country, having beaten previous number one Florida State the week before. Expecting a relatively easy win over a 12th-ranked Boston College team with two losses, Notre Dame fell behind the Eagles early in the game, only to come back and take the lead with one-minute remaining. That was too much time for Boston College, though, who drove and kicked a field goal at the last second to secure a 41-39 win.
History seemed to repeat itself nine years later when Boston College once again came to South Bend after a big Irish win over Florida State. Both teams fought a defensive battle, but numerous mistakes earned the Irish their first loss of the season. Members of the ecstatic Eagles squad stormed the field after the game and tore up grass in the end zone as a souvenir for their trip back east.
In more recent encounters, though, the Irish have prevailed. Notre Dame holds a 15-9 lead in the series and has won the last six installments. The last clash between the teams was in 2017 at Boston College, when the Irish ran down the Eagles 49-20.
This year, 15th-ranked Notre Dame already has two losses, but hasn’t lost at home since September 2017. Boston College, meanwhile, hopes to earn a spot in a post-season bowl game after a mediocre season that has left them with a 5-5 record.
The game will draw around 85,000 fans to South Bend, a Notre Dame spokesperson told Crux.
However, Father Brian Daley will skip the bleachers to watch the game on television. The Jesuit priest and former trustee at Boston College now teaches theology at Notre Dame. Daley told Crux he would cheer for Notre Dame, where he has lived and worked for the past 23 years, but said he was “proud that BC has done so well.”
The winner of the rivalry game takes home two trophies: The Frank Leahy Memorial and Ireland trophies. Awarded by the Notre Dame Club of Boston and Notre Dame Student Government respectively, they acknowledge the shared legacies of the universities; Frank Leahy served as head coach of both football programs, and both schools famously educated Irish Catholic immigrants.
Addazio appreciates the rivalry fostered by overlap between the schools, but he also noted the example it provides for college football.
“Watching student-athletes that come to get an elite education, come to be able to grow in their faith, I think is one of the coolest things that’s in college athletics today,” he said.