Boston College’s rivalry with Notre Dame is the modern “Holy War” of college football. But long before the Eagles and Irish began hooking up in 1975, BC had another Catholic opponent and one right in its own backyard. For the better part of the 20th century, Boston College and Holy Cross teed it up on either Thanksgiving Saturday or the week after and in its heyday this was a game the captured the attention of all New England.
Both schools started playing football in the late 19th century. Holy Cross began in 1884 and BC followed suit ten years later. By 1896 the Crusaders and Eagles were playing each other and were only rarely interrupted until the series was finally terminated ninety years later. Boston College, coached by John Dunlop had the better teams in the first few years of the rivalry won five straight. By 1901 though, the BC program fell into instability and the coaching changes were frequent. With names like Reilly, Kierney, McCarthy, Courtney and Mahoney dotting the list of BC coaches in short timeframe, one wonders if the school just grabbed whoever was manning the door at the Ancient Order of Hibernians and named him head football coach for the coming year.
It was 1915 when the series started being played over Thanksgiving weekend or the week after and in 1916 a bigger step forward occurred. Fenway Park hosted the ’16 game, won by the Crusaders, 17-14. From 1919 to 1938 the game was held on a neutral site in Boston every year, usually old Braves Field, where the city’s NL team and forerunner of today’s Atlanta Braves played baseball. The 1922 game drew 54,000 and it was a clear sign that for New England football fans, Boston College-Holy Cross was now the game that mattered.
A good rivalry requires back-and-forth, rather than dominance by one team and this one had that. In the 1919-38 timeframe, Boston College held a narrow 10-9-2 edge. The most notable game here came in 1931 when the schools played on Thanksgiving Day at Harvard Field. Mayor James Michael Curley, the “Mayor of the Poor”, arranged for the game to be played there, with the proceeds given to Boston’s unemployed during the Great Depression. Holy Cross won 7-6, but it was the greater cause that mattered most for this game.