For BC students, it is a lesson they learn well within the first month or so of school. Sometimes, if they're lucky, their dreams don't die until Parents' Weekend rolls around in October.
BC will break your heart.
Everyone knows that the Red Sox of old had a habit of creating and executing the world's most painful — yet innovative — ways to lose, but it isn't a long shot to say that they learned all of their tricks from those mighty BC Eagles.
But what made this decade special was that for the first time since 1984, there were more, "Can you believe it?" moments than, "I'm hibernating until summer" moments.
In this decade, BC finally started chipping away at its image as a lovable loser. The basketball team learned how to be something other than a perpetual embarrassment, the football team was consistently in contention for a BCS bowl, there was that whole Matt Ryan thing, and the Eagles proved they could hang with the big boys in the ACC.
Sure, there was plenty of heartbreak, but this decade, the top 10 defining moments of BC sports weren't all about losing.
There's something to be said for that.
10. Troy Bell and Al Skinner tag team to completely revamp Boston College basketball
In the 1999-2000 season, the Eagles finished 11-19 overall. They buried themselves in the cellar of the Big East standings. Their fans saw just two conference wins at home. And forget about the NCAA tournament — dreams of the NIT seemed lofty.
The next year, the Eagles went from worst to first, going 27-4 and manhandling Pittsburgh in the Big East championship. They got snubbed by the NCAA selection committee and received a lowly No. 3 seed along with a tough road to the Final Four (and ended up losing to Southern Cal in the second round), but the groundwork was laid for success.
A then-sophomore phenom named Troy Bell was the first in a long line of bona fide BC game-changers. Bell was that one offensive spark plug who could single-handedly dominate an entire defense, who consistently scored 20 points a game, who was a menace to the rest of the league but a royal blessing to the BC faithful. He even graced the cover of ESPN The Magazine as one of Dick Vitale's "Hyper Dandies" before his junior season. He was named Big East Player of the Year twice (although he shared one of those honors with Notre Dame's Troy Murphy), he set BC's all-time career points record with 2,632 and, let's face it, he made Al Skinner look really, really good.
These days, it's a shock when BC doesn't compete for an NCAA tournament bid. It's a shock when BC can't contend with Duke or North Carolina. But remember, once upon a time, it was a shock when BC could contend with Rutgers and Seton Hall.
Before Troy Bell, BC basketball was a joke. He changed everything.
9. The Sean Williams Saga
Troy Bell was a natural talent on the hardwood. Sean Williams was a natural talent times a million. For a BC fan base that was accustomed to the likes of goofy "big men" like Nate Doornekamp and Brian Ross, Sean Williams was a godsend. He was a freakishly athletic shot-blocking machine, someone who could finally compete with the freakishly athletic talent for which the ACC is famous. He was a rare commodity at BC, a school that was accustomed to cultivating those diamond-in-the-rough types (like Craig Smith and Jared Dudley) and hoping they'd eventually blossom. Williams was the real deal, the X factor, the difference between a bubble team and a Final Four contender. (See below for more on that.)
But off the court, Williams was a disaster. He reportedly went through a slew of issues with the Boston College Police Department before suffering two suspensions, one of which came early in his junior season. Once he got back on the court, though, he began putting up ridiculous numbers — numbers that suggested he was a good bet to break the all-time single-season shot-blocking record. In 15 games during his truncated junior season, he blocked 75 shots.
Then, on Jan. 17, 2007, Williams was dismissed from the team because of a violation of team conduct. A team that had once been a favorite to win the ACC — and a team that had remained undefeated in conference play up to that point — suddenly became a long shot for March Madness. Sean Williams really meant that much to the team.
Many have criticized BC for dismissing a player of William's caliber instead of overlooking his transgressions in favor of his immense talent. But BC has always been tough on players who don't respect the rules, and the institution can't really be faulted for that.
Still, though — it's nice to dream, isn't it?
8. Two losses to Harvard in two years
There is a reason BC basketball schedules opponents like Harvard early on in the season: because BC is supposed to beat teams like Harvard. Handily. Without even trying. Harvard is supposed to make BC's record nice and plump by the time conference play rolls around. History, after all, is on the Eagles' side: In 16 matchups between the two squads prior to 2009, BC was 15-1.
Then, all hell broke loose.
It was Jan. 8, 2009. The Eagles had just knocked off No. 1 North Carolina on the road, they were ranked for the first time in a long, long time and they were the talk of the college basketball nation — and then they lost to Harvard, at home, by 12. It was never even close.
Harvard had never even beaten a ranked team. Ever. That day, BC gave a new definition to the word embarrassing.
Less than a year later, on Dec. 9, 2009, it all happened all over again. The Crimson marched into Conte Forum and took down the Eagles once again.
Hopefully, 2009 was just a weird year for the Eagles. Hopefully, when Crimson phenom Jeremy Lin — who scored 52 points against the Eagles in the two contest — graduates, things will go back to normal. But just in case, BC might want to consider filling in a new opponent — Brown, maybe? — in 2010.
7. Beating Duke and North Carolina in 2009
For every debilitating loss, there is an exhilirating win — and no team proved that quite as well as the 2008-09 Eagles, who knocked off both of the North Carolina powerhouses in one season.
When BC faced UNC, the Eagles were unranked, they didn't have any quality wins and nobody expected them to have any shot of taking down the No. 1 Tar Heels at the Dean Smith Center. When BC went into halftime with a lead, nobody thougth anything of it; lots of underdogs could hang tough during the first half before flopping within the first four minutes of the second. It came down to the wire, but BC did it, defeating Roy Williams' squad on the road, 85-78. Tyrese Rice, who had never beaten Duke or UNC, finally exorcised his demons after hanging 46 points on the Tar Heels the previous season, but somehow failing to get a win.
Then, about a month later, Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils visited Conte Forum and got a look at a squad that desperately needed a statement win to keep its NCAA tournament dreams alive. Not only did the Eagles win, but they did it with four guards on the floor for the final six minutes of the game. They did it with sophomore Biko Paris running the point instead of Tyrese Rice. And most importantly, they finally beat Duke — finally — for the first time since 1985. UNC may have been ranked higher, but beating Duke meant more. It marked the end of decades of futility, of coming this close, but being unable to finish.
Plus, afterward, Jared Dudley helped BC fans rush the court. That was special.
6. BC extends bowl game winning streak to eight
Before "that gem in Nashville," as a dear friend likes to call it, BC was pretty much a lock in bowl games. True, the Eagles' bowl games were never really much to brag about — the MPC Computers Bowl, the Continental Tire Bowl, the Meineke Car Care Bowl and the likes don't really get the nation fawning — but when you miss a BCS bid by one win almost every year, your team needs something to play for. And in BC's case, it played for the bowl game winning streak, even if it was in Boise or Detroit or Timbuktu.
Until they lost to Vanderbilt in a 14-10 Music City Bowl stinker on the last day of 2008, the Eagles had reeled off eight consecutive bowl game wins, and the last two — wins over Michigan State in the Champs Sports Bowl and Navy in the Meineke Car Care Bowl — were feel-good nail-biters that helped carry over the momentum into the next season.
5. BC's inagural ACC football game
BC's first-ever game as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference came against Florida State on Sept. 17, 2005. ESPN's College Gameday was in town, the Eagles had wins over BYU and Army under their belts and they knew they were facing a big test in Bobby Bowden's squad. But it didn't matter. Excitement was at an all-time high, BC had a veteran quarterback and a veteran coach and the Eagles were ready to prove they could succeed in the big, bad ACC.
Unfortunately, they didn't prove much at all.
In the first seven seconds of the game, BC fell behind 7-0 after the Seminoles' A.J. Nicholson returned an interception 19 yards for a touchdown. The Noles tacked on another score five minutes later before BC staged a 17-point comeback to take the lead at halftime. But those were the only points the Eagles would score, as they were shut out in the second half and lost their inaugural ACC game 28-17.
The defining moment of the matchup came with about four minutes left in the fourth quarter, when BC faced first-and-goal from the 2-yard line and failed to score on six — six — opportunities. Six opportunities to score a touchdown from two yards out and the Eagles got nothing. They turned the ball over on downs and got a very unfriendly welcome to their new conference.
Fortunately, the future held better things.
4. The emergence of Jeff Jagodzinski and Matt Ryan, plus BC's national championship chase in 2007
Anyone who saw Matt Ryan throw two touchdowns in the final 2:30 to lead BC to a come-from-behind victory over Wake Forest in the rain in 2005 knew he was something special. He solidified those sentiments in 2007, when he became a legitimate finalist for the Heisman Trophy after leading BC to eight consecutive wins to kick off the season under first-year head coach Jeff Jagodzinski.
Jags was hired after Tom O'Brien defected for North Carolina State after 10 seasons at the Heights. It was a huge slap in the face; not only did O'Brien leave for another team in the conference, but he left for another team in BC's division in the conference. Why'd he leave? Because he felt his Eagles could consistently win eight games, but that was their ceiling. They couldn't do any better.
BC got the best revenge possible when it went 9-3 in Jagodzinski's first season, earning a trip to the ACC championship game while O'Brien and his Wolfpack floundered in Raleigh. In 2007, BC saw its ranking climb as high as No. 2 and was a contender for the BCS national championship until losing to Florida State in the first week of November. Ryan passed for over 350 yards in three of his first four games that year, working himself into the Heisman conversation as BC kept winning.
Although BC missed out on a BCS bid when it lost to Virginia Tech in the conference championship game, it beat Michigan State in the Champs Sports Bowl and Ryan became the highest NFL draft pick in BC history when the Atlanta Falcons took him with the No. 3 pick.
Together, Ryan and Jagodzinski established BC as the unlikely team to beat in the ACC's Atlantic division, and Ryan established himself as the best thing to happen to BC since Doug Flutie. Of course, the BC-Jagodzinski marriage ended abruptly and unpleasantly when he was fired for interviewing with the Jets after his second season — but just like Al Skinner did with the basketball team, he helped the gridiron gang reach new heights and finally helped the Eagles gain some much-needed national respect.
3. The loss to Villanova in the 2006 NCAA tournament
This brings us to one of the biggest "this can't be happening!" moments of the decade. When you think about the staring lineup Al Skinner had in the 2006 tournament — Louis Hinnant, Craig Smith, Jared Dudley, Sean Marshall and Sean Williams, with Tyrese Rice as the sixth man — it's hard to believe anyone in the ACC could beat them. Barely anyone could. The Eagles lost by two points in overtime to Duke in the ACC championship that year. So it makes sense that the New York Times would pick BC to win it all in March Madness. (No, that's not a typo.)
After barely escaping an upset bid by Pacific in the first round and prevailing in double overtime, BC took care of Montana before earning a Sweet 16 matchup with former Big East nemesis and top-seeded Villanova. BC went into halftime with a four-point lead before letting Jay Wright's Wildcats send things into overtime — and that's when it happened.
BC was up by one with three seconds left when Will Sheridan somehow found himself wide open right under the hoop. He took an inbounds pass, put it up, and Williams blocked it.
The refs blew the whistle, called goaltending, and that was the game: 60-59, Villanova.
It was, by a mile, BC's most disappointing basketball loss of the decade, if only because expectations were so, so high that year and BC was so close to fulfilling them.
It becomes even more painful when you consider what BC's road to the Final Four would have been: The Eagles would have faced Florida in the Elite Eight, and if they had gotten past the Gators (who went on to win the title), they would have faced George Mason in the Final Four. George Mason would have stood in between BC and the NCAA championship game.
2. The Virginia Tech comeback in 2007
Every Heisman candidate needs a Heisman moment, and this was Matt Ryan's. On a Thursday night on which it was raining so hard it felt like the apocalypse was coming, the No. 2 Eagles put their 7-0 record on the line in Blacksburg, Va. Things were not looking good. With two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, BC had failed to score and found itself down 10-0. Because the Red Sox were playing in Game 1 of the World Series, the fan base had something else to turn its attention to — but when this one was over, everyone wished they hadn't changed the channel.
Matt Ryan engineered what was possibly the greatest comeback in the history of BC sports (aside from that whole Miracle in Miami thing), hitting Rich Gunnell with his first touchdown at the 2:11 mark. The Eagles went for the onside kick, somehow recovered it, and with 11 seconds remaining in the game, Ryan hit a wide-open Andre Callender in the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown pass (and Kirk Herbstreit almost passed out in the booth).
Then, Matt Ryan tackled Jeff Jagodzinski and puked all over the sideline.
The Hokies would get their revenge in the ACC championship game, but it didn't matter. Forget the implications on BC's record or its bowl chances; that was the moment both Ryan and Jagodzinski cemented themselves in the BC history books.
1. Men's ice hockey wins the national title
Hockey has always been BC's best hope at national supremacy. The program is the Duke or the North Carolina of college hockey. If there is a year the Eagles don't compete for the big prize (like in 2009), it is an anomaly.
For three years, the Eagles came close. Tantalizingly close. And then, in 2008, they helped the university win a championship in something other than sailing.
In 2006, BC met Wisconsin in the Frozen Four finals and lost 2-1 on a night when Cory Schneider made 37 saves. In 2007, history seemed to repeat itself: The Eagles once again earned a trip to the finals, but this time, they lost to Michigan State 3-1. After that, Schneider — probably the best BC goaltender in recent memory — defected for the NHL, leaving Jerry York with a freshman netminder named John Muse, a Hobey Baker candidate in Nathan Gerbe and a dimming hope of getting over that hurdle and winning when it counts.
The Eagles got the job done in 2008, prevailing over Notre Dame in an on-ice Holy War to take home the title for the first time since 2001. Gerbe, in his final season at BC, scored five goals in the last two games and earned tournament MVP honors.
Third time's a charm, I guess.
Now go watch BC take on USC in the Emerald Bowl and hope they end the decade on a high note.
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