'Holy War' still intense, despite struggling teams

Boston College fullback James McCluskey's best memory of playing Notre Dame is from 2008, when he broke his left fibula on the last play of the game with a minute left and had to be helped off the field by trainers.

Yes, that was his best memory. After all, BC won, 17-0.

As McCluskey said, the storied “Holy War” rivalry is “not just another game.”

“Even though I broke my leg, we won,” he said, “and I was happy to be a part of that.”

It doesn’t matter that Notre Dame is 1-3, or Boston College will be breaking in a new starting quarterback and coming off its first shutout at home in over a decade. Beating the Irish carries a lot of weight in Chestnut Hill -- so much so that McCluskey would rather break his leg and win than stay healthy and lose.

“Yeah,” he said, “I would.”

Boston College and Notre Dame are the only two Catholic universities to play football in the FBS. The Irish lead the series 10-9, but the Eagles have won six of the past seven games. Boston College is coming off a 19-0 loss to Virginia Tech, but there’s no time to sulk, as Notre Dame appears on the brink of turning things around under first-year coach Brian Kelly, who was born in Everett, Mass., and raised in Chelsea, Mass. Notre Dame is looking for its first win in Alumni Stadium since 1998.

“Every Sunday after practice we always tell each other once we walk off the field today, on Sunday, we say that game’s over with, let’s move on,” McCluskey said. “We can’t afford to waste any days at practice looking at it like, ‘Damn, I wish we’d won last week.’ We know how prepared we have to be, how important it is to get good days of practice in. For what we want to do, what our team goals are, it’s just as important as an ACC game even though it doesn’t have an effect on our chances to go to the ACC championship.”

It does have an effect on bragging rights. Boston College’s defense was able to force Virginia Tech to kick four field goals instead of scoring touchdowns, but will face one of the better passing offenses in the country on Saturday. No other Notre Dame quarterback has passed for more yards through his first four career starts than Dayne Crist, who has 1,155. The Irish are averaging 315.5 passing yards per game, but have lost three in a row to Michigan, Michigan State and No. 16 Stanford -- hardly a string of cupcakes.

“Despite their 1-3 record they’re a very good football team,” said coach Frank Spaziani. “They’re big, strong and fast and extremely well-coached. They have all the pieces to the puzzle, they just ran into a little bit of a buzz saw early on in a new regime. We’re looking for a very good football team to come in here, a very hungry team.”

Boston College safety Wes Davis, a native of San Diego, said he has embraced the rivalry and can sense how much it means to the fans and the students on campus.

“The students are a little more interested,” he said. “I think you’ll see some more butts in the seats before game time. This is my fifth year here. I know how it’s going to be, how excited people are for it. There’s definitely a different atmosphere, but from a team perspective it’s status quo.

“It would be ridiculous for us to say we’re preparing any different for Notre Dame than we did for Virginia Tech,” he said. “That would be asinine. I don’t think Notre Dame is doing that either. As a whole we respect how much our fans enjoy this atmosphere and the game. It means a lot to the folks here.”

It also means a lot to the players -- just ask McCluskey.