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Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2005 - 1:34 p.m.

Notre Dame and Boston College: Now a true rivalry

Last night, Notre Dame-Boston College officially became a rivalry, in the truest sense of the word.

There are many who will argue that it has been for some time. ESPN is one of them, putting the men's basketball between the two schools last night into its lineup during Rivalry Week. The R-word has come up every time the two schools have met on the football field since at least 1994, but until the previous year, it hadn't been much of one.

Most people consider a rivalry a matchup between two foes who face each other regularly, even often, if the sport allows for it. But there are some (Yankee fans, usually) who argued the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry wasn't a great one because one team always came out ahead in the end. Clearly, that's changed. There is a point to that, though. Over the years, the Red Sox fans have placed more on beating the Yankees than Yankee fans had on beating the Red Sox. Even now, four months after Boston completed the greatest postseason comeback in sports history, there are still a lot of Yankee fans who will claim that losing a 3-0 lead in the ALCS to Boston still isn't as painful as losing a one-run lead to Arizona in the ninth inning of Game 7 in 2001.

When it came to Notre Dame-Boston College, those in Chestnut Hill placed more emphasis on the annual football game than the Domers, in part, I surmise, because it was their biggest game of the year. Notre Dame has several each fall: Michigan and USC just about each and every season, and the likes of Florida State, Texas or Nebraska filling out the schedule. BC, however, had more reason to emphasize it because their wins, when they came, were often monumental. (At least they used to be.) In 1993, 16th-ranked BC took out an undefeated and No. 1 Irish team in South Bend. In 2002, they again tagged the first loss on (this time No. 4) Notre Dame, again in the House that Rockne Built.

Notre Dame never had that chance. There has yet to be a football game between the two schools where an Irish win would be considered a major upset, or a devastating loss for the Eagles. BC's wins have always been bigger because they were. The schools first played in Foxboro in 1975, then in the 1983 Liberty Bowl and again in 1987 in South Bend � all Irish victories. The series truly started at Notre Dame in 1992. Overall, Notre Dame has a 9-7 edge, but in those nine wins, six were by a ranked Irish team facing an unranked Eagles team, one was between two unranked teams and one was a matchup of the No. 8 Notre Dame team vs. the No. 9 Boston College team (a 54-7 Irish win in 1992). BC has never been ranked higher in a matchup with Notre Dame than that No. 9 ranking 13 years ago, and has only been ranked facing the Irish four times in 16 games (going 2-2). Notre Dame just hasn't had an opportunity to give the Eagles a loss that could even come close to the 2002 defeat, let alone the 1993 one. An argument could be made for the 1983 Liberty Bowl � the year before Doug Flutie won the Heisman � when unranked Notre Dame (6-5 coming in) beat No. 13 Boston College (9-2 before the game) 19-18. But that loss didn't derail an undefeated season or a run at the national championship for Boston College, and the fact that it was in a bowl game diminishes the magnitude of the upset, because you expect a bowl opponent to be somewhat formidable.

Last night, the Irish basketball team was able to deliver a significant upset, the first time the Indiana institution really stuck it to the Massachusetts one. The basketball history between the two Catholic schools dates back to the 60s, with the Irish now 11-10 against the Eagles. BC has come in with a No. 23 ranking in 1996-97 (they won 73-61) and a No. 9/10 ranking (in the two polls) in 2000-01 and lost to No. 18 ND 76-75. But no Irish win in football, basketball or each of the last two seasons against a No. 1 BC hockey team has had the impact of this one: An undefeated, No. 4-ranked Eagles team that was off to the best start in Big East history and both the highest ranking and the longest winning streak in school history. They were one of two schools left with an unblemished record, and they got a lot of press for it. Now ND's getting the pub.

BC backers will say things like what matters is March, a loss now is better than in either of the tournaments (league or national), and that they're still in first place in the conference. All of which are true, and important (particularly the last one). But you know it burns them up that the first loss came at the hands of the Irish. They could've lived with it better had it been to, say, Syracuse, Pittsburgh or Villanova, but to Notre Dame? Big OUCH.

It was only Saturday, three days before last night's game, that BC put away Seton Hall to get to 20-0, so the university put together this shirt:

This morning, this one was available through the Notre Dame sports website:

I can't be sure of this, but I'd say that it's the first University of Notre Dame-sanctioned shirt addressing an Irish victory between the two schools.

Because now it's a true rivalry.

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