Longing for the old days
Chesnut Hill, Mass.
To think it was but three years ago that the rainbow ride was just beginning, all the way to a December night in Tampa, where the swing of Dave Teggart's right leg produced a trip to the Bowl Championship Series and a slice of UConn sports history that came from nowhere.
To think it was but five years ago this weekend that Boston College played a game in this very stadium on a Saturday night, Brent Musburger in the house, as the No. 2 team college football team in the country.
To think it was New England, land of college football afterthoughts.
How did this get so bad?
Because loyalists of BC and UConn like to harrumph about how they share nothing except a healthy dose of contempt for one another. But they share this: the same sporting real estate on fall Saturdays. And they share this: what has morphed into a hideous college football season with a pair of sixty-something head coaches ducking the swooping vultures.
So here it was, a fall Saturday straight from a Rockwell painting, foliage in full resplendence around Alumni Stadium, a day of momentary reprieve on the Heights. BC engineered an 85-yard touchdown drive with time growing desperate and snapped a five-game losing streak with a 20-17 win over Maryland.
It was a 20-17 win over old friend Randy Edsall, too.
The same Randy Edsall who is the only man in America to be part of successful coaching staffs at BC and UConn. Edsall coached under Tom Coughlin at BC back in the days when the Eagles started denying Notre Dame national championships. He was the architect at UConn of the aforementioned trip to the Fiesta Bowl. And while he has been mocked here, there and everywhere else in our state, can you honestly watch the weekly bore-a-thons at Rentschler Field now and admit you don't miss him?
I called Edsall early last week to ask him how you recruit quality players to New England. Who would know better than he? He got them at BC. He got them at UConn. He didn't want to speak for the record. But his comments led to a week's worth of calls to other coaches on previous BC and UConn staffs - guys who won - and produced some noteworthy opinions.
"You've got to know what your niche is," one coach said. "At BC, you immerse yourself in Catholic schools all over the country and find those overachievers. Connecticut has to develop their niche and go find those kids who are overlooked with a chip on their shoulder. At least BC has Boston. Storrs has nothing."
The "overachiever" theme was unanimous among the coaches. Certainly, there's plenty of evidence. Matt Ryan, Doug Flutie, Donald Brown and Darius Butler didn't have all those self-important recruiting gurus hyperventilating.
"Those four- and five-star recruits are not going to Connecticut. They're just not. They're looking at warmer climates, bigger stadiums, more traditional programs," one coach said. "At BC, you've got an academic component. There are not a lot of Division I players in New England and when there are, bigger schools work at them to get them to leave."
Remember this little nugget, too, that Edsall told The Day's Chuck Banning over the summer:
"I say this with no disrespect to the state of Connecticut, but there's just not a lot of Division I football players in that state," he said. "Down here, there are some high schools where there's as many Division I players as there are in the entire state of Connecticut."
Which is why, as another coach said, the coaches at UConn and BC need a certain level of personality. Not necessarily a glibness for the cameras, but a rapport with the players that's apparent.
"Listen," one coach said, "I think the biggest problem at both schools is that you need people who have personality. Personalities that can draw interest. Spaz (BC coach Frank Spaziani) is 65. Paul is 63. It's hard enough to get kids to come to an area of the country where college football isn't part of the culture. But who are Spaziani and Pasqualoni going to inspire?"
Spaziani and Pasqualoni are good guys. It's hard not to like them. Spaziani's sense of humor is sharp as ever. During the "Eagle Walk" before Saturday's game, when the team walks a specific route among the fans, Spaziani told writer Mark Blaudschun that he was "wearing his Kevlar," alluding to the company that makes bulletproof vests.
And his team, despite playing Maryland and its fourth-string quarterback, rallied after yielding 17 unanswered points in the second half. BC managed to win its 77th game in the last 10 years. Only 24 teams have won more in that span.
But it's still a long way from the not-so old days.
And UConn? Please. The Huskies only scored 10 fewer points during this bye week than they scored last week at Syracuse.
Maybe things change for the better here in the northeast as quickly as they changed for the bad. Let's hope so. It's been the autumn of our discontent. Even for two schools who have nothing - and everything - in common.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.
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