Holy War Week: The Boston College - Notre Dame Rivalry And The Significance of November 20

Jackson Thompson

November 20, 1993: Boston College head coach Tom Coughlin leads the Eagles into South Bend, Indiana against undefeated No. 2 Notre Dame.

What was at stake on this day?

It was the eighteenth birthday of the Boston College, Notre Dame rivalry. For the Irish, an opponent they had never lost to was the last hurdle separating them from a chance at cementing the latest legend in their storied history.

A win over the Eagles, whom they had beaten in the first four meetings between the only Catholic Division 1 college football programs, would vault Notre Dame into the nation’s top rank, and secure its spot as a national championship contender.

Then, one game turned into one minute. After a 22-point fourth-quarter comeback gave the Irish a 39-38 lead, Notre Dame was 1:04 from a win that would echo through the Basilica of the Sacred Heart for decades. But what happens in one minute, can take a lifetime to undo.

David Gordon, a senior walk-on kicker who missed a game-winning field goal in week two, stood at the Irish 31-yard line with seconds left on the clock, and waited for a snap that would change the course of football history.

“I never even saw it go through.” Gordon said according to the Boston Globe.

But thousands of Notre Dame fans, a national audience, the referees and even the mascot, Touchdown Jesus, all saw what Gordon had just done on this date 26 years ago.

The ball went through the uprights as time expired and Boston College defeated Notre Dame for the first time in program history, 41-39.

What happened next?

Coughlin never won another regular season game with the Eagles. He left after that season and later began his head coaching tenure in the NFL, a tenure that would eventually culminated in another miraculous victory over an undefeated team in Super Bowl 42.

Meanwhile, for Notre Dame, the Gordon kick plummeted the Irish into an 18-year stretch that saw seven different head coaches and not a single national championship appearance.

But for the most part, Notre Dame was able to maintain its winning ways against Boston College. Side from a 30-11 Eagles win one year after the Gordon kick, the Irish started another four-game winning streak in the rivalry, beating the Eagles every year from 1995-1998.

And once again, Boston College would have to break that streak, and alter the course of history on November 20.

November 20, 1999: 20 years ago today, the Eagles were not playing to merely spoil the glory of their opponents, they were playing to bury them.

A Notre Dame loss to Boston College would make the Irish bowl-ineligible for the first time since 1986. Meanwhile, the Eagles were looking to get back to their first bowl in four years, and a win would secure their spot.

It was not a rare scenario for the two programs. They frequently met in late-season matchups with bowl implications at stake. But, the one rarity of this game is that it was the first time in the history of the rivalry that Boston College played as the favorite.

In each of the past 10 meetings to that point, the Irish always sported the better record and the higher ranking, but this time, the Eagles had the advantage in both measures.

No. 25 Boston College entered the game with a record of 7-3, while unranked Notre Dame came in stumbling at 5-5. It was a miserable season by Irish standards, and a resurgent one for the Eagles who were finally breaking out of the four-year rut left by Coughlin’s departure.

But, by act of fate, Notre Dame yielded the same opportunity to knock off their favored rival the same way Boston College had done so to them six years earlier. Trailing by two, the Irish got the ball back with 2:18 left, and a chance at a winning field goal to extend their streak over the Eagles to five straight wins and reverse the fortunes of the two contrasting seasons.

And fate acted, but once again, in favor of Boston College. Notre Dame quarterback Jarious Jackson threw an interception on the second play of that drive to wrap up a 31-29 Eagles victory.

The win would be a harbinger for the next decade of the rivalry, as Boston College won six of the next seven meetings in the new millennium.

The next decade truly reflected the circumstances of that game, as Notre Dame declined from a consistent powerhouse to an inconsistent, upper-middle-tier bowl contending program.

Boston College on the other hand, thrived in the decade of the 2000s, reaching a bowl game every year of the decade and AP rankings as high as No. 2.

The decade since has seen a reversal of fortunes however, as Notre Dame is riding a six-game winning streak against the Irish, the longest in the rivalries’ history.

The two haven’t played on November 20 since the 1999 game, but exactly two decades later, the Eagles prepare for a game in South Bend under similar circumstances as the last two games on this date.

This decade’s final installment of The Holy War will see Boston College look to snap their longest losing streak in this series, in a game that will go a long way in determining the Eagles’ bowl eligibility, the fate of their coach and if history is any indication, the course of the next decade. 

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