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Glory days


I've never met David Gordon. If I did, I probably wouldn't recognize him. It was 14 years ago that Gordon, a walk-on senior at a nondescript Jesuit university in Eastern Massachusetts changed the college football landscape with one swing of his left leg, a 41-yard boot that gave Boston College a 41-38 victory over top-ranked Notre Dame.

I've met Larry Bird but there wouldn't be an ounce of truth to it if I said I knew him. As a teenager growing up in Boston in the 1990's, I remember Bird more for his creaky back than for his feathery jump shot. Still, my first memory of Bird was in 1992 when with a throbbing spine and an Achilles tendon about to snap he rang up 49 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists in a Celtics double-overtime victory over the Trail Blazers. It was a transcendent performance many had come to expect but I was just beginning to admire.

My lasting memory of Bird is a little different. In 1995, I was a fresh-faced teen who had just been handed his dream job: working as a ballboy for the Celtics. Bird was long since retired and had moved into a consultant role, an emeritus position that was created more to keep Bird's name in the media guide than anything else.

Still, Bird made the occasional appearances in the Celtics locker room. During one of those appearances I nearly knocked him to the floor. Boston point guard David Wesley had asked me to retrieve a pair of sneakers from his car. As I rushed out the door to retrieve them I barreled into Bird, who grabbed my arm as I continued to run by.

"Where you going kid?" asked Bird.

"David Wesley forgot his shoes," I stammered. "I'm going to his car to get them."

A slight frown creased Bird's face. "Tell David Wesley," he said. "He can get his own f------- shoes."

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Floored, I turned and walked back into the locker room and relayed Bird's message to Wesley.

"Larry said that?" he said as his face rapidly turned pale. It was as if the principal had just caught him smoking under the bleachers. I don't know what shoes Wesley wore that night, but I know I didn't get them for him and I'm pretty sure he didn't ask anyone else to either.

David Gordon and Larry Bird. Two men with nothing in common, save for forging my allegiance to the teams they played for. I can't remember a better time to be a fan of Boston College. In 1993 everyone thought Gordon's fateful boot would propel BC to new heights, but a week later the Eagles blew an 11-point lead to West Virginia and came crashing down to earth. In the subsequent years BC achieved a modicum of success, rattling off an NCAA best streak of six consecutive bowl game victories, albeit nondescript ones that no one has ever heard of.

But in a way, BC football has almost always let me down. In 2004, the Eagles were on the cusp of a Fiesta Bowl berth when an unranked Syracuse team riding a 10-game road losing streak walked into Chestnut Hill and administered a 43-17 whooping. That game was a microcosm for the what the program had become: they get you to the doorstep but won't get you through the door.

The Celtics wish they were so lucky. I never experienced the glory days of the Big Three, unless you're referring to the toothless troika of Brett Szabo, Marty Conlon and Frank Brickowski. I don't remember the day they raised the 15th banner but I was there when they finished the season with 15 wins. For Bostonians under the age of 30, the Celtics aren't the glorious franchise that won 16 titles in a 30-year span; they are the rag tag bunch that has made a trip to Secaucus a right of passage and can't catch a break once they get there.

Which is why for so many this season feels so special. Visions of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen keeping the Garden lights on deep into June dance in the heads of every fan walking down Causeway Street. Woe-is-me conversations about Tim Duncan, Rick Pitino and (at least for a few weeks) Greg Oden have been replaced by cocky smirks from fans that finally have a team worth rooting for.

Just a few miles down the road in Chestnut Hill the feeling is eerily similar. Those that lamented the defection of Tom O'Brien and panned BC's choice to replace him -- if you recall, many Eagles fans preferred former UMass coach and Steelers assistant Mark Whipple to Jeff Jagodzinski -- now embrace the man known as Jags and have a renewed optimism for the future.

What's not to love about the Eagles and Celtics? Nothing. And ask yourself this: How can you not embrace a pair of teams that have God and a leprechaun on their side?