The college football season is underway and nobody cares in New England.
OK, I'm exaggerating. There are plenty of parents and girlfriends of local college gridders to care about the football fortunes of Boston College, UMass, UConn, Harvard and Holy Cross.
But outside of New York City it would be hard to find a place more apathetic toward college football.
Too bad. The college game was practically invented in the northeast and greater Boston today is the home of more colleges and universities than any place in America. It's just that we don't have much modern football around here and there aren't many fans who care. We are a pro sports town and it's almost impossible for big programs from BC and UConn to get any ink or airtime. College football is way down the food chain on our sports smorgasbord.
Three years ago Boston College's team was ranked second in the nation for two weeks, but hardly anybody in New England noticed. The region at that time was consumed by the Red Sox surge toward a second World Championship, and the Patriots March toward 18-0 and a Super Bowl date in Glendale, Ariz.
The story of BC linebacker Mark Herzlich is one of the most uplifting sagas in the nation. Herzlich was ACC defensive player of the year in 2008 and would have been a top NFL selection if he had declared for the draft. Herzlich opted to stay in school and return for his senior year, but everything changed when he was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare bone cancer, in the spring of 2009. While his teammates played the 2009 season, Herzlich underwent treatment and came around for moral support. Now he's back on the field and Saturday he made five tackles in a 38-20 victory over Weber State.
On October 2, Boston College will play host to Notre Dame and the whole world will hear about the Mark Herzlich story. Too bad New England sports fans will be consumed with the moribund Red Sox playing at Fenway against the Yankees and the Patriots gearing up for a massive Monday night game against the division-rival Miami Dolphins.
That's just the way it goes. We are a professional sports town.
Ask Rick Pitino about those crowds he used to draw on Commonwealth Ave. when he coached the Boston University Terriers. Or check with John Calipari and ask him how hard it was to get support in Amherst when he took UMass to the Final Four. Boston has been the home of the NCAA hockey champion for the last three years (two for BC, one for BU), but the collegiate game generates zero buzz on local sports radio and television.
Which explains why nobody in Boston is looking forward to Penn State-Alabama or Miami-Ohio State on TV this weekend. It's all about the Patriots opening against the Bengals and the Red Sox annual elimination party.
The University of Connecticut football team played at Michigan in front of 113,090 Saturday. In Sunday's Boston Globe, UConn's 30-10 loss was covered with a wire service report leading the "New England Football Roundup" on the 14th page of the sports section. The UConn coverage was on the same page with the game story detailing UMass' 27-23 victory over William & Mary. Holy Cross' 38-7 victory over Howard got two paragraphs of coverage.
Would you believe that Holy Cross once played in the Orange Bowl (1946)? Up until the 1970s, the Crusaders regularly scheduled Syracuse, Penn State, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Army and Boston College. Now they're playing Howard.
Way back in the day, both Harvard (1920) and Brown (1916) played in the Rose Bowl. That's like finding out that Vince Lombardi played at Fordham or that the Boston College-Holy Cross game was once so big they had to play it at Fenway Park.
Boston College has played in bowl games for 11 consecutive seasons, but few are impressed with appearances in B-line bowl games sponsored by car parts. It's not like the golden days of the 1940s when the Eagles played in the Cotton, Sugar and Orange Bowls. BC's last taste of the big time was in the mid 1980s when Doug Flutie won the Heisman Trophy and the Cotton Bowl. Flutie is the individual most responsible for the exploding popularity of Boston College. Today BC gets 30,000 applications for a freshman class of 2,200.
A lot of those Eagle freshmen will be wearing their gold T-shirts when the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame come to Chestnut Hill three weeks from Saturday. It's be a big deal on campus and on national television. Too bad hardly anyone in Boston will be watching.
After the season in which the Eagles were ranked second in the country, BC head coach Jeff Jagodzinski was fired by athletic director Gene DeFilippo.
The Jets wanted to interview him for their head-coaching vacancy. He wanted to go to a place where people cared about the local football team. That's not happening in college in Boston in this century.