Of the many longstanding rivalries in sports--Yankees versus Red Sox, 'Noles versus 'Canes, the People versus Mike Tyson--none is quite as big as Boston University versus Boston College in hockey, two adversaries that end all other rivalry-related arguments: BU, BC, be seated.
If you didn't realize this, you don't travel in those circles--face-off circles, mostly--where college hockey is king. "It's unique to a couple of places in the country," BU Terriers coach Jack Parker says of his sport. "I'm not sure a lot of people in New Mexico care who wins the Beanpot."
But in Boston, where every February the Beanpot tournament showcases BU and BC (and Northeastern and Harvard), the Terriers and Eagles annually turn the Bay State into an eBay State. As No. 2 BC and No. 8 BU played a sold-out home-and-home series last weekend--before a combined 14,108 fans--tickets with a $22 face value were fetching $150 a pair on the Internet.
"Imagine that Michigan and Michigan State only played each other in one sport," says BC hockey coach Jerry York. "And that the two schools were much closer to each other than they are." BU and BC are just two miles apart down Commonwealth Avenue. By contrast, ACC rivals Duke and North Carolina are separated by a relatively endless eight miles of Tobacco Road.
"It's hard to keep your secrets when the other team is just down the street," Eagles forward and captain Ryan Shannon said after scoring a goal and assisting on three others in a 6--3 win over visiting BU last Friday night at Kelley Rink. "Every once in a while, out in a restaurant, you see familiar faces. But hockey culture is so humble. Outside the rink, you see those guys as human beings." And what about on the rink? Says Shannon, without pause, "They're evil. They're a Terrier."
And so the best seat in hockey isn't on the red line or between the blue lines. It's on the Green Line, that arm of the Boston subway system that links the two campuses as well as the Fleet Center, home of the Beanpot and the Bruins, who (when they're playing) are coached by ex-Terrier Mike Sullivan. "Our games mean a lot more than regular-season NHL games," says Parker. "In both [home arenas] we always have that high level of emotion."
BU-BC is a marriage between competitive spouses who've grown to both love and loathe each other in their 87 years of codependency. (BU leads the series, 113-98-15.) "The best thing that ever happened to BU hockey," says Parker, "was BC." The Eagles agree: BU complete me.
But they make each other crazy. Parker is the second winningest active coach in college hockey, with 705 victories. But York is first, with 711. BC has two NCAA titles, the most recent in 2001. But BU has four. BC produced four of the greatest Americans ever to play in the NHL in Brian Leetch, Joe Mullen, Kevin Stevens and Doug Brown. But BU produced four of the greatest Americans ever--period--in Mike Eruzione, Jack O'Callahan, Dave Silk and Jim Craig, who won the 1980 Olympic gold medal.
BC has a star (forward Patrick Eaves) who is the son of an excellent NHL player, ex--North Star Mike. BU has an excellent player (forward Chris Bourque) who is the son of an NHL star, Hall of Famer Ray. The former Bruin has a suite at the Terriers' brand-new, $97 million, BU-tiful Agganis Arena, in which none of the 6,300 steeply pitched seats is more than 60 feet from the ice.
Not that aesthetics matter. "You could wake up both teams at three o'clock in the morning and tell 'em we're playing on Spy Pond in Arlington, and they'd be there," says Parker, whose 700th win, in December, came deliciously against BC.
Together, the teams form a rich demographical tapestry, their players ranging from the Irish to the Catholic to the Irish-Catholic. Twenty percent of the players on BC (with its Boyle, Brennan, Collins, Leahy, Murphy, O'Hanley, Rooney, Shannon and Gannon) and BU (with its Curry, Gillespie, Sullivan, Monaghan, McGuirk, McConnell and Sullivan) are named Brian or Ryan or Bryan. "Both schools have diverse student bodies," says BU captain Brian McConnell. "But the names on our jerseys do look pretty similar."
He was speaking last Saturday night, after BU's 2-0 loss to BC, while looking forward to their next meeting, on Feb. 7 in the Beanpot. As their team nickname suggests, these guys have a bulldog tenacity. Dropping the first puck to open Agganis Arena was Travis Roy, paralyzed 11 seconds into his first shift as a Terrier in 1995 and a living example of perseverance in the face of tragedy.
Another is Mike Bavis, who played at BU with his twin brother, Mark, a passenger on United Flight 175, which was flown into the south tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Mike was then, and remains now, a Terriers assistant coach, and he said while delivering his brother's eulogy a few days after 9/11, "I'm going to be out there again, and I'm going to be flying by plane." Then he added, in a further tribute to his brother, "trying to figure out a way to beat BC."
• For a collection of Steve Rushin's columns, go to si.com/writers.