With 42 days to go until the Boston College football season begins, we’ve already revealed some instances of the number 42 in program history, but one piece of information deserved extra attention.
Think about all of the cliché sports quotes a fan hears about winning. “Winning is everything,” “victory lasts forever,” “winning is second only to breathing,” and so forth. The will of an athlete to win games is typically never in question, but what if losing is your best destiny? What if losing changes your life by possibly saving it?
The 1942 Boston College Eagles were an excellent football team. Led by future College Football Hall of Famer Mike Holovak, the Eagles, not long removed from their Sugar Bowl title in the 1940 season, were on their way to bigger and better things. Namely, another national championship. As a matter of fact, by the time the final week of the regular season rolled around, the Eagles were ranked #1 in the country.
In anticipation of what Boston College players thought would be a walkover against unranked Holy Cross at Fenway Park — BC’s home stadium at the time — they planned a victory party at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub that evening.
Cocoanut Grove was located at 17 Piedmont Street, not far today from Boston Common and the Arlington T stop. It also happened to be the most popular nightclub in the city, and one with which the players were evidently quite familiar. The venue gained notoriety as a Prohibition-era speakeasy and, even after Prohibition ended and World War II followed, the club was still the place to be and be seen in Boston. The Eagles’ plan was to wipe the floor with Holy Cross and then party.
In what seemed like a sincerely bitter disappointment, the Eagles lost in one of the most tremendous upsets in college football history. Holy Cross humiliated the Eagles by a 55-12 score at Fenway that day in front of over 41,000 fans. As a result, the players, now destined to be dropped from the top ranking and having all but missed their chance at a title that day, cancelled their victory celebration at Cocoanut Grove.
That same evening, an over-capacity Cocoanut Grove burned to the ground and nearly 500 people were killed.
It remains to this day the deadliest nightclub fire in world history, and was so momentous that it even bumped the war off front pages nationally. The fire is believed to have spread rapidly through the club in close quarters.
There is little doubt that had they won that game against Holy Cross and advanced to the Sugar Bowl, a number of players may have been amongst the casualties and the history of Boston College football would have been irrevocably changed. Call it luck or call it divine providence, but sometimes, serious perspective is needed in sports. Losing that game to Holy Cross on Saturday, November 28, 1942, probably didn’t look quite so bad on Sunday.