The following editorial was written by Bill Paulsen, Boston College wide receiver from 1973 to 1977. He was the first receiver to catch a pass in the history of the Boston College-Notre Dame rivalry. During his junior year, he was instrumental in helping quarterback Mike Kruczek break the career and season completion percentage records which still stand today. Paulsen, a season ticket-holder who currently resides in California, is a native of South Boston and is in the South Boston Sports Hall of Fame.
I was the starting wide receiver for Boston College when we played Notre Dame for the first time in 1975. I remember emerging from the Patriots’ locker room and running onto the field of Schaefer Stadium to a raucous ovation and the uplifting feeling I got from that special moment. Television crews filled the sidelines and the lights lit the field up like a Hollywood studio. My heart pounded to the beat of the boisterous crowd. I felt stronger and faster than I’ve ever known. I was ready to show the national television audience my greatness.
Suddenly, the gold helmets of Notre Dame appeared at the opposite end of the field, followed by an ovation that muffled ours and shook the stadium. I could feel my strength and confidence leaving me. “How could Boston fans cheer for our enemies?” I needed to restore my power. This was the biggest night of my life and I had to be at my best. I got angry. Suddenly my anger turned to strength. “I’ll show these traitors!”
Such is the legacy of Boston College football, and not much has changed since 1975. With the exception of the Flutie days, B.C. has always been treated like the Oliver Twist of the Boston sports family. B.C. gets the scraps from the dinner table and it must never attempt to grab the attention away from Boston’s legitimate children, the Red Sox, Bruins, and so on. This dynamic is a major impediment to the growth of Boston College football.
Without the local support, B.C. has to rely almost exclusively on its alumni to support its teams. Unfortunately, B.C. is a small private school and most of the alumni live outside Massachusetts. Consequently, attendance at B.C. football games is low; moreover, the fans that do attend games are more interested in tailgating, etc., than in the actual game. And when the fans eventually do show up, they spend more time texting on their cell phones than watching the game. Therefore, B.C. games lack the exciting atmosphere that motivates its players and attracts top football recruits. These recruits want to play where they are appreciated. Why play for B.C. in a half-empty stadium in front of apathetic fans when they can play in front of 100,000 loyal fans?
I grew up in Boston and I am as, or more, passionate about the professional teams as anybody. I vividly remember the “Impossible Dream” year of 1967. That was the same year I pitched a two-hitter against Somerset in the Massachusetts Babe Ruth State finals, striking out Jerry Remy twice in the process. But I also played college football for B.C., and from my standpoint, Boston College football is one of the last pure vestiges of sports. To understand the purity of B.C. football, one must appreciate what it takes for a team like B.C. to overcome the disparity of talent, resources, and support that B.C. faces regularly. Only then can you begin to appreciate the effort and sacrifice it takes for teams like Boston College to compete against and beat national football powers.
For a Boston College football player, the challenge begins when he shows up for double sessions his freshman year. The transition from high school to college is much more difficult for a seventeen-year old than the transition from college to professional football is for a twenty-three year old. Most of these kids are leaving home for the first time. They leave their families, girlfriends, and everything they’ve ever known and venture into the unknown. They are always one injury away from failure. Conversely, when a professional signs a contract, his future is pretty much secure. Moreover, unlike the professionals, who play several scrimmage games before their season begins, a college football player’s season starts without scrimmage games. For a lot of these kids, the last football game they played was in high school. There is also a lot more pressure on college football players than on professionals because, in college, one or two losses is devastating and probably ends any hopes for a chance at a championship. Therefore, the pressure to perform and not make a mistake is intensified tenfold in college football. One mistake could end a season and a lifetime dream. In the professional game, teams can lose several games and still qualify for the playoffs. Finally, college football players aren’t paid like the professionals. Instead, college football player’s compensation is a full college course load.
B.C. caught a break when they joined the ACC. The money from television rights and elsewhere that B.C. gets for being a member of the ACC offsets the lack of money generated from games and concessions. While this situation allows B.C.’s athletics to stay afloat, it doesn’t solve their problem of changing the sports culture at B.C. Brad Bates is the latest athletic director to inherit this situation. Like his predecessors, Brad Bates has attempted to change the B.C. sports culture by getting the B.C. fan base more involved. Bates had open forums in which B.C. fans were allowed to express their views on how to improve the game day experience. These events were attended by overflow crowds and are said to have been rousing successes.
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