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Dan Shaughnessy

They're juiced - for title rematch

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / December 5, 2008
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It's all about the Orange Bowl. Pure and simple. Freshly squeezed and all natural. No mufflers, tires, or computers.

Boston College's football team plays Virginia Tech tomorrow in Tampa and the winner gets to play in the Orange Bowl in Miami Jan. 1.

BC in the Orange Bowl.

Has a nice sound to it, no?

Of course, none of the BC players, coaches, or administrators can admit the obvious. They are trained in Belichickian ways and we know it's a mistake to look past your next game. The championship of the Atlantic Coast Conference is what's at stake, and that is the Eagles' focus at this hour. And they'll tell you they'd be honored to play in the Music City Bowl in the event they fail to win tomorrow at Raymond James Stadium.

But we know better. This is about cachet. This is about name-dropping. This is about young men getting a chance for the rest of their lives to walk into a board meeting and say, "Yeah, I played in the Orange Bowl."

It's different.

There was a time in this great land when there were four major New Year's Day bowl games. They were truly major and they were actually played on New Year's Day. They were the Cotton Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Orange Bowl, and the Rose Bowl (a.k.a. "The Granddaddy of Them All"). Playing in a bowl game was a big deal. The national championship was decided by the polls after the bowls.

BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo remembers watching the Orange Bowl with his dad every New Year's Day. Gene DeFilippo Sr. ran the offense from the single-wing tailback position for Holy Cross's Orange Bowl team that lost to Miami, 13-6, in 1946.

"The score was tied, 6-6, and Holy Cross tried to win the game in the final seconds," recalled the proud AD. "Dad threw a pass and it went off the receiver's hands into the hands of Al Hudson. He ran the ball all the way back [89 yards] and scored a touchdown with no time left on the clock. Up until 1969, it was the only bowl game decided after time expired. The game helped put Miami into national prominence and was a great thing for Holy Cross to be there. Every year, we'd sit at home with the snow piling up outside and they'd show that clip during the Orange Bowl. My dad's 84 now and if we make it to the Orange Bowl, I would think he would really want to come to that one."

Playing in any old bowl game today is just not as big a deal. It's a little bit like getting your name in the phone book or winning a soccer trophy when you are 8 years old. Just about anybody can do it. Ask Charlie Weis.

Did you know, for instance, that the BC football program has made it to nine consecutive bowl games, winning eight in a row?

Starting in 1999, the Eagles have played in the Insight.com Bowl, Jeep Eagle Aloha Bowl, Music City Bowl, Motor City Bowl, Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl, Continental Tire Bowl, MPC Computers Bowl, Meineke Car Care Bowl, and Champs Sports Bowl. That's a lot of car parts and hard drives. A lot of Valvoline and gigabytes.

No Cotton, Sugar, Orange, or Rose. Just the skeleton frames of burned-out Chevrolets.

This is not to denigrate the accomplishments of those teams. They were good groups with winning records. But let's face it: The last bowl game local sports fans remember is the Cotton Bowl after the 1984 season, when Doug Flutie and Friends beat Houston, 45-28, on New Year's Day.

The Cotton Bowl represents New England's only appearance in a major bowl since Papa DeFilippo's Holy Cross appearance. BC played in the Cotton Bowl after the 1939 season, the Sugar Bowl after the 1940 season, and the Orange Bowl after the 1942 season. Harvard won the 1920 Rose Bowl and Brown lost to Washington State in the 1916 Rose Bowl.

That's it. Seven appearances by New England schools, one in the last 61 years. That's why beating Virginia Tech tomorrow is a big deal. It would put Boston College in the Orange Bowl.

Sophomore punter/wideout/backup quarterback Billy Flutie knows the drill. He threw a touchdown pass on a fake punt play against Maryland last Saturday and is well-versed in BC football history.

"Doug brings it up here and there, but it's been a while since BC won a championship like that," said the younger Flutie. "It would be an honor to have that under our belt. But the championship is what we've been working for all year. If we do win, the Orange Bowl would be an honor for BC and everything we've done this year."

All they have to do is beat a team they've already handled this season. The Eagles defeated Virginia Tech, 28-23, at Chestnut Hill in mid-October, despite turning the ball over five times. Now the Eagles go at the Hokies with a novice quarterback (redshirt sophomore Dominique Davis will be making his second start in place of the injured Chris Crane) and a top-10 defense (three shutouts) led by junior linebacker Mark Herzlich, the ACC defensive player of the year.

The Eagles have been close before. BC faced this same opportunity last season and lost to Tech, 30-16. In 2004, the Eagles were one win away from the Orange Bowl and lost to Syracuse, 43-17. In 1993, Tom Coughlin's team was ranked 11th and bound for the Sugar or Cotton Bowl when David Green fumbled against West Virginia. Goodbye, Sugar and Cotton; hello, Carquest Bowl. It was the last game of Coughlin's BC career (wonder what happened to him).

"Bowl games are cool," said Herzlich. "This is a chance to go out and have fun with the team and finish the season off in the right way. Even if we don't win, we're still going to a bowl game, but there's no comparison. You go to one of the BCS bowls, that's something you can tell your kids about.

"Every young player in high school - they want to go to a BCS bowl. We were close last year. We want to get there this year."

Ever mindful of not looking ahead, BC coach Jeff Jagodzinski said, "A lot of things come with winning this game - things that haven't been done since 1943. But we can't get there unless we take care of this game here. Last year our guys were really happy about just getting to this game. Now there's a totally different feeling. We need to go ahead and win this thing."

And advance to the Orange Bowl.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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