Before the game, we all got a glimpse into the attitude surrounding the then-aura of Southern California. After the game, we got a glimpse into the steel resolve of motivating emotion that exists in a city like Boston.
The scenes before and after the game showed us the contrasting emotions and attitudes that exist on the different coasts of the United States. As they prepared to run out of the miniscule road team tunnel embedded in the Boston College student section, the USC Trojans stood arm-in-arm, swaying back and forth. Their fans in attendance worked into a froth as they came running out, right across the field, to wear the Boston College cheerleaders were readying to welcome the Eagles to the field.
As Lil Jon's "Turn Down For What" played over the loudspeaker, the Trojans stood by the torch towers, dancing and taunting the large, gold BC banner behind which the Eagles stood. Referees and officials attempted to push back the Trojans, and BC waited. They waited behind that banner as the Trojans stood there, taunting. I turned to my father and remarked about how I didn't find that classy. He just turned to me and said, "That's swagger. When you're good, you have swagger. They know they're going to beat a team before the game starts."
USC eventually pushed back, and Boston College rose as one as the Eagles came running out. BC broke the banner and ran across the sideline, but there were no theatrics. They went through their motions, a couple of players imploring crowd cheers, and stood, waiting to take the field. It was a stark contrast to the theatrics employed by the visiting team.
The moment crystallized what would happen over the next four hours or so. Boston College used a "steel resolve" and determination to upset one of the nation's best football programs. They used a determination to get their crowd going, and they used the right motivation and emotion to score one of the biggest victories anyone will ever experience.
Emotion in college football is a really funny thing because it has to be harnessed and controlled. USC played most of their game on completely raw emotion, a desire to get their money's worth on every single hit. It was like watching Clubber Lang in Rocky III. The raw emotional display is designed to get the opponent out of their element, to get them into this emotional firefight. It's designed to devolve the game into chaos and make the opponent do something stupid. If you try to hit them as hard as they hit you, you're going to lose 100% of the time.
Boston College played with a completely different kind of emotion. They used the memory of Welles Crowther as a driving force, but they didn't play out of their bodies. Steve Addazio used the Crowther family and the red bandana as something to key around and play for, but he also leveled the team off and harnessed that energy. He built up the energy, then focused it into a single goal. He put a resolve in the players' hearts that said, "We can win this game, but we have to do what we have to do in order to do it."
The best part about this is the way it slowly develops and is organic. It stays on a straight, solid line as the game hits peaks and valley. When USC was up 17-6, they believed they could come back. When they were up 20-17, they believed they could hold off USC. As for the Trojans, the raw emotion approach to the game came back to bite them. They fell deeper and deeper into the belief they would always be able to land a knockout punch, except BC ducked it each time and came back and outboxed them. USC abandoned the run, went for home run throws up the sideline, and never got into a gameplan. BC, meanwhile, would get the ball back and seem content to run the gameplan to perfection using the same motivation that had been used for the entire game.
By the time USC started hitting some punches, the Eagles were in supreme control of the game flow, and the nerves weren't there. They knew they were going to win. USC hit BC every single time, and the Eagles just responded with a simple, "You ain't so bad. Come on! Hit me harder!" like Rocky did to Lang. They psychologically dominated the game, and it ended up with the BC offense looking like one of the best-coached and best-executed in the nation.
It's that type of determined emotion that drove Welles Crowther on that fateful day 13 years ago. Steve Addazio showed his team the documentary from ESPN, and it drove them. Welles didn't let anything stop him from helping the person next to him, and he used his last moments on this Earth to turn his emotions of fear, anger, and determination into a driving force to do something we all could never fathom or understand. Playing a football game is hardly running up stairs to go help save people on 9/11, but that's the type of resolve that can make people do ANYTHING. Addazio made sure his team understood it, understood what the red bandana meant, what it symbolized. The team got it, and the red bandana became the symbol of this team's resolve. It's like the lightning bolt in The Natural. When you believe, anything is possible.
Don't get me wrong - USC is an ultra-talented team with more depth of talent in one recruiting class than any for BC. But the Eagles had one thing USC didn't. They had an ability to steer their emotions into a collective effort, and they had the symbol of what that meant. And now? The Eagles have the win.