If there's one thing any of us will remember from the Boston College-USC game last Saturday, it's the atmosphere. For one night, a maligned Alumni Stadium crowd turned in a totally organic and beautiful performance. A fan base lost by years of malaise and disappointment rose as one and before a national television audience showed the college sports universe that it can be "back."
I'll always remember how the night began on the heels of a tough week on these pages. For a week-plus worth of days, a vocal minority called for extreme change after the disappointing loss to Pittsburgh. Even though the Eagles competed to the end, the comments section and the discussion boards around the Internet wondered aloud if Steve Addazio could be "the man." They wondered about Tyler Murphy, called for Darius Wade to come off the bench, and battered both coordinators (Ryan Day and, as a first, Don Brown) for the team's performance. That spilled over to the feeling that Saturday would be a blow out in the wrong direction.
When USC went up 17-6, the general feeling was, "Please God let BC keep this close." Then all of a sudden, BC hit the switch, scored, and came back to within 17-13. The defense started physically battering the Trojans. And Sherm Alston broke off one of the most exciting plays in recent memory, a 50-plus yard reverse option pitch that was something straight out of a movie or video game.
Up 20-17 at the half, a growing buzz gave way to an interminably long halftime show. Even then, USC fans stood confident that their team would make adjustments and win while BC would eventually wilt in the face of the Trojan size and athleticism. From a BC side, my section sat there and said, "Hey we've been competitive. If it falls apart, at least BC is showing fight. Everything from here is gravy."
But that second half, guys. The second half was probably the most electric I've ever seen a stadium grow. As the quarter wore on and BC started imposing their will, the attitude started to get to the point, "We made it this far. Let's FINISH this!" When that switched on, Boston College's Alumni Stadium became one. It didn't matter about comments about not selling out or comments about the lack of tailgating atmosphere. It became a group of fans, swaying as one, hanging on every play.
It's that type of atmosphere that was lost over recent memory. For fans who go to games, there's a feel at times that the students are into the games while the rest of the ticket holders are merely at the game. The students chant and stand, while the rest of us sit and watch the game unfolding, rising only for big plays. On Saturday, all of that changed. In 20 years of going to games, I'd never led chants in my section until I led a "We Are...BC" chant late in the third quarter. We were high-fiving and hugging total strangers, going crazy at every play. And it didn't stop.
It didn't matter what was on the video boards or what was played over the loudspeaker. All that mattered was willing BC to victory. It was an atmosphere I've experienced only once before, and that was at an NHL playoff game.
Some other TL;DR observations from high above field side:
-I know a lot of us had good experiences with the USC fan base, but I can't say I loved them (save for our buddies over at Conquest Chronicles, who were a pleasure to have on the air). The people who traveled for the game acted so differently from those of us from Boston that it crystallized the two coasts' cultures. The USC fans occupying the rows behind me were obnoxious and rude when speaking about their team, almost like Virginia Tech fans. But when they lost, they acted self-righteous. At halftime, someone made sure to tell one of my sectionmates, "Yeah don't worry. USC will win this one" as a way to initiate a conversation. In the fourth quarter, they just upped and left, most with five minutes still left and USC still scoring. It was very anti-Clemson, and it drove me nuts. At least they weren't UMass fans?
-If you leave early, for the record, you will be taunted by some fans. I learned this based on fans' experiences at Maryland in 2007. I mean, USC players made sure to act out to the BC fans when they scored to go up 17-6, even though that stopped after the Eagles started winning. So it's not like the Trojans are angels, either. Case in point - the "swagger" vs. "taunting" argument from when USC ran out of their tunnel.
-One thing to take solace in for me was the fact they were freezing. It was 50 degrees out, and the girl behind me had a winter coat, a sweatshirt, and heavy boots on. She talked for literally the entire first quarter about how she wished she had her (and this is a direct quote) "cashmere scarf that (she) bought last week when (she) was out shopping for a new designer handbag." In complaining about the cold, she said it was the reason USC was losing, then said, "They'll warm up indoors at halftime and then come out and win in the third." Next time I'm going shirtless.
-All of the timing was down perfectly by Brad Bates and his marketing crew. The fireworks, the video boards, the intros - it was all done perfectly. I wished they'd changed the video montage, but I didn't really care. It was awesome to see BC wait for USC to push back from the tunnel in order to run out. The pregame production made it feel like a real, national television game, and the red bandana graphics were done very classy.
-In the midst of the game, bringing out the Crowther family was amazing. USC stopped their coach huddle in order to applaud the family. Everyone stood as one and cheered for them in a standing ovation lasting well over a couple of minutes.
-I know I've had differences with the BC baseball team, but I genuinely loved the message they spoke in honor of Pete Frates. Pete was at the game, wearing a red bandana, and seeing him was even more inspirational. All things on the field aside, I can't laud Mike Gambino enough for what he's done off the field for ALS and for the Frates family. Had Mike not gotten involved, Pete would've never helped inspire the way he does. Mike Gambino is one of the reasons the Ice Bucket Challenge even existed in the first place.
-I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the tailgate situation on Shea Field. From what I understand, people were on the verge of becoming unruly when security denied them entry into the tailgate lot. The cars were there, but people waiting outside couldn't get in. Eventually a gate opened and people went in. Then the gate closed. People booed, people chanted, and it was a very ugly scene before the game. I get trying to regulate the crowd to ensure it doesn't get overcrowded or whatever, but Boston College absolutely must put their heads together and fix this issue. It was a very bad look. In the pouring rain, people standing outside Shea Field trying to get in and being denied entry was a major black mark.
-Anyone who wants to talk about attendance needs to shove their head clear up a body cavity. BC didn't sell out, but 41,000 fans showed up. It was a great atmosphere, and the only seats empty were up in the corners of the end zone upper deck. The sidelines were sold out. We don't know the situation for ticket sales with allotments for USC, so we can't blame BC entirely. And if anyone wants to say anything about that (I'm looking at you, UMass fans who were trying to take something away from BC on Twitter), just remember one thing - your team drew 30K with BC, then drew 10K against Colorado. Oh, and how's that 0-3 record treating you?
-Prepare for a slight bump in attendance for what would've been Maine's numbers, but prepare for a major dip this week. In the fickle fan base of Boston, this will do wonders for people who want to come back, but I don't think anyone will still want to come out to see the Black Bears. There will be some people who come based off of the result last Saturday, but I think we could be looking at mid-30s as a success for attendance. That's fine, since UConn sold 23K tickets for their FCS game, and UMass can't draw more than 10K people for a non-BC game. Perspective, people.