The day after Thanksgiving has traditionally been one of the special football days of the year in America. While high school rivalries and the NFL play on Thanksgiving itself, the day after, Black Friday, has always belonged to the NCAA.
Today, there are two decent games — Washington takes on in-state rival Washington State, while Navy sailed into Houston for a match up of one-loss teams.
But before the rise of cable, there was usually just a single college game featured, usually a marquee match-up on one of the networks for a nation still digesting it’s Thanksgiving dinner.
In 1984 The Game pitted the 8-2, 10th ranked Boston College Eagles versus the defending national champion Miami Hurricane. “The U” was full of NFL draftees, though they weren’t having the same quality season as usual in ’84, coming in ranked 12th in the national polls.
Still, playing at home against the upstart BC Eagles, Miami was still a strong favorite as BC was viewed as the small Catholic school from the northeast where college football wasn’t nearly the religion as it was in the South and Midwest.
But this was the peak of the Doug Flutie era, when the Natick, Mass. native was single-handedly bringing the BC program to new heights under Coach Jack Bicknell.
On that Black Friday November 23, 1984, the Eliot Lounge in Boston’s Back Bay was packed with the local running community as we had gathered to celebrate Steve Jones‘ world record at the Chicago Marathon a month earlier. Though the race had been shown live on CBS, the Boston affiliate, WHDH, had chosen not to air it. To make up for that, Reebok and the Eliot decided to show the local fans Jonesy’s 2:08:05, which broke Rob De Castella’s 2:08:18 world record from Fukuoka, Japan in 1981.
I had been the analyst on the CBS show, John Tesch the anchor. With Jonesy running for Reebok, and Reebok USA headquartered just south of Boston, the Fireman folks at Reebok brought the Welshman to Boston and the Eliot for a celebratory watching party.
A big screen was set up on the stage where bands usually played, but up in the corner above the waitress station there was another TV showing the Boston College – Miami football game.
Slowly, over the course of the race as Jonesy took control and pulled away, the crowd’s attention began to shift to the live football game, as it was turning into a classic, nobody could stop anyone else shootout.
Bernie Kosar helmed the Hurricane, Flutie the Eagles. The feeling was strong that the team who got possession last would win. But when Kosar threw a touchdown pass with just 28-seconds left to give Miami a 45-41 lead, there just didn’t seem to be enough time for Flutie and BC to answer. Maybe 45 seconds might do it, but not 28.
But as we all know now, three quick passes took the Eagles from their own 20 to the Hurricane 48-yard line. Then, with time left for just one last play Flutie called “55 Flood Tip” which sent three receivers into the end-zone with little more than hope and a prayer.
Scrambling to his right Flutie flung his Hail Mary 63 yards through a buffeting headwind. The Miami defenders didn’t think the diminutive QB (5’9″) could heave the ball that far, and were just lax enough in their coverage to allow Flutie’s roommate Gerard Phelan to sneak behind them.
As the clock ran out the call descended into the cradling arms of Phelan, CBS announcer Brent Musburger yelled out, “He did it! He did it! Flutie did it!”
BC 47, Miami 45! Game over! Legend begun!
While that final, fateful drive was underway, I was standing at the bar interviewing Minnesota Olympian Garry Bjorklund about the Jones’ record and the year in running. By pure chance I had my tape recorder running and captured the sound of the Eliot’s explosive reaction to the BC miracle finish.
Quickly, everyone dashed outside and added to the whoops and hollers that were reverberating throughout the Back Bay, car horns honking as if a long awaited armistice had been signed. And we knew it right then, even said it out loud, “we won’t experience anything like this until the Red Sox break the curse and win the World Series.”
Twenty years later that fateful day finally came to pass, as well. Such are the memories of sport. Happy Thanksgiving to all.