What's in a Rivalry?

Jim McIsaac

Would that which we call a rose by any other name smell as sweet?

Rivalry.

It's the heartbeat of sports.

There's nothing like it.

Rivalries take the normal stakes of winning and losing and ratchet it up about 1,000 degrees.

As a sports fan, you never, ever, ever want to see your team lose to anyone. But no matter what sport or what team, there's always a "THAT GUY" you REALLY can't take losing to.

I'm a Yankee fan. Have been my whole life. It means that, when I see a dumb bold red "B" on someone's hat, signifying their allegiance to the Boston Red Sox, I'm immediately turned off. I have to be convinced the person donning the cap isn't a hideous puppy killer who likes to push little kids down stairs for fun.

It's pretty much the same for anyone I see wearing a Syracuse shirt. It's not their fault. I'm sure they're perfectly fine, upstanding people. However, when I see "Syracuse" on anything, it somehow flips a switch in my head and all I can see are images of Derrick Coleman, Preston Shumpert, and Gerry McNamara. I'm instantly disgusted.

I bring this up because, like most UConn fans, Boston College evokes a similar sense of revulsion. I really do hate their stupid team, school, and fans...I even hate their colors and logo, even though you don't get more blah than the maroon of the BC Golden Eagles.

Here's the funny thing, though. I didn't always feel like this. In fact, when UConn and Boston College were ACTUALLY PLAYING EACH OTHER, my dislike for the team was probably on par with, say, my distaste for Providence. They were our northern neighbors, they had obnoxious fans, and their proximity to UConn made them unlikeable, but not loathsome.

They were a sorta, kinda rival...the way Rutgers is (or was) a "rival" for UConn in football.

Being 35 glorious years young (not glorious and I rarely feel young anymore), I believe I've pretty much been on the ground floor for UConn's emergence as a national athletic power. In basketball especially, I've watched the games, rooted for the teams, and invested myself hook, line, and sinker.

If you ask me for some memories of games against Syracuse, I can rattle off plenty. Same thing with Georgetown. Pittsburgh? Not a problem. Even Villanova and St. John's provided rivalry-esque memories.

Boston College? Give me a minute...another minute....maybe two more.

I don't have a lot of memories of UConn/BC matching up in epic games with the fan bases at each others throats. Maybe that makes me less of a fan but, if it does, that means it makes Kevin Ollie less of a UConn lifer as well.

In a recent article in the Connecticut Post, Ollie was asked about his memories of the "rivalry" with Boston College. Ollie, during his time at UConn, never lost to the Eagles, which isn't hard to believe since the Huskies lead the overall series 54-35 and have won an amazing 28 of the last 31 meetings between the two schools in basketball.

So, when conjuring up memories from Huskies/Eagles lore, Ollie didn't exactly display a photographic memory:

"We had some good battles, but I remember one game in particular where we were down 29 or 30, and came back," Ollie said. "I may be exaggerating, I get that from coach Calhoun, but we were down 25 or somewhere around that and we came back. I remember that game vividly. We always had some tough battles. I love the challenge Boston College presents each and every game."

That was it. That's all Ollie, a four-year starter for UConn, could conjure up. A vague description of some game in some year where the Huskies battled back from a big deficit and won. Think his memories are as vague when it comes to match ups against the Hoyas or Orange during that time? I doubt it.

My point is, UConn vs. BC was never really much of a rivalry...until they turned tail and ran to the ACC, following Miami and Virginia Tech like little Pilot Fish trying desperately to feed off the backs of the big boy sharks.

What Boston College did in 2003 would be considered the norm in today's world of college expansion. After being unceremoniously spurned by the ACC when Virginia Tech and Miami were invited (sound familiar?), BC seemed to recommit to it's long-time conference. They would be part of the solution, the Golden Eagles promised.

Then, the ACC decided that 11 was a really weird number, and 12 made more sense. When BC was invited, it reportedly took them four hours to decide it was time to turn their back on the Big East.

Again, seen through the prism of today, what BC did isn't that shocking. Pittsburgh, which was one of the Eagles most vocal critics at the time, did the exact same thing before up and leaving for the ACC. In fact, Pittsburgh was even worse as they reportedly led the charge for the Big East to reject a more than $1 billion offer from ESPN for broadcast rights and then quickly moved into negotiations with the ACC to jump conferences.

Yet, when BC did their Benedict Arnold, it felt like more of a body blow.

Jim Calhoun famously announced he would never play Boston College again. Then-Connecticut State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal quickly added Boston College to a lawsuit filed against the departing Big East schools, claiming they had conspired to hurt the Big East product and gain more money for themselves.

And so, UConn and Boston College went their separate ways.

From 2005 up until maybe 2011, I honestly didn't give BC much thought. Their departure left a bad taste in my mouth, so I rooted for them to lose at everything, all the time, but there were bigger fish to fry. UConn basketball was still a part of the best B-Ball conference in America, and their real rivals were all there to compete against.

And then the wheels of conference realignment began to turn again. The ACC was pillaging the Big East as it had done almost 10 years previously, evidently upset that the first theft of schools didn't result in the conference's demise. So it was to be Syracuse and....

It's hard to know exactly what happened during those realignment days, but several reports indicated that the ACC initially wanted to invite Syracuse and UConn, but Boston College had put up a fight. This was all but confirmed by the Boston College AD at the time, Gene DeFillippo, who told the Boston Globe, "We didn't want them in. It was a matter of turf. We wanted to be the New England team."

Leave the comedy of Boston College being THE "New England" team aside for a moment (don't you have to actually do something to be considered THE team of an entire region?). What DeFillippo's comments hammered home was that Boston College had spent the last 10 years thinking an awful lot more about UConn than UConn had been thinking about BC. Whether it was the Calhoun comments or the lawsuit, or the fact that UConn had CLEARLY become the team most recognized team from the northeast (Boston College was, as it remains today, an afterthought), the Eagles clearly hated UConn and didn't want them joining the ACC party.

It wasn't just the Boston College leadership, either. BC fans seemingly came out of the wood work to gloat about how their school had stopped UConn's admission to the ACC. Since they have nothing to cheer for on the field or court, BC fans cheered their school's whiny hissy fit about UConn and wore it like a badge of honor.

They still do.

So what was a tepid rivalry that became dormant once BC left after the 2005 season suddenly had a lot of juice.

UConn fans responded to BC faithful in kind-by hating their stupid school and their God-awful teams. It was war (sports-style, that is) and one that had little promise of ever delivering either side a victory on the court or field.

But beginning tomorrow, UConn and BC have the chance to do something unique. They have the chance to officially kick off a real rivalry. It won't be in name-only anymore. It won't simply be fueled by geography or conference membership.

UConn doesn't like Boston College, and vice versa. It's a real dislike, one born out of the many insults leveled against both fan bases over the last several years.

Hopefully, the game Thursday night isn't a one-time-only affair. Maybe everyone involved will realize the opportunity they have to spark something legitimate. UConn and Boston College should be playing on the hard court and gridiron every year. It shouldn't be a rivalry that only exists on message boards, but one that is settled by the athletes.

Bring it on.

Go UConn.

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