September 13, 2003. That was the day the two pre-eminent football programs in New England last met at Rentschler Field. It was a day that demonstrated what rivalries are about; the good, the bad and the ugly. There was the raucous crowd in the first year of The Rent, with passion, intensity, hate and fire both from the sideline and the stands. A BC team bus was slammed with eggs on the drive in, while fans from Chestnut Hill were harassed. A juiced Huskies team took the opening drive 11-plays, 88-yards for a touchdown, capped by a 13-yard swing pass from Dan Orlovsky to Terry Caulley for six. And ultimately, a 24-14 loss, the first for UConn in their brand-new stadium.
Afterwards, the talk was about this budding rivalry on the gridiron, for two schools that had been going at it on the hardwood for decades. Representatives at both UConn and BC, including Eagles head coach Tom O’Brien confirmed the rumors that Thanksgiving weekend was being earmarked for these two teams each season, with more talks that Gillette Stadium was the desired location; think World’s Greatest Cocktail Party, but the northern version. It was the type of game that was going to bring meaning, attention and interest to college football in the region.
Then, just one month and one day later came the announcement. Boston College was leaving the Big East for the ACC. What happened next has been well-documented. The lawsuits, the distrust, the animosity and ultimately, the blocking by Boston College officials of the Huskies entering that same ACC a few years’ later. After all, they had seen first-hand what UConn athletics was capable of across the board at the top-end of college athletics. What would happen to BC football and their recruiting in the region should UConn, who was now the desired destination for basketball, come close to the same success on the football field?
So the two went their separate ways, bitterly. It was a disservice to fans of both schools, as well as the game of football in the region. UConn joined the Big East a year earlier than planned in 2004, the Eagles last before their departure; handing the Huskies a loss at Alumni Stadium in UConn’s first Big East conference game. It wasn’t until 2016 that the two finally came back together to play, once again in Chestnut Hill. The next year, finally, BC was slated to be back at The Rent, but decisions within the Huskies administration ultimately moved that game to Fenway Park. Now, finally, the two will meet at UConn’s home field once again.
Yes, Syracuse was the rivalry all pointed to in basketball. On the football field though, there was one game that was going to be circled every year; Boston College. They were the bar for what the young Huskies program had set out to become those many years ago.
This year’s matchup comes at a time when UConn has finally begun to right the ship, a ship that at one point had wandered off in uncharted waters, with no place to dock. The arrival of Jim Mora has single-handedly brought competence, confidence and wins in just his first season in Storrs. Now, a chance to knock off the hated Eagles, who have been dealing with a rash of injuries of their own. UConn has never beaten BC and fans, this school and this state would like nothing better than to stick it to the enemy that was the leading factor in what happened to UConn sports over the better part of the last decade.
A win Saturday would be further confirmation that Husky football is back. It wouldn’t only bring bragging rights, it would be a win over an opponent that this program will go head-to-head with every year on the recruiting trail. Saturday is going to be the most attended game at The Rent in years; because of both UConn and BC fans. It will be an atmosphere that will be hotly contested, emotional and vocal. It will be what this sport is all about. It will be college football Saturday in New England. Enjoy.