Like it or not, BC is our date to the Dance
MINNEAPOLIS - What would we do without Boston College?
BC plays Southern Cal tonight in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and like 'em or not (BC bashing is a popular parlor game in many corners of our region), the Eagles are your representatives in this national festival of buckets and brackets.
Without the Eagles, New England would not be involved in an annual nationwide sports festival that has grown to monstrous proportions. March Madness today is more popular than "American Idol," "Dancing with the Stars," and ice cream. It is every bit as big as the Super Bowl and (gulp) bigger than the World Series. It is an event that seemingly includes everyone. Sports agnostics participate in office pools. Perhaps you married someone from Kansas or Georgetown. Maybe your godfather lives in Dayton.
Even the president is involved. Barack Obama has BC beating USC, then losing to powerhouse Michigan State Sunday. The prez should have given Ted Sarandis a call.
The lure of the event has largely eluded us back in the Hub of the Universe. And we all know why. Boston is strictly a pro sports town. Remember Forrest Gump's best friend, Bubba? He knew everything there was to know about the shrimping business. That's us when it comes to arguing NBA home-court advantage and three-man pitching rotations in the World Series.
We just don't speak the language of big-time college basketball. It's not in our blood - not like it is for those folks from Tobacco Road and Bloomington, Ind.
It's the same with college football. Anybody remember back in 2007 when the local Division 1 gridders from Chestnut Hill were ranked second in the country for a couple of weeks? Nobody noticed. We were still hung over from the Red Sox' World Series win, and the Patriots were en route to 18-0. Something tells me that the No. 2 ranking in college football would have gotten more attention in Tuscaloosa or Tallahassee.
New England's history in the NCAA basketball tourney is ancient and rare. As every Worcester schoolchild knows, Holy Cross won the thing back in the day when Bob Cousy was a freshman on Mount St. James (1947). The Crusaders in this century threw scares into Kentucky, Kansas, and Marquette, but for all of its hardwood tradition, Holy Cross has not actually won a game in the tournament since 1953.
Brown made it to the Elite Eight (the only eight) in 1939, and Dartmouth was a tourney regular in the 1940s. Providence had steady success, making it to the Final Four under Dave Gavitt and Rick Pitino. UMass made it all the way to the Final Four in 1996, but that appearance was officially erased when we discovered all the dirt in John Calipari's house.
UConn? Please. The Huskies have won a pair of NCAA championships. If they don't advance to the Sweet 16, it's considered a lost season. But Storrs, Conn., might as well be Oyster Bay, Long Island, for all we care. There is simply no connection between Greater Boston and the UConn campus. UConn is to New England sports what prime rib is to Thanksgiving dinner. Quality stuff. It just doesn't belong there.
So it is left to Boston College to make us feel like we're part of this mega-event. BC earns us an invitation to the party, at least. And the Eagles have done it pretty consistently in recent years. This is BC's 10th NCAA Tournament appearance since 1994. The Eagles are involved in the Madness for the seventh time this century. And they know you hardly care.
"I pretty much got used to it," senior guard Tyrese Rice said before practice at the Metrodome yesterday. "I got used to playing and being like the fifth- or sixth-tier team in Boston. So flying under the radar, we try to use it to our advantage. We come out, we play against schools like the Carolinas and the Dukes who have 20,000, 30,000 people that always follow them . . . Flying under the radar is what makes us who we are."
Coach Al Skinner knows. He played his college ball at UMass. He coached at URI. Now he's worked 12 years in the anonymity of Conte Forum.
"It is not what motivates us," Skinner said. "I appreciate any acknowledgment that we receive and the way people feel about us, but I think our satisfaction has to come from having some success and competing and getting recognition from your peers."
If you try hard enough, you can convince yourself that there are certain advantages to playing the college game in a pro town.
"To see the Red Sox, to see the Patriots, the Celtics all win a championship and the way those young men handled themselves and handle the success is a great role model for our guys," said Skinner. "They have an opportunity to rub elbows with those individuals and I think there's some satisfaction there. They might not be getting the acknowledgment night in and night out for their accomplishments, but over the long haul I think it serves them better."
BC taps off against Southern Cal tonight at 7:20. Your team in the Big Dance.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.