October 7, 2004 • Volume 13 Number 3

"There are many great stories about Boston College athletics, of course...but football has been here the longest, and it is the flagship sport at BC." - Reid Oslin

Stories A-Plenty from BC's Gridiron History

Some 110 years worth of Boston College football are chronicled in the recently published Tales from the Boston College Sideline [Sports Publishing LLC] by Public Affairs Senior Media Relations Officer Reid Oslin '68, who worked for 24 years as associate athletic director and sports information director. Tales from the Sidelines offers "snapshots" of BC football, told through archival materials, newspaper, TV and radio accounts and numerous personal anecdotes, some of them collected by Oslin himself.

The book includes little-known or long-forgotten details about the very first BC football team in 1892, which "had no schedule, no coach, no uniforms and no field to play on"; the controversial departure of coach Frank Leahy to Notre Dame, barely a month after BC won the 1941 Sugar Bowl; the Doug Flutie years, climaxed by the epic 1984 BC-Miami game; and current coach Tom O'Brien's successful efforts to make the Eagles a bowl-competitive team.

Oslin recently sat down with Chronicle to talk about BC football, his research for the book, and why former Eagle coach Tom Coughlin may be mad at him.

What's a story you won't find in the book?

In 1960, on a real hot day, BC hosted Navy, which was wearing new uniforms with blue knee socks. Navy had a great running back from Winchester named Joe Bellino, and he had a superb game against BC, later going on to win the Heisman Trophy that year. But after he scored one of his touchdowns Bellino collapsed in the end zone. The Navy doctors could not figure out what was wrong with him.

BC had a trainer named Frank Jones, a real old-school type of guy with absolutely no medical training other than what he picked up on the job. Jonesy comes to take a look and he says, "His socks are too tight." So the doctors cut away Bellino's socks, and sure enough he gets his circulation back and he's all right to play again.

The timing for this book seems perfect, since BC football history is entering a new chapter with the upcoming switch to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Was that a coincidence?

It was. Sports Publishing LLC has a series of "Tales from the Sideline" books on college and professional football teams, and they first approached me about doing the book in February of 2003, before the ACC matter took off. I actually intended to include a chapter on that, but there was so much else to write about that it had to be cut. Maybe in volume two.

There are many great stories about Boston College athletics, of course, and you could do a whole other book on that. But football has been here the longest, and it is the flagship sport at BC.

When you've got 110 years worth of football history to work with, where do you start?

Sports Publishing asked me for 50,000 words, and at first I thought, "How am I going to write that much?" But as I started looking at all that history, I thought, "How am I going to do it in only 50,000 words?"

So instead of just giving a season by season, game by game account, I thought it would be more interesting to use the stories and anecdotes to illustrate some key periods, such as the Frank Leahy years, World War II or the Flutie era. Others are geared around themes. One chapter talks about the traditions of BC maroon and gold and the eagle as team mascot, for example.

There's also a chapter on the home fields BC football used, including the old Alumni Field - where the Campus Green is today - as well as Fenway Park and Braves Field, and Alumni Stadium, which is one of the University's great success stories, built in less than a year on what had been a reservoir. In fact, some of the reservoir remained right outside the stadium for the first few years, and the University's treasurer, Rev. John E. Murphy, SJ, complained to Athletics about all the footballs kicked into the water.

Another is on travel stories. BC played Holy Cross out in Worcester in 1957, the year the Mass Pike opened, and there were only two toll collectors on duty at the Worcester exit, so cars were backed up for miles. Villanova, when they came to play BC in 1961, lost a coin-toss for their hotel rooms to the pro football Buffalo Bills; the Bills' game with the Patriots had been postponed and they didn't want to check out of the hotel, so the hotel manager flipped a coin to see who would have to leave.

How did you find these kinds of details?

Some of it came from University records, papers, correspondence, as well as newspaper and magazine clippings. The Burns Library University Archives were invaluable, and [Assistant Archivist] Ed Copenhagen was most helpful, as was BC Historian Tom O'Connor, who contributed the chapter about the school colors and eagle mascot. Tom helped me to access some archival materials that had been previously been unavailable, so I was able to find a lot of things I hadn't known about.

The late Dr. Nathaniel Hasenfus '22, who wrote the first history of athletics at BC in 1943, was another major source. His son, David, a 1965 grad, gave me his father's notes.

Most of all, I interviewed many BC athletic administrators, coaches, players, fans, alumni and some non-BC people as well. These were very helpful conversations, because even when I was familiar with a particular fact, story or anecdote, I often found out some details I hadn't heard before.

I had some very nice talks with Doug Flutie, who of course I knew from when he played here. In fact, a portion of the proceeds from sales of the book goes to the autism foundation he established in his son's name.

What aspects of BC football history did you find particularly fascinating?

Certainly the Frank Leahy era [1939-41], because that was really the first time BC was in the fast lane of national college football. And then to have him leave after BC had gone undefeated and won the national championship, and go to Notre Dame of all places, and to take with him players he had stashed in prep schools for the purpose of eventually bringing them to BC. It was a huge sore spot for a generation of BC football fans. They saw Leahy's success at Notre Dame and said, "That could have been us."

I also was fascinated by the years immediately following World War II, where you had an interesting mix of players: the returning war veterans, who were in their mid-20s, and the 18-year-old freshmen.

You were still working for Athletics during the 1996 football betting scandal. How difficult was it to revisit that event for the book?

As in family, as in life, there are always hurdles to overcome and that was a big one. It was a terrible transgression and a painful episode for BC. But if you looked, you would see great strength among people in Athletics and elsewhere in the University, who were determined to put things right.

I went back and looked at the media coverage and spoke at length with Omari Walker, one of the co-captains that season, about his memories and impressions. Dealing with the gambling allegations was difficult enough, but added to it was the fact that BC had to play a nationally televised game against Notre Dame that same week, so that just put everything under more of a microscope.

This was a lot of pressure for college kids to handle, but they did very well. And, obviously, BC has rebuilt.

Tom Coughlin, now in his first year as New York Giants head coach, was known for his strict, authoritarian style when he was head coach here. What did you think when you heard that he recently fined a couple of Giants players he said didn't arrive early enough for a team meeting, even though they were there before it started?

Tom is very, very focused, and I don't mean that in a bad way at all. He's just a very disciplined person and it obviously has helped him a lot in his coaching career.

He was always a stickler for routine and schedule. As I note in the book he always left his house at exactly 5:20 a.m. so he could arrive at BC at 5:55; if there were road or traffic problems he would get in at 5:57, and on those rare times when he got in at 6:01 it was not a happy start to his day.

I ran into him last fall and asked if I could interview him, and he gave me his personal number and said, "Call me at 10 minutes to eight a week from Thursday." Sure enough, when I called, he answered immediately and said, "Hi, Reid." We talked for about an hour, but after the first half-hour I could tell he was getting antsy. He probably had something else scheduled and didn't want to be late.

Besides the "BC joins ACC" story, was there anything else you had to leave out for space?

I had wanted to include some in-depth profiles of personalities who have been a major part of BC football, like Bill Flynn, who was athletic director from 1957-91; John Curley, the AD during Frank Leahy's tenure; Fr. Maurice Dullea, SJ, BC's very influential faculty moderator of athletics; and the trainer I mentioned earlier, Frank Jones - Jonesy.

As it was, there was still so much material we had to take out almost half of the photos that were going to run in the book.

One photo you did end up keeping is a previously unpublished one of Tom Coughlin dancing at a Hall of Fame Bowl reception. How do you think he reacted on seeing that?

I wouldn't be surprised if he was furious. But then again, I don't know if he's read the book yet. It may not have been on his schedule.

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