By: Tom Leyden
Originally written in November, 2017
In the winter of 2005, I stood on campus at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. A biting wind struck my face, chilling my jaw. I was disoriented, confused by a reconstructed and renovated campus, but I was sure of my memories.
The memories are indelible.
When a Notre Dame student approached, with coffee in hand and backpack on shoulder, I had to ask if this was the same place – the spot I had tailgated 12 years earlier when I was a senior at Boston College.
“I haven’t been here since 1993, when BC beat Notre Dame,” I said.
He responded tersely. “The day Notre Dame football died.”
Dramatic as it sounds, and it is dramatic, many football fans around the country shared that sentiment in the aftermath of Boston College’s unexpected 41-39 upset of top-ranked Notre Dame on November 20, 1993.
In the 21 seasons that followed, the Fighting Irish went through seven head coaches, including one who never took the sidelines for a practice or game, and compiled a 159-99 record.
Not death, but a sharp contrast to the 10-0 team on the brink of a national championship the Eagles faced on that bright day in South Bend 22 years ago.
To be fair, Notre Dame has never lost its national appeal nor its marquee status in college football.
An appearance in the 2012-13 BCS Championship Game has highlighted a resurgence, led by head coach Brian Kelly.
Since 1993, Notre Dame leads the head-to-head series with BC 9-8, including four straight wins in the last four meetings.
The Irish are heavy favorites in their matchup with Boston College this Saturday at Fenway Park.
Many aspects of the ‘93 game - how the events unfolded, its significance to both schools and its lasting legacy - make it stand out as one of the best college football games ever played and one of the greatest victories in Boston College history.
Below are the first-hand accounts of those Eagles most notably influential to BC’s astounding upset.
GLENN FOLEY was a four-year starter at quarterback from 1990-1993 and is second only to Doug Flutie in the BC record books for career passing yards with 10,039. He holds the mark for most career touchdown passes with 72. Foley threw for 315 yards with four touchdown passes and no interceptions against Notre Dame in 1993.
PETE MITCHELL played four seasons at tight end from 1991-94, was a captain in 1994 and a two-time All-American. Mitchell caught 13 passes for 132 yards, with two touchdown receptions, against Notre Dame in 1993.
STEPHEN BOYD played four seasons at linebacker from 1991-1994, serving as captain during the 1994 season. Boyd made 13 tackles and blocked a field goal against Notre Dame in 1993.
MIKE REED was a standout cornerback for Boston College and served as captain in 1994. In the midst of an All Big-East season in 1993, Reed broke his jaw in the first quarter against Notre Dame.
DAVID GORDON was the Boston College kicker in 1993 and 1994. A former soccer player from Avon, CT, Gordon kicked two field goals against Notre Dame in 1993, including the game-winner from 41 yards away as time expired.
To fully appreciate the significance of 1993’s win, you need to recall Notre Dame’s 54-7 defeat of Boston College in 1992, Tom Coughlin’s second season as head coach of the BC football team.
Entering that matchup, Notre Dame was 6-1-1 and ranked eighth in the country. Boston College was 7-0-1 and ranked ninth. It was the most high-profile meeting between the two schools since the 1983 Liberty Bowl and the first in a yearly series that would continue uninterrupted through 2004.
GLENN FOLEY - We thought we were pretty good, but we ran into a buzzsaw. That 1992 Notre Dame team probably had 15 or 20 first-round picks. Bobby Taylor, Jerome Bettis, Bryant Young, Aaron Taylor, they were all on that team – and they all became perennial Pro Bowlers in the NFL. That was as good a football team as I ever played against until that point and I played against a number of good ones. We faced Miami my sophomore year and they won the national championship. That same season, we faced Michigan during Desmond Howard's Heisman Trophy season. Notre Dame beat us 54-7 and they rubbed it in too. They were faking punts. It was an ugly, embarrassing, embarrassing loss for us.
MIKE REED - They had the ball on their own 30, leading 37-0. Fourth and maybe 12 or 15 and we're back in punt-return formation and Lou Holtz runs a fake punt. We were like, "Whoa, this guy's trying to send a message." Lou Holtz was trying to send a message that, "You guys don't belong on our level. We're gonna take it to you and let you know that 'Hey, this is how we do things over here.''
PETE MITCHELL - We were demoralized. We were humiliated. But Tom's got a great way of seeing the big picture and obviously he was pissed.
STEPHEN BOYD - If you've never played at Notre Dame, you can definitely get caught up in it, and as prepared as we were, we didn't show up. We got caught up in everything else but the game. We started to believe our own headlines. We were getting some media attention and we weren't used to it because we'd never gotten it before. Before you knew it, it was ugly. They were still running fake punts. The best part about that game was after, when Coughlin was fired up.
PETE MITCHELL – Tom wasn't happy about losing to Holtz like that, especially the way things went with him running the fake punt late in the third quarter. I think that gave him and us a little more determination to come back the next year.
MIKE REED - The locker room was quiet. You could have heard a pin drop and Coughlin came in and said, "Okay, this is red-letter game. We're gonna remember this. We're gonna remember everything that happened. We're gonna remember that they ran a fake punt in the third quarter when they were up 37-0. We're gonna remember that next year."
STEPHEN BOYD - Coughlin said, "We will come back here next year and win, and I don't care if we have to die on the field doing it."
BC finished the 1992 season with an 8-3-1 record after additional losses to Syracuse in Chestnut Hill and Tennessee in the Hall of Fame Bowl. In the months that followed, Tom Coughlin was offered the head coaching position with the New York Giants. He turned it down. He had unfinished business at The Heights and a roster of players who were equally determined to exact revenge.
The 1993 team started the season with a 23-7 loss to third-ranked Miami, followed by an unexpected 22-21 loss at Northwestern. David Gordon missed a game-winning field goal attempt in the final minute of the Northwestern game.
DAVID GORDON - What happened there was a big lesson to me. I treated that kick differently and put a lot of pressure on myself to make it and I didn't treat it like a regular field goal. I know why I missed it. I didn't follow my mental steps. I said, "This is a game-winning kick." I got myself into that mentality and I wasn't in the right mindset and that's why I missed it. I tried too hard.
GLENN FOLEY - It's funny, I have a soft spot for those kickers. It's an unbelievable pressure situation for one guy. It's a team sport, but when you have one guy responsible for winning the game for you, it's easy to say, "Hey that's your job. It's pretty easy to do. Just do it." Then the other half of your mind feels for him, and you try to give him some support and maybe it will come up again and we're going to need him another time. In the back of your mind, you're pretty pissed off.
At 0-2, BC’s seniors addressed their teammates in an emotional, closed-door meeting. The Eagles responded by winning seven straight games, averaging 42 points per game on offense. A 33-29 road win over Syracuse and 48-34 victory over Virginia Tech highlighted the streak.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame sailed through the first nine games of the season and was undefeated at 9-0, ranked #2, when top-ranked Florida State visited South Bend on November 13, the Saturday before the Boston College game.
In a matchup billed “The Game of the Century,” the Fighting Irish held off the Seminoles, led by Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward, and assumed the country’s #1 ranking with a 31-24 win.
The stage was set for a rematch of 1992’s blowout. BC returned to South Bend with a 7-2 record, while the Irish were 10-0 and one win away from playing for a national championship.
GLENN FOLEY – Tom Coughlin had a plan and he had an objective and he was looking at it as a three-year plan. At the end of the second year, we weren't even close to being the team we were at the end of the third year. Tom got us there. He got a bunch of kids who were not headed in the right direction on the same page and it was a miracle the way it all worked out.
MIKE REED - They had just played Florida State and we watched the game and we said, 'Okay, then, this is THE team." We thought we belonged just like they belonged and we were not as nervous as the year before. We had more confidence. We didn't play the game before the game. We were ready to play. We had a good scheme. We matched up well.
PETE MITCHELL - They just had the huge win over Florida State the previous week, so if there was a time to get 'em, it was then.
Nearly 60,000 fans packed Notre Dame Stadium on a brisk, sun-drenched Saturday afternoon. It was the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Many of Notre Dame’s students had already gone home for the holiday and their tickets were scooped up by Boston College fans who made the road trip to Indiana with hopes of witnessing an upset.
The Eagles jumped out to a 10-0 lead, with Gordon connecting on a 28-yard field goal and Foley connecting with Ivan Boyd for a 39-yard touchdown pass. Stephen Boyd also blocked a field-goal attempt in the first quarter, which ignited the Eagles bench.
DAVID GORDON - One of the problems playing that late in the season is that the field's not in that great shape and to make things worse, it's really cold. In a game like that, I knew it was going to be a close game, the whole game. In those types of games, you've gotta keep moving, you can't just stand there and watch. I was constantly moving the whole game. That first field goal was real important for me confidence-wise, to get my feet wet during a game and to keep me active instead of just kicking extra points all the time.
STEPHEN BOYD - When you go to Notre Dame and you're the visiting team, you've gotta make a big play happen early. Here's what you have to know about rushing on a field goal - I'm not the fastest guy or the tallest guy, but you've gotta go hard anyway because it can open up something for somebody else. I remember I went as hard as I could and nobody got in front of me, and the next thing I know I put my hands up and the ball just blasted me in the face. Daryl Porter, who runs probably a 4.4, goes to pick it up and I'm saying, "If this this kid picks it up, I'm gonna turn around and block somebody, seven points, alright we've got a big play!" Well he goes to pick it up and he bobbles it and I say, "Holy shit, now I've gotta pick it up." So I did and I don't know how many yards I got, but I remember I cut back and I got tackled by an offensive lineman and they still bust my balls today.
MIKE REED - Boyd picks up the ball and begins to run. I'm out in front of him and guys are chasing him. I'm looking at the kicker because the kicker has an angle and I'm going to hit the kicker, but before I can hit the kicker a linebacker hits me in the side of the face, just blindsides me. I didn't wear a mouthpiece at that time and I felt like somebody just hit me in the side of the face with a bat. I'm like, "Whoa!" I roll over, look up and Stephen had gotten it deep and all of a sudden I see blood coming out of mouth and I tried to open my mouth and it wasn't opening. "Oh shit, something's wrong!" I spit up a couple chiclets and the doctor told me to leave my helmet on because I might have a broken jaw. It turns out I did, and the way it broke, the bone from the jaw actually hit me in the eardrum.
GLENN FOLEY - The offensive line that year was known as the "Mass Movers." Tom Nalen and Pete Kendall went on to be big-time players in the NFL. The offensive line was far superior than the defensive front of Notre Dame, even though Notre Dame had Bryant Young and Mike Flanigan, Our guys were more hyped. We had the best center in the country (Nalen), you had Greg Landry and Kendall. Mark Borrelli got in there and kind of screwed it up cause he's a Philly guy, but the bulk of 'em were Massachusetts guys and they were good and they were tough and they were hard-nosed guys.
STEPHEN BOYD - We knew what our guys were capable of doing. Foles started to get hot and when he's hot, watch out. It felt like it was the longest game in the world, because sometimes you get up on a team and all you do is stare at the clock. We weren't staring at the clock. We just said, "Keep going, keep going." That game could have been eight quarters and we wouldn't have known it. You just keep playing because it's the #1 team in the nation, at Notre Dame, national TV, but to us it was like nobody was there. You just keep playing play after play after play. We weren't about to start getting high on ourselves.
The Eagles took a 24-14 lead into the locker room at halftime, as Foley connected with Ivan Boyd again for a 36-yard touchdown and Pete Mitchell for a three-yard TD, while Notre Dame got scores from Ray Zellars and Jeff Burris.
Mitchell’s touchdown catch was almost costly, as his leg got caught awkwardly in the turf when he was tackled at the goal line.
PETE MITCHELL - It was a quick little arrow-in and thankfully the turf gave way because, if not, I think my ankle would have been in disarray. My foot slipped instead of getting caught in the turf. I just sprained the ankle a little bit and I was able to come back. I think scoring the touchdown dulled the pain.
GLENN FOLEY – At halftime, we knew we wanted to stick to what we were doing. The worst thing to do is change anything when you're playing so well. You always hear "0-0," in the locker room at halftime. Someone's always screaming it, whether it's one of the coaches or a player. You've got to go out and play likes it's a tie game.
PETE MITCHELL - Coughlin let us know that if we were going to score in the second half, we were going to run an onside kick. We knew it was coming and it was one of things, we scored right away in the second half, recovered the onside kick and we were distancing ourselves on the scoreboard. All these things were happening and we said, "Man this is our day," but we obviously got a little bit ahead of ourselves.
BC extended its lead to 38-17 as Darnell Campbell scored on a 21-yard run and Mitchell caught a one-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter. Then, as the sun set over the top rows of the western side of Notre Dame Stadium, the tide turned dramatically.
The Fighting Irish offense started clicking, with quarterback Kevin McDougal utilizing his many offensive weapons, including Lee Becton, Ray Zellars and Lake Dawson.
STEPHEN BOYD - Kevin McDougal made some great throws and the guys made some great catches. We loaded up the front and we were playing eight and nine man fronts to stop the run. Then, they start to throw the ball, which puts a lot of pressure on your defensive backs. Every time we thought they were going to run, they passed. Every time we thought they were going to pass, they ran. They got us way off-balance and then they started to play well on defense. I remember sitting there saying, "You gotta be kidding me, this can't be happening."
GLENN FOLEY - I tell you what, there's a mystique about that place, and I didn't realize it until it was 38-17 and they started coming back.
MIKE REED - I knew what was going on, but I was in great pain. I had some painkillers but other than that I was fine. I was back on the sideline and Daryl Porter was in and he was a young kid and it was his time to make some plays. Guys on the sideline kept making fun of how I was talking.
PETE MITCHELL - Having the lead, I guess you're not as sharp mentally. I think a lot guys probably thought, "Alright, we've got 'em now. We don't need any more." Obviously, the momentum changed and the crowd got into it and that's just the way football works.
With just over one minute to play, facing a fourth and goal, Notre Dame scored the game-tying touchdown. McDougal connected with Lake Dawson as he streaked across the back of the end zone. After the successful extra point, the Fighting Irish led 39-38 and were 69 seconds away from a chance to play for the national championship.
PETE MITCHELL - I remember looking at Glenn on the sideline and just having this air of confidence because we were awesome at the two-minute offense that year. Every Thursday and Friday during practice, our defense had a tough time stopping us. I'd always go against Stephen Boyd and we'd have some great battles throughout the year. So we really were confident that we could move the ball. I think that a lot of people probably thought, "Ah they came close at Notre Dame but couldn't pull it off," but as players we knew we could move the ball and just get it close enough for David to give it a shot.
GLENN FOLEY - I'm looking up at the clock and thinking, "I have a minute and four seconds to win this game. We've done this a million times already and they can't stop us." They couldn't stop us all game and it was just a matter of executing what we had to do. We went down, a couple iffy plays early and then we hit three straight balls - Pete down the left side and quick middle screen to Keith Miller and we were set up.
During the final drive, Notre Dame linebacker Pete Bercich had a sure interception slip through his hands.
GLENN FOLEY - I think it was third down. I remember Ivan went over the top and I read it different and I threw a shot put and Bercich bricked it. He booted it. New life for us and the rest is history.
BC moved the ball to the Notre Dame 24 yard-line. Five seconds remained on the clock. The fate of the game and Notre Dame’s national championship hopes rested on the execution of three players - center Tom Nalen, holder Glenn Foley and kicker David Gordon.
DAVID GORDON – Mentally I had an edge on the other kickers because I'm really good at blocking out a lot of distractions. I was more scared of kicking in front of Cough Coughlin than I was of kicking in front of 80,000 people in a stadium. He had this presence on the field that if you didn't make a kick, believe me, you'd hear about it. He wanted kicks off in 1.25 seconds every time. Even if I made a 50-yard kick but my get-off time was 1.3 seconds he'd say, "It's blocked, it's no good." And you're just like, it's five tenths of a second. I kind of liked a coach like that. I really thought he did a great job preparing me for the games.
GLENN FOLEY - I was the best holder for a left-footed kicker. I did it my first year when Sean Wright was the kicker because I was the backup quarterback. I got good at holding, better than I could for a right-footed kicker. Any time there was a left footed kicker I stepped up. I even held for left-footed kickers in the NFL. Joe Nedney - I was his holder. I could hold really well from the left side.
DAVID GORDON - Not only was he such a good holder, he was such a great comedian. He'd get me loose during a game. He can really lighten up the moment. He'd say something to me like, "It's no big deal. It's only a game-winning kick against Notre Dame." I'd just look at him, like "Oh my gosh, c'mon Glenn… not now." He'd say, "Hopefully Nails will snap it to my hands this time. Hopefully I won't have to catch it with one hand and pull it down." He was just really good at keeping me loose, but most of all he had such great hands and he could get it down very quickly. No other holder could make that time and that's why Glenn held during my three years there.
PETE MITCHELL - I'd be lying if I said I had 100% confidence, but you just pray and hope. The thing about David is he came to BC just struggling to make extra points. Nobody on that team worked harder to get better than he did.
DAVID GORDON - Coach Coughlin came up to me on the sideline after I'd gotten my spot. It was my third season with him and it was probably the first time during the game he actually talked to me to give me any type of advice or anything. He'd usually leave me alone, but this time, he grabbed me. He literally grabbed me and I'll never forget, he looked me right in the eyes and said, "I just want you to make good contact on the ball. That's all I want you to do." I really think that it gave me a lot of confidence, because he's the kind of coach who believes in your ability and lets you take care of your business and leaves you alone. But, I'd seen it with other players where he grabs them and offers them a little extra advice and I think at this particular moment it really helped me out. I may have been a little too hyped up for it, but now I knew to think of it like just another field goal and he really helped me out by getting that into my head.
STEPHEN BOYD - I'm thinking, "Snap. Good snap." Tom Nalen ended up being a perennial Pro Bowler with the Broncos. I'm just thinking of every step of the process. "Let's get the snap, let's get the hold, and let's see what happens. We're in position." You've got a whole bunch of kids on the sideline holding hands and you're thinking, "C'mon kid… make this kick."
GLENN FOLEY – Nalen almost shoots it over my head and I'm fully extended - both hands way above my helmet. I had to catch the ball and then put it down.
DAVID GORDON - High snap. Typical with Tom. I was used to it
STEPHEN BOYD - The snap was high, Foley got it down and then, Boom!
DAVID GORDON - On that kick, I really went faster than I normally would, because when I watched the tape of the Notre Dame field goal block team, I saw they had two types of blocks - one where they come around the corner and one where they come straight up the middle and they have a leaper. Bobby Taylor was their leaper. Watching the tape, I knew I had to get it off quickly because they came hard and high and I knew if I took my time, it might get blocked. I rushed my kick. It was faster than 1.25. When I made contact with the ball, I kicked it a little differently. Normally as a soccer-style kicker, three-quarters of your foot hits the ball. American soccer-style or wedge, more of your foot hits it like a golf club. On that kick, it was more of an American soccer-style kick where less of my foot hit the ball. My normal rotation on the ball is a nice little end-over-end spin, but on that kick, it was more of a hook and it wasn't a normal kick for me because it was a real rush to kick it as hard as I could and as high as I could.
GLENN FOLEY - He actually sliced the ball around them. Everybody saw the kick but nobody saw the kick like I saw the kick. I'm sitting there and I'm holding. Gordon kicks the ball, it looks like a pull hook. If you ever played golf, it's a pull hook to the right, and I just said to myself, "Shit."
STEPHEN BOYD - It started out to the right, and then what did it hit? It had to hit something to turn back the way it did.
GLENN FOLEY - It was fifteen yards outside the right upright and then halfway there it bent left and it stopped spiraling. It was way more wide right than it looked on TV.
PETE MITCHELL - It looked like it was going right, no question about it.
DAVID GORDON - I knew it was good because kicking is a lot like golfing. When I finish a kick, if my number is square to the goal post, 99% of the time the ball is going to be straight. As a rule, when I finished my kick and my body was square to the goal post it was a good feeling. Normally when I miss, I follow through to my right or left, which pushed the ball left or right. I had a good feeling about that one. Again, my main concern was not getting it blocked.
GLENN FOLEY - I ran around the right side of the line, hoping the thing would slice back and it did.
PETE MITCHELL - It curved back left and went in. It was just an awesome moment.
DAVID GORDON - It wasn't one of the prettiest looking field goals but my goal was just to make it.
PETE MITCHELL - If there's a kid who deserved it, it was Dave, because he worked his ass off and the amount of improvement he showed from day one to the final kick was unbelievable.
DAVID GORDON - I looked up and Brian Saxton's there and the next thing I remember is jumping up to Brian and the entire team is on top of us on the field and it was just complete chaos. I'm about 200 pounds. Picture about 60 guys on top of you that are at least 250 pounds. I couldn't even breathe. I thought I was going to suffocate. I was just trying to sneak out from the pile underneath. All the students were on the field and it was an unbelievable experience.
GLENN FOLEY – I was hooting and hollering with the BC fans. Then I said, "Screw this, I'm getting out of here because this is gonna get mad. Ultimately it's my biggest regret. I should have stayed on the field. I sprinted into the locker room and I'm thinking all of my buddies and all my teammates are going to be there, but I'm the only one there, standing all by myself. The first person who comes in? Tom Coughlin. Tom and I are the first two guys in the locker room and we're going berserk and we're hugging each other going crazy. I love Tom now, but you don't love him that much when you play for him. I'm smiling to myself, because of all the people, I'm with Tom and we just started hugging and it was a cool scene.
MIKE REED - It was unbelievable. You've got people going crazy, people jumping around, but I'm thinking I can't jump around with all these people because of my broken jaw. I've gotta walk away to the locker room.
PETE MITCHELL - The only thing I regret is that I didn't get in that pile. I don't know where I was, I was in some kind of euphoric state just wandering around the field. The next thing I know, my brothers came up and found me and they threw me up on their shoulders.
Gordon’s 41-yard field goal was the difference in a classic game, as BC won 41-39, handing Notre Dame its only defeat of the season. The Eagles had accomplished what they set out to do – avenge the embarrassing loss of 1992 and crush any hopes of a national championship for the Fighting Irish.
GLENN FOLEY – As we're getting set for takeoff from South Bend to Boston, the plane captain comes on and announces he changed the flight number. Whatever the original flight number was, they officially changed it with the air traffic controllers to "4139." It was out of control. They gave the airplane full clearance to do a fly-by of Notre Dame Stadium and I don't know if we buzzed the stadium, but we swung around and actually flew right over the stadium as we flew away. Guys were going crazy on the plane.
STEPHEN BOYD - When we got on the plane, we didn't realize what just happened. We're all just sitting on the plane, tired. We didn't have TV's, we didn't see the highlights. But then you land and you get to the airport and you're tired and you pull up and the place is going freakin' coo-coo. It was nuts. We had a police escort of about 15 motorcycles take us from Logan Airport back to campus. There were kids jumping on cars. We went out that night and it was just great. I'll never forget.
PETE MITCHELL - It was awesome. I'm a pretty humble guy, but I have to talk about this. The greatest part of the end of that 24-hour period, which I still call the greatest day of my athletic career, was when Stephen Boyd came into my room and threw down a copy of The Boston Globe on my bed and there's a picture of me in color on the front page on people's shoulders coming off the field. I mean, that was an unbelievable feeling. Of course we've got that thing all over the Mitchell house. That was the end of that great 24-hour stretch.
GLENN FOLEY - I have a game ball from that game and I have a shot of the scoreboard - 41-39 with :00 on the clock.
DAVID GORDON - The ball is back at BC. It's at Conte Forum. I have my shoe. All kickers are kind of weird about their shoes. I had the same shoe my whole career. That's my main memento. I also have the game jersey that they gave me, but that's about it.
STEPHEN BOYD - It wasn't about Notre Dame. It wasn't about beating the #1 team in the country. It was about a bunch of 19, 20, 21 year-olds who had been through so much together and the lesson was, "You work hard and you never stop and you never give up and you're gonna win. You're gonna have success." And that's what it was. It was just a celebration of everything that Coughlin had instilled in us. It was a great way to end one of the best college football games this country has ever seen. Definitely the best football game I ever played in.
The family gatherings, most notably the storied Fourth of July celebrations in Hampton Beach, NH, date back more than 80 years. “Cousin Camp” has stood the test of time, gathering kids of all ages under one roof. Rooted in laughter and camaraderie, the Perry family convenes for the fun of it. They find joy in each other’s company and love competing.
Inevitably, the conversation always turns to football – unavoidable when four coaches, a bunch of baseball players and an aspiring pro quarterback start swapping stories.
E.J. Perry IV is weeks away from getting the call he’s envisioned since the first day he grabbed a football. The former Andover High School standout, who began his college career at Boston College and finished at Brown University, will likely be selected in the 2022 NFL Draft. All signs are pointing in that direction.
A week ago, when I first learned Hall of Famer Mike Bossy was approaching death, I immediately thought of my old boss and lifelong friend, Bill Mitchell.
The affable, lovable master-connector had a special connection with Bossy, dating back to the days when the Islanders dominated the NHL and the Mitchells were beginning their run as one of the nation's top clothiers.
Bill and his family watched Islanders games at Nassau Coliseum from a suite, and naturally, Mitchell and Bossy became good friends. Mike's wife, Lucie, was learning English and Mike had asked Bill if she could watch the games from the sanctuary of the Mitchell suite.
Of course Bill said yes and wanted nothing in return but friendship, something Mike returned with sincerity. Their bond grew along with their respective legends. The Isles, led by Bossy, took home the Stanley Cup four consecutive years. The Mitchell empire was just taking off, with a who's who of clientele walking through the doors to buy suits, ties and sportswear.
Bossy was one of many celebrities who stopped by Mitchell's in the late 80s when I first started working behind the customer service desk. As an aspiring sportscaster and huge fan, I was in awe of the steely, yet friendly, glare, the strong handshake and a humility that was evident from the first introduction.
Today, I called Bill and he shared some Mike Bossy stories in only the way Bill can. At times getting choked up, he recalled the most meaningful memory from their decades-long friendship.
It was 1986, and Westport had suffered a terrible tragedy. Michael Kowall, a friend and baseball teammate of mine, collided with another player during a soccer game. Mike was knocked out, never regained consciousness and later died from a brain hemorrhage. In the wake of his death, Michael's soccer teammates, a collection of incredibly talented eighth-graders, were stunned, shocked and unmotivated to press on.
Bill, along with his friend and coach Dave Harrison, made a decision that ultimately re-energized and re-focused the squad.
The Islanders had two home games approaching on the schedule and the dads decided to split the team in two and take the players to those games - half for the first game and the other half two nights later. Bill called Bossy and asked if the future Hall Of Famer would visit with the players in Bill's suite after the game and talk to them.
"Would it be possible to bring some sticks and pucks for the kids?" asked Bill. "And you better score a couple goals to make it worth their while."
Bossy agreed to do it. Bill convinced the guy who ran Nassau Coliseum to keep the lights on both nights, and the enduring magic ensued.
The Islanders superstar spent an hour in the suite both nights, shaking hands, taking pictures and answering questions. One question focused on the fear of something bad happening again and how to handle that fear. Bossy described his own acceptance of hockey's inherent danger and stressed how he couldn't ever allow himself to think about it if he wanted to succeed at the highest level.
He told the players, "When the spring season starts, I'll be at your first game. And if I'm on that hill at Staples High School, I better see you on the field."
Sure enough, on an Islanders off-day during the postseason, there was Bossy, on the hill at Staples watching the boys as they once again played the game they love, overcoming those natural fears and emotions.
By the way, Bossy scored a goal in the first game against the Maple Leafs and a goal in the second game against the Whalers, as the boys from Westport watched. That's what friends do for friends. When someone asks a favor, you take care of business.
Mike Bossy will be missed, and my heart hurts for his dear friend, Bill.
Bossy's friendship with Bill Mitchell was special
It was before Twitter changed the way we communicate, before Facebook and Instagram dominated the media landscape. Sports-Talk Radio was popular but you had to be listening. Some, like me, were on vacation when the big news on The Big Ticket broke.
I'll never forget waking up in Cape Cod, pouring my cup of coffee and cracking open The Boston Globe. Right there on the cover was the headline detailing Kevin Garnett's arrival - the enormous trade orchestrated by Danny Ainge that shook the foundation of the NBA.
At that time, I was working in Detroit, covering an insane Pistons run - six straight trips to the Conference Finals, an NBA title and two runs to the NBA Finals - but reading that headline was all it took for me. I knew the Pistons were toast. The tide had turned. Momentum had shifted. The Celtics were going to win the championship.
It was that simple. One monstrous move to acquire a game-changing and franchise-shifting talent. One final piece that was so perfect you knew an unforgettable season was on the horizon. Just weeks after Ray Allen was added to the mix, Garnett was the cherry on top.
There are only a few trades in NBA history that made me feel this way - Moses Malone to the Sixers in 1982. Dennis Rodman to the Bulls in 1995. Rasheed Wallace to the Pistons in 2004.
When those players moved, the title was clinched. You just knew. And thus, when Garnett joined the Celtics, you just knew. You knew his talent, you knew his drive, you knew his magnetism. What's more, you knew he'd make Paul Pierce and Allen better.
What you didn't know is how much Garnett would love Boston, how he'd thrive in the raucous environment and embrace the energy of Celtics fans. It was a match made in heaven. When he finished his domination on the floor, he kicked back and embraced the culture, the tradition and sometimes the silliness of basketball at TD Garden - Hello Gino!
And Hello Championship. It was sealed in that moment I read the news in the middle of my vacation. Banner 17 was coming. It was all but guaranteed.
The raindrops fell on the windshield, our car trickling northbound on Route 1, headed home after a bookmark night in NFL history. With wet clothes, we soaked in the postgame reaction on the radio while processing our own personal experiences.
The only true fireworks we had witnessed were during halftime of the Buccaneers 19-17 win over the Patriots, but even a steady drizzle couldn't douse the significance of the scene that unfolded before our eyes.
In the end, Tom Brady was left standing on the 37-yard-line chatting with NBC's Michele Tafoya. The same 37-yard-line from which the ball was snapped moments before, with Nick Folk's potential game-winning field goal clanging off the left upright. A 37th consecutive field goal from Folk would have put New England in front by one, but instead, here we were again - Brady thanking his family, his fans and his teammates on national TV as he stood victorious.
Rarely is an NFL game filed on its own shelf, separate from the dozens of others to be played this month, this season, this decade. That was the case Sunday and anyone who bought the tickets, trekked to Foxboro, tailgated, entered early, stood in the rain, cheered and boo'ed will tell you - it was different.
I'm not used to sitting in the stands, so I nudged my friend, Jay, in the third quarter and said, "Does everyone in the lower bowl typically stand for the whole game like we have tonight?"
It was understood on Sunday. Every play carried with it the possibility of historical significance and no one wanted to miss it because they were blocked by someone standing in front. So everyone stood.
As time passes, even the most diehard will forget the details. Of the many plays executed on the field, only a few will be easily recalled, but no one will forget the tension, the build-up, the aura of drama encasing Gillette Stadium on this early October night.
With a single doink, wet ball meeting slick upright, we learned even the Patriots can't escape the magic touch of a legend.
Done with the postgame interview, Brady dropped his headset, and slowly made his way to the visitors' tunnel. He spun a 360, acknowledging the thousands who remained, waiting to witness his likely final departure wearing pads from the field he called home for 20 years.
Cheers erupted as rain continued to fall like teardrops from the sky. Brady jogged the final stretch, right arm outstretched in acknowledgement. And then he was gone. We turned and made our way out. It was done. We were there to see it.
On to the next chapter, but that was a good one.