CHESTNUT HILL — Joe Landry woke up, rolled out of bed, and made his way to Stokes Lawn at 4:30 a.m. Saturday morning.
Landry, a Boston College sophomore from North Attleborough, wanted a front-row seat (er… post) for the 9 a.m. taping of ESPN’s “College GameDay,’’ which was visiting the Dustbowl for the first time in nine years. He wasn’t the only one eager to watch analysts Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard, and David Pollack join host Rece Davis on the freshly constructed studio set, as over a thousand students and fans descended upon the muddy quad — still soaked from Friday night’s heavy rainfall — to show their support for the No. 17 Eagles ahead of their ACC matchup against the No. 2 Clemson Tigers Saturday night.
The Dropkick Murphy’s “I’m Shipping Up to Boston’’ served as the morning’s anthem and was played several times, including twice by the poncho-clad BC pep band, to rally folks braving the brisk morning temperatures. Among those weathering the intermittent drizzles and 45-degree chills was former BC standout linebacker Mark Herzlich, who has fond memories from the last time ‘GameDay’ rolled through Chestnut Hill in 2009. After revealing in May of that year he had been diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, Herzlich shared on the ‘GameDay’ set in October that his doctor was “99-percent sure’’ he was cancer-free.
The announcement was met with thunderous cheers, and Herzlich returned to the field the 2010 season.
“Looking back nine years ago, when we had ‘GameDay’ last time, it was like the exact same day — spitting rain — but people came out then and people came out now,’’ Herzlich said Saturday. “I think BC knows how to do certain events really well: ‘College GameDay,’ Marathon Monday, and St. Patrick’s Day. ‘GameDay’ just needs to come here every year now.’’
The 2018 crowd certainly made a compelling case backing Herzlich’s stance.
Framed by academic buildings featuring iconic Collegiate Gothic architecture, the bundled sea of maroon and gold brought the noise at every opportunity. When the video board showed highlights from Clemson’s 9-0 season, a rush of boos came pouring down. Scenes from BC’s seven wins, on the other hand, were greeted with an eruption of cheers.
But no hoots and hollers seemed louder than those following BC head coach Steve Addazio’s update that running back A.J. Dillon “feels great’’ and will be “ready to roll’’ against the Tigers. Dillon, who was initially listed as questionable with an ankle injury, is expected to play a critical role in BC’s attempt to pull off an upset.
“I just hope it gets a little colder, a little windier, [and] the fans get a little bit more amped,’’ Addazio said, before turning to the crowd. “You guys need to bring the juice tonight. We need to be fired up.’’
As the “GameDay’’crew broke down the conference matchup, several flags and signs, along with “fatheads’’ of the ESPN analysts, jutted out above the masses. Some paid homage to the more notable members and moments of BC’s football program (e.g. “Flutie 2020,’’ in honor of Eagles demigod Doug Flutie, and “1940 National Champions’’), while others poked fun at Clemson’s head coach Dabo Swinney (e.g. “Dabo’s Tigers meow like house cats’’ and “Dabo cries more than my two-year-old’’).
“BC is the type of team that gets up for these big games,’’ Herzlich said. “I think having ‘GameDay’ on campus and just the atmosphere tonight is going to spark [the Eagles].’’
Sprinkled throughout the quad was a small Clemson contingent repping orange and purple. The group tried to make itself known above the boos, but to no avail, when Corso put on the Tigers’ mascot head for his weekly “headgear pick.’’
“I’m in Boston, home of the winners,’’ Corso said. “Boston Red Sox, World Champs; New England Patriots, five Super Bowl wins; Boston Celtics, 17 titles; Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup seven years ago; and of course, Boston College. It would be only natural that I pick Boston College to win if I thought they would win. They won’t.’’
Though Corso predicted quarterback Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers will remain undefeated, Howard and guest picker, actor and 1992 BC graduate Chris O’Donnell, both went with the underdog Eagles.
“Because of the talent Clemson has, these guys are going to play out of control,’’ Howard said. “But when they come and the weather starts to smack them in the face, it’s a difference maker. Boston College will upset.’’