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Day 35: Loss by Way of JMU

September 12, 2010

Congrats, SPCA. Foiled again by the social network.

In the third Die Hard movie, there’s a scene where the mayor is briefing top city officials and journalists regarding the recent string of bombings and threats. One by one, cell phones start to ring building to a climax in which everyone’s phone is blaring simultaneously, signifying some major event taking place.

When my phone starting buzzing every 3 seconds with text message, Twitter and Facebook notifications on a Sept. 11th, I feared the worst. The messages were not horrible, but a direct kick in the pants: celebration and adulation for James Madison University’s upset of Virginia Tech.

Before the program ended, Northeastern’s football team competed with James Madison in the Atlantic-10 conference, which later became the Colonial Athletic Association’s football conference. Some of my most vivid memories of covering NU football were against JMU. There’s an end-of-the-season victory at Harrisonburg where a hostile crowd was deflated after their starting quarterback suffered a broken leg, then was deservingly taunted by the NU players on the sideline one the game’s result was in hand. There’s also the convincing home win on the last day of the 2002 season to clinch a share of the school’s only conference championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament, prompting the only time I’ve ever seen a university president attempt to lead students in a takedown of the goalposts.

Since those days, the programs diverged in opposite directions. The Dukes retooled, built new facilities and won a national championship en route to the win over their big-time local nadversaries this weekend. The Huskies never returned to the NCAAs and ended football at the end of the decade. They were never considered true rivals, so when Madison did well, I was glad for the program and its fans.

We had victories over D-I teams under the belt including UConn & Ohio U as well as narrow defeats to Navy and Boston College. Once the FBS showdown/payday became embarassing exercises in futility as exemplified in recent contests at Ball State and the aforementioned Hokies, the writing was on the wall to shut down football at Northeastern.

James Madison’s win is a stinging reminder of what could-have-been, but there was never any chance that Northeastern was ever going to pour the necessary resources into the program that could instead be used to bolster the booming basketball and hockey teams. Face it, when your hockey team outdraws football it’s time to reevaluate.

As I’ve said before, I understand and agree with the call to cut football at Northeastern. It doesn’t mean the temptation to envision untapped potential has vanished.

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