In the 1920s and 1930s, Holy Cross was a consistent national powerhouse and, along with schools like Fordham, NYU and Manhattan, came to symbolize big-time "Eastern Football". With a backyard rivalry with nearby Boston College, things looked rosy for the boys in purple, especially after they appeared in the Orange Bowl in 1946 (losing to Miami (FL) 13-6).
In the 1950s, when many religious colleges were abandoning the sport, Holy Cross survived behind the steady coaching hand of Dr. Eddie Anderson. Form 1933 to 1964, Anderson's twenty-one year career coaching record was an amazing 129-67-8 - and he also, incredibly, maintained a medical practice as well as the head of the eye, ear, nose, and throat clinic at Boston's Veterans Hospital.
Holy Cross and Boston College would continue to be joined at the hip as Division I independents, but the Eagles' taste for big time football, and Holy Cross' more modest ambitions, would mean that Boston College would dominate the football series in the 1970's and early 1980s. Holy Cross' scholarship football program's fate would be sealed when Fr. Brooks, the then-president of Holy Cross, got together with the presidents of Lehigh, Lafayette, Bucknell and Colgate to form the core of the Patriot League.
This made the football program, who also had good local rivalries with UMass, Boston University, wither. But in those early years of the Patriot League Holy Cross (with a host of grandfathered scholarship players) wreaked havoc on their Patriot opponents. The 1987 and 1991 teams are considered to be some of the best Patriot League teams ever, both undefeated. Had Holy Cross in 1987, behind two-way star Gordie Lockbaum, chosen to play in the I-AA playoffs instead of abiding by the then-post season ban imposed by the new league, they certainly would have done some damage, if not won the whole thing.
One of the most significant games in Patriot League history involving Holy Cross came in 1991. A battle for the Patriot League championship that year, going into Murray Goodman stadium that year the Engineers and Crusaders were both 6-0. In the exhilerating 43-42 defeat, the game featured six lead changes and not one but two "fumblerooski" plays by then-Lehigh coach Hank Small to try to get the win. That game that did wonders for establishing the Patriot League as "big-time". (The Crusaders won the Patriot League title that year and also finished 11-0, but once again did not go to the I-AA playoffs despite wins over Harvard, BU, and UMass.)
From 1991 to 2003, Holy Cross really struggled at times as the Holy Cross athletic department actively chose to pursue basketball while phasing out football scholarships and implementing stringent academic stadards.
Then in 2004, fortunes changed. Then-Lehigh defensive coordinator Tom Gilmore, fresh from the Lehigh coaching staff, took on the job of rebuilding the Crusader football program essentially from scratch. Adding insult to the injury of Gilmore hightailing to Holy Cross in the middle of recruiting season, Gilmore also convinced defensive backs coach Issac Collins to follow him in his rebuilding effort - after Collins had already been promoted to defensive coordinator. This caused some bad blood between the Lehigh and Holy Cross coaching staffs. Over the years there has been some movement between the coaching staffs at Holy Cross and Lehigh - when coach Coen took over at Lehigh, for example, one of his first hires was Dick Kotulski, defensive coordinator at Holy Cross.
Tom Gilmore deserves all the credit in the world in rebuilding a Holy Cross program that had been in serious disarray before he arrived. Five years ago, he inherited a 1-11 team that had enjoyed only one winning season since 1993. Since Gilmore has arrived, he's guided his "Purple Army" to three straight winning seasons. All that's missing for him is a Patriot League championship - and he's on the brink of that right now.
Credit: Lehigh Football Nation