Students, Faculty Celebrate ‘Mythical’ 1940 National Championship

On Tuesday night in Fulton Hall, under the leadership of Carroll School of Management business law professor David P. Twomey, Boston College celebrated the silver anniversary of its 1940 undefeated football team and its “mythical national championship.” Abby Farr, president of BCTV and MCAS ’16, directed the event.

As Farr explained, no team at BC has since equaled the greatness of the 1940 team. The Eagles led the nation in scoring with 32 points per game en route to an 11-0 record that included a 19-18 victory over Georgetown University, in what famed sportswriter Grantland Rice dubbed “the greatest game in football history,” and a 19-13 victory in the 1941 Sugar Bowl over the highly favored Southeastern Conference champion, the University of Tennessee.

Despite running the table topped off with a win over the Volunteers, in New Orleans, circumstances prevented the crowning of a clear national champ.


“There was no Patriots. It was the college sports teams.”

-Barry Gallup, associate athletic director of football operations


In those days, the Associated Press released its final weekly poll at the end of the regular season rather than after the bowl season, a policy that was not changed until 1965. By this mark, BC finished at No. 5, behind the University of Minnesota, Stanford University, the University of Michigan, and Tennessee, in order from No. 1 to 4. Yet there was still football to be played in the postseason, and following the bowl season, many news sources at the time declared any of the three remaining undefeated teams—Minnesota, Stanford, and BC—as having rightful claims to the championship banner.

The Heightsmen, BC’s all-male a capella group, kicked off the evening with the singing of the national anthem as well as the 1940 version of “For Boston.”

Sean Smith, editor of The Boston College Chronicle, described student life during 1940-41. Back then, as Smith explained, the football players were local, Irish Catholic, and multi-sport athletes. The school itself was small: about 1,200 attended the Chestnut Hill campus and took classes in just four buildings.

With the Great Depression in the rearview mirror and World War II on the horizon, Smith explained, many in the college football world found it remarkable that an all-boys, small Catholic college forced itself into the national spotlight.

Team historian Reid Oslin highlighted Frank Leahy, the head coach responsible for the Eagles’ success in 1940. Oslin described the College Football Hall of Fame coach as well-spoken, demanding, and, often times, eccentric. Leahy, Oslin said, once gathered and addressed the entire student body for a meeting concerning the winning culture that he hoped to establish at BC. In fact, he even expected the non-playing student body to attend practices.

Oslin spoke highly of the 1940 “Team of Destiny,” as it was dubbed, highlighting the five Hall of Fame players  that came from the team: Chet Gladchuk, Gene Goodreault, Mike Holovak, George Kerr, and Charlie O’Rourke. By contrast, Doug Flutie, 1984 Heisman Trophy winner, is the only Eagle to be inducted since.

“There were 100,000 people at South Station,” Oslin said, describing the team’s return home to Boston after winning the Sugar Bowl.

Barry Gallup, associate athletic director of football operations, led the viewing of that Jan. 1, 1941 Sugar Bowl game between BC and Tennessee.

As Gallup pointed out, many of  the 72,000 fans entering Tulane Stadium that day wore suits and ties—there weren’t any Superfan shirts back in 1940.

While there may not have been 72,000 in Fulton, those in attendance cheered as they watched O’Rourke run 24 yards for the game-winning touchdown and subsequent interception on defense to seal BC’s 19-13 win.

Though the 1940 BC football team technically does not share its national championship with Minnesota, Tennessee, and Stanford on record, many still contend BC was the best team that year. So while Leahy, his players, and BC students in 1940 could not claim an outright national championship, the BC community 75 years later remembered a great team that symbolizes a bright spot in school history.

“There was no Patriots,” Gallup said. “It was the college sports teams.”

Featured Image by Sarah Hodgens / Heights Staff