Holy Cross: Crusaders looking forward to historic day at Polar Park


As The WooSox try to make Polar Park the memorable, family-friendly atmosphere that Pawtucket created for decades, the Holy Cross football team is fittingly going through a bit of a rebirth of its own.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s Holy Cross football was synonymous with success. There were some down years that followed, but under head coach Bob Chesney the Crusaders are currently in the midst of a quest to three-peat as Patriot League champions. With the Red Sox making a stunning run to the World Series, the WooSox are in the process of trying to create new memories for fans as the first year in the new ballpark rapidly comes to an official close, which fittingly makes the partnership between the two nearly perfect.

When Holy Cross takes the field at Polar Park on Saturday afternoon it’ll be a historic moment for the park, the WooSox, Holy Cross and the city of Worcester.

“Back in the day, we were the show in town,” Chesney said on his usual Tuesday Zoom call with the media. Although, this one was a bit different as Chesney was at the park checking everything out. “You go back to the late 80’s and it all went through Holy Cross. I think we sort of fell out of those graces for a little while, but the past couple years we’re trying to put a product on the field that everybody can be proud of.

“I think there’s history there and I feel like there’s a rebirth with our program that just kind of coincides with this program here with the WooSox. It’s kind of neat that we can partner together at this moment in time where it’s sort of our rebirth and their birth. You watch two programs that are rooted in such history with the Red Sox and what was Holy Cross back in those days kind of blossoming at this moment and coming together on this stage on Saturday is something that I think is really exciting for the community, the town and for history.”

The game against Colgate will have a very odd 5 PM kick off time, but Chesney – as good coaches do – made sure there would be no surprises and actually had guys go through a certain routine last week so this Saturday would feel as normal as possible.

“Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we got up and made sure everybody was through breakfast by 9:30,” he explained. “We were in meetings by 10 o’clock, a little walk through in those meetings and some days we lifted. Other than that, they’d have a little bit of time off and maybe come back for just some quick refresher meetings and then we’d go out to practice.

“It’s going to be the exact same thing of what we just practiced all week long, except for at 3:15 when we would have been going on the field…2 o’clock they came up to the facility, so 2 2’clock (Saturday) they’ll come up to the facility but instead of going to those meetings they’d be gettin on the bus to come over here to Polar Park. It’ll be basically the exact same thing we just did for an entire week and we did that intentionally.”

Despite so much extra surrounding this game between the atmosphere and the change in normal routines, the main objective doesn’t change: win a league game. Colgate may be under .500 but they’re 2-0 in the league and could put a huge dent into the Crusaders’ three-peat dreams if they’re not careful. Chesney is obviously a coach that relies heavily on preparation as proven by the practice plan last week, but does he have to worry about guys losing focus with all the pomp and circumstance?

Nope. In fact, this game is technically a home game but it certainly won’t completely feel like one.

“As a head coach, you worry about everything,” he said with a laugh. “With these guys, they’re locked in and they’re focused. They understand. I think the way they came out and played this past weekend…this is a home game for us, but it’s just as much as an away game just by facility as it is for Colgate. We’ll be here for a walkthrough on Friday and play the game Saturday, they’ll do the same.

“Although, some of our guys worked here during the summer, some of our guys worked the (WooSox) games and have familiarity with it, at the same time as far as being on this surface and playing the game, we’ll have one walk through, they’ll have one walk through. They’ll have one game, we’ll have one game, so it all kind of matches. We’ll be in front of our hometown, in front of our fans, but at the same time as far as the facility, the locker room it’ll be like an away game for them as much as it is for us.”

Speaking of the surface, Chesney also did his best to explain why this stadium game is a bit different than ones you would have seen at Fenway, Wrigley Field or Yankee Stadium.

“The thing they did different here is typically they cut back the grass and they don’t mess with the infield,” he explained. “They cut back and gradually rise the grass to lay on top of the infield. There’s a little more shifting that could go on with a slight incline. Here, they dug out the infield. So, the grass there’s no incline at all, it fits like a puzzle piece. I think it looks really clean right now.”

Saturday is going to be a special day for the Holy Cross football program, the Red Sox, the WooSox and the city of Worcester, but it’ll only be truly memorable if the Crusaders come away with a win. There’s a big game, almost bowl week feel to this one.

“It does have that sort of feel to it,” Chesney added. “Again, both teams that play in a bowl game spend a couple days in that venue prior and get a feel for it, but in the end it’s a different facility than what either of those teams typically play on.”

Chesney and his staff are hoping that Polar Park feels like a second home by about 9 P.M. on Saturday.