Irish Legends: Notre Dame/Navy

The Notre Dame vs. Navy series is one filled with tradition, passion, dramatic endings, and plenty of Irish victories: 42 in a row to be exact.

However, despite the lopsided results and disparity of talent, Notre Dame and Navy continue to play every year. Saturday will mark the 80th meeting between the two schools, a rivalry that first began in 1927. Over the years Notre Dame may have dominated on the gridiron, however, had it not been for the Naval Academy, Notre Dame may have closed its doors, a long time ago.

America was at war. With over 16 Million Americans enlisted in the military, and those on the home front dedicating everything they had towards supporting the troops, higher education had been placed on the back burner of most Americans' priority lists. Colleges and universities all over the country were forced to close their doors, many of them for good. Notre Dame was no different. The small Catholic school in Indiana had not been immune to declining enrollment, as its undergraduate population dwindled to around 250 students. Looking for a solution to financial woes, Notre Dame President Hugh O'Donnell, invited the United States military forces to use the campus for training facilities. The government would pay Notre Dame for use of its facilities, allowing the university to remain open, while providing an excellent base for military training.

Located on the University of Notre Dame's Web site, there is an excerpt from Professor Thomas J. Schlereth, an American Studies professor and one of the nicest people one could ever hope to meet. Schlereth writes about the impact that the military had on Notre Dame:

"The war years inextricably changed Notre Dame. Contracts came from government research. A speedup cafeteria system in the South Dining Hall replaced the form of family-style dining, feeding twice as many men in half the time, with much less than half the former intimacy and civility. The public 'caf' overflowed with military brass, WAVES, and recruits whose campus stay often extended only months rather than the usual four years. Vacation periods were abbreviated, classes accelerated, semesters shortened, and one year there was no Christmas holiday. Women appeared all over the previously all-male, semi-cloistered campus, replacing undergraduates who formerly had done part-time jobs in offices, dining halls, laboratories, and the library. Sentries patrolled the campus perimeters at night; long blue, white and khaki lines tramped the quadrangles by day."

Also indicated on the Web site was that an estimated 12,000 Naval officers were successfully trained between 1942 and 1946 on the campus of Notre Dame. While the traditional Notre Dame population may have changed during the war, the spirit of Notre Dame lived strong throughout the war years. Notre Dame priests offered daily masses for the thousands of soldiers connected in one way or another with the university. In all, it was recorded that 333 students and alumni of Notre Dame became casualties of the war. Hundreds of other casualties had called Notre Dame home while training to serve the United States Navy.

It is said that Notre Dame is forever indebted to the Navy for helping keep the doors to the school open and allowing the university to grow into the prestigious academic institution that it is today. However, it should not be ignored that the relationship between Notre Dame and Navy has benefited the Naval Academy as well.

In a recent article published in the Baltimore Sun, the Naval Academy made reference to the "Million Dollar Swap." An agreement exists between the two schools, where the host team pays the visitor $1 million and keeps the rest of the money generated from tickets and television. For the Navy athletic program, the Notre Dame game roughly pays for 15 percent of the operating budget. While the Naval Academy helped Notre Dame stay open during WWII, Notre Dame is helping Navy generate funds that otherwise would not be available to them. The partnership has worked out for both sides, aside from the result on the football field.

The two teams have extended their contract through the 2016 season, which will include another overseas battle, as the 2012 meeting will once again be played in Dublin, Ireland. Croke Parke in Dublin is one of ten neutral sites where the two teams have met over the years. In order to generate more income and national attention, Navy chooses to play Notre Dame at a neutral site rather than their home field. Over the years, games have been played in Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, East Rutherford, Orlando, Raljon (MD), and Dublin.

The Notre Dame streak of 42 straight victories over Navy is the longest winning streak against any single opponent in the history of college football. While Notre Dame has dominated the final outcome, they have not always dominated the scoreboard. In fact, four of the last nine meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less.

It was November 2, 1963. After a close first half in Notre Dame Stadium, Roger Staubach displayed the talent that would win him the Heisman Trophy and eventually lead the Dallas Cowboys to two Super Bowl victories. Overcoming violent wind gusts, Staubach and the No. 4 ranked Navy Midshipmen exploded on offense, resulting in a 35-14 victory over the unranked Irish. It was the last time that Navy defeated Notre Dame, although there certainly have been many close battles since.

Perhaps the closest outcome, and most painful loss for Navy, came in 1984 at Giants Stadium. With just seconds left in the game, Notre Dame trailed 17-15. Gerry Faust called on the field goal unit, led by Notre Dame kicker John Carney. The 44-yard kick sailed through the uprights, giving the Irish the lead, but controversy surrounded the play. Navy claimed that the play clock had expired, and Notre Dame should have been penalized five yards for a delay of game. The referees disagreed, and Notre Dame went on to win the game by a score of 18-17.

In 2002, the match up looked to heavily favor the Irish. Fresh off an upset loss to Boston College, the No. 9 Fighting Irish came into Baltimore as 28 point favorites. On the game's fourth play, Navy quarterback and leading rusher and passer, Craig Candeto, was knocked out of the game with an ankle injury. Despite everything leaning in Notre Dame's favor, Navy controlled the tempo of the game. Trailing by eight points with a little over four minutes to go, Notre Dame scored a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie the game at 23. Then with two minutes to go, Notre Dame got the ball back. Sophomore quarterback Carlyle Holiday hit receiver Omar Jenkins for a 67-yard touchdown to seal the victory for Notre Dame. It was a game that Navy had for 56 minutes, but they could not close the lid on the sleepwalking Irish.

The following year, the Mids once again suffered heartbreak, this time at Notre Dame Stadium. As time expired, D.J. Fitzpatrick kicked a 40-yard field goal to break the tie, and put the Irish ahead 27-24. To make things worse for Navy, the field goal was partially blocked, yet still made its way though the uprights. Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham said following the game, "At some point Navy will play better than Notre Dame and win the football game, but you just tell your team it doesn't have to be this year."

While Notre Dame and Navy may not be on the same level with their football programs, they are two very similar institutions. The schools rank the highest in graduation rate among division I football players—Navy at 99 percent and Notre Dame at 98 percent—and both have schools built on traditions and strong values. Perhaps more than any other traditional rival, Notre Dame players and fans respect Navy the most. It may not be for what they do on the football field, but for their dedication and service to the country, no one deserves more respect.

The Historical Prediction: Season Record (0-1). Incorrectly picked ND over Michigan.

If history has anything to say about the outcome, Notre Dame should win in a rout. While Navy has vastly improved under coach Paul Johnson, Notre Dame has also improved under coach Charlie Weis. Notre Dame is a legitimate BCS contender and should not take any game lightly for the rest of the season. The talent gap between the two teams is large, so as long as Notre Dame brings at least their B-game, they should win easily.

Look for Navy to come out with a bunch of emotion, but not much success in moving the ball. Notre Dame has looked good against the few option looks it faced earlier in the season. The improved speed on defense, as well as the lack of a deep threat for Navy, should allow the Notre Dame defense to keep Navy out of the end zone. With Navy starting the backup quarterback, that only adds to the expectation that Notre Dame should shutdown the Navy offense. Expect the Navy defense to play well in the first quarter, but the bigger Notre Dame bodies will wear the Middies down, and should control the ball most of the game. Do not look for an incredibly high scoring game. The most likely scenario is that Weis will let his first team get up by a few touchdowns in the first half, and hopefully get plenty of reps for the backups. Expect to see a lot of James Aldridge and Munir Prince. Sharpley should also get considerable time on Saturday. Last week, Navy was shutout at home against Rutgers, 34-0. Expect more of the same this week. In fact, keeping with the historical theme, look for something along the lines of the 1991 matchup between the two schools, in which Notre Dame defeated Navy 38-0. Irish win big, but keep it respectable. Top Stories