Sunday, November 04, 2007

Navy & Notre Dame: More Than a Game

At Annapolis’ under Bill Wagner’s byline:

Notre Dame tailback Travis Thomas took the handoff, cut right and lunged for the goal line.

As Thomas reached the line of scrimmage, he was met head on by Navy linebacker Matt Wimsatt and half a dozen of his closest friends. Thomas was swallowed up by the swarm of Midshipmen and hit the turf well short of the end zone.

In that instant, the longest losing streak to one opponent in college football history was over.

Navy's players and coaches stormed the field in wild celebration while 80,795 fans at Notre Dame Stadium looked on in stunned disbelief as the scoreboard told the story.

Final score: Navy 46, Notre Dame 44 in three overtimes.

That dramatic defensive stop of Notre Dame's game-tying, two-point conversion attempt will forever be preserved in Navy football lore.

When Wimsatt drove Thomas to the ground, it put a sudden end to Notre Dame's epic 43-game winning streak over Navy, which began way back in 1964.
The rest of Wagner’s excellent game account is here.

Notre Dame is known for scheduling tough opponents. Navy hates losing. So why do the two schools, who first met on the football field in 1927 and have played each other every year since, continue the rivalry?

In Nov. 2005 ND alum John Carey, writing in The Spectator , answered the question:
It's more than just a football game.

By now we all know that Notre Dame has beaten Navy the past 41 years. We all know that none other than Roger Staubach was the last Midshipmen quarterback to beat the Irish.

But what we sometimes forget is that the Navy-Notre Dame game is always about more than football. It's about pride. It's about passion. Most of all, it's about respect - a respect for what each school has done for the other.

On the heels of [ND coach] Frank Leahy's 1943 national championship season, World War II had escalated, and Leahy left to serve in the Navy.

The war took many young men from then-all-male Notre Dame, presenting financial problems for the University as its enrollment dropped dramatically. But with the war came a need for more trained officers than the Naval Academy could provide. So [the Navy] instituted a program in which Universities across the nation became [places] for young men to receive a college education as well as officer training. Notre Dame was one of these sites.

And so Notre Dame's enrollment increased, and the school survived through the war. As a result of Navy's gesture to keep Notre Dame afloat during the war, the Irish agreed to play the Midshipmen on the football field annually for as long as Navy wanted. The two teams had first met in 1927.

Even when Irish coach Charlie Weis, a 1978 Notre Dame graduate, was at Notre Dame, he sensed a respect for the Naval Academy:
"I know one thing, the academies were something that we always revered in a different light than any other opponent," Weis said. "They were like their own separate entity. And I think that you get a Catch 22 here because you have an opponent on the one hand that you want to beat badly."

"On the other hand, the respect factor for the young men that you're going against is higher than anyone else you're going against because you know that they've chosen a path that when their college careers are over, they're not going to go play in the NFL, they're not going to go take some cush job, they're going to go represent our country. It's a different mentality altogether."
Long before the 1963 game, even before World War II, people recognized the unique relationship between Notre Dame and the service academies.

In the 1927 Navy/Notre Dame game program, Rev. Mathew Walsh, President of the University of Notre Dame wrote:
"Notre Dame, Army, and Navy make an ideal group for a football triangle. Their students live on campus, they draw their student body from all parts of the country. The outcome of our games with the Navy and with the Army is not so important as that the best feeling of sport and good-fellowship always prevail. We are indeed happy to have Navy on our schedule: we trust it will continue so long and so amiably as to become a part of our best loved traditions."
One might add to Father Walsh's comparison a few other things.

Notre Dame and Navy football teams are known to pray together. Both teams are known for never giving up. They always fight hard, even when considered underdogs.

This team reputation is a reflection of the spirit and culture evidenced every day on the campus of Notre Dame and at the Naval Academy. At these institutions, ethics, moral courage and character still matter. People have a way of conducting themselves with honor and distinction at the Naval Academy and at Notre Dame. At these schools, people learn how to conduct themselves in life - in a way some just call "classy."

At Notre Dame, above one door of Sacred Heart, one can find the words "God, Country, Notre Dame. "At West Point and at the Naval Academy, one frequently hears words like "Duty, Honor, Country." The message is the same.

At both the Naval Academy and Notre Dame one finds deep commitment to our nation and to service. The culture of Notre Dame and Navy sets these places apart, making this football game worth playing and worth watching every year.
Allowing that both schools have had students and alums who’ve fallen short of the schools’ ideals and purposes, the Naval Academy and Notre Dame are outstanding schools whose graduates have made inestimable contributions to our country and mankind. Long may they flourish.

An AP report the two schools had signed a contract scheduling games through 2016 included this:
"Whether we visit South Bend, or the game is played on the East Coast, it is of great interest to our collective national audience of Irish fans, Naval Academy alumni and the Navy family at large," Naval Academy director of athletics Chet Gladchuk said. "Two institutions with similar values rekindling a lengthy and well-respected relationship makes this game special."
While researching for this post, I learned at Thomas Crosbie Media:
It has been confirmed that Navy are to play Notre Dame at the Dublin 3 stadium on September 1, 2012, in what is the longest running college football rivalry in history. It will be a "home" game for the Maryland-based Navy.
That's not so long from now. What a wonderful experience it would be to visit Ireland and see the game.

Ed Morrisey posts on yesterday’s game here and Brendon Loy posts on it here. Give them both a look.

Be sure you follow Loy’s link to a game photo he says illustrates how hard Navy played. It’s a classic of the kind coaches post in locker rooms.

Congratulations Navy.


Anonymous said...

had tickets,couldn't get anyone to go with me.My two younger brothers(who are Domers0aren't terribly upset,because of the respect for the Academies.Still,what a game.
Ps,I don't understand why Charlie Weiss didn't go for the field goal at the end of the 4th quarter.Nor does anyone to whom I've spoken.

Jack said...

Good post.
I was raised in a traditional Irish Catholic family, my parents never saw a college campus until I went to one. My first recollection of the Notre Dame mystique was when my uncles went to the ND-Michigan State game in 1966, the 10-10 tie. Two of my high school football teammates went to Notre Dame, and there are other reasons why I have a fondness for the school; however, I could never, ever root against a Service Academy

Anonymous said...

I attended the Navy/Notre Dame game in Dublin, Ireland in 1996 (legendary Croke Park) with a contigent of my host Dubliners while on a business trip. I had no horse in the race (I am a Duke guy), but I found myself swelling with pride as I explained to the "true" Irish that these two American institutions represented all that was right about American college sports; and, indeed, America itself. The Dubliners were polite, but confused as to the import of the game (and the rules!) to the few US fans who attended. They laughed awkwardly, but graciously at the Notre Dame mascot and the kilts that several ND fans wore. My hosts thought I may have been a bit Guiness-infected as I cheered for BOTH teams. It was a cross-cultural sports comedy fiasco. Alas, I believe that the American Irish won the game (54-27?); and I laughed so hard when the Dublin paper covered the game the following morning with the lead sub-tag: "The Americans have confused their kilts with their Celts." LOL!!!! Great post, John.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for an objective perspective on a unique piece of history, you wrote what I was looking for-*****