Yeah, yeah, yeah. Anything you say about why the Fighting Irish play Navy every year in football, I already know. Legendary Notre Dame president Theodore Hesburgh told me more than a few personal stories of how the relationship between the U.S. Navy kept the university during World War II from vanishing with its Golden Dome due to dropping enrollment and financial issues.
Short version: The Navy pumped a bunch of money and a slew of people into Notre Dame, and that included $487,711 in 1942, which was huge back then. As a result, those running the university promised they would continue their football series forever against the Midshipmen.
I get it. As somebody born and raised in South Bend, Ind., home of the Irish, I also get The Navy Game is one of those traditions continued by the Irish since the days of Knute Rockne, their iconic coach. They’ve met the Midshipmen every year since 1927 for the longest-running intersectional rivalry in college football, but you know what? Neither I nor anybody else who bleeds blue and gold can take this game anymore.
Just kill the thing.
If I had my preference, the No. 3 Irish would do so before their opening kickoff tomorrow night in southern California against Navy at San Diego County Credit Union Stadium.
For one, whether we’re talking about Navy or Michigan, The Notre Dame Game is the Super Bowl for each of the Irish’s opponents, so this is laughable: The Las Vegas folks have Notre Dame as a 23 1/2-point favorite over Navy. And, yes, the Midshipmen are 2-5 with a four-game losing streak to Notre Dame’s 7-0. Even so, the Irish were picked to handle Pitt at home by similar numbers during their last game two weeks ago, and they barely escaped 19-14 after the Panthers played out of their minds.
There’s that, and there’s worse for the Irish. Whenever they play Navy, they can’t win no matter. If they crush the Midshipmen, they’re supposed to do nothing less than that. You know the other side, of course, and that is, when Notre Dame actually loses to Navy, its equivalent to whatever is just shy of the worst thing on the face of the earth.
Notre Dame does lose to Navy, by the way.
After Roger Staubach whipped the Irish in 1963 along the way to the Heisman Trophy, Notre Dame reeled off a 43-game winning streak, but it wasn’t as mighty as it sounds.
Consider this: The late Ara Parseghian joins Frank Leahy, Lou Holtz and Rockne as the quartet of magical Notre Dame coaches, and I knew Parseghian well. He told me the real reason he shocked the world by announcing his retirement near the end of the 1974 season after grabbing the national title the year before. In contrast to conventional wisdom, it wasn’t because he watched a 24-0 lead at Southern Cal in the regular-season finale become a 55-24 loss. It was because of the Navy game during middle of that season.
Notre Dame won 14-6 in Philadelphia back then.
“I remember when we got on the team bus after that Navy game, I was totally exhausted,” Parseghian told me of what eventually became another one of his powerhouse teams at 10-2, including an upset of second-ranked Alabama in the Orange Bowl. Still, there was that Navy game lingering in his subconscious, and Parseghian added, “It had gotten to the point that just beating Navy was enough. We weren’t beating Navy by the margin that was expected, and it was mentally draining.”
Then it happened. In 2007, Navy grabbed a three-overtime thriller in South Bend to stop the streak. The Midshipmen learned that all they had to do to slay the mighty Irish was hog the ball for long stretches with their triple-option offense. In case you’re wondering, Navy has used that same formula to beat Notre Dame three more times since then, including two years ago in Jacksonville.
Now Navy faces a Notre Dame team tomorrow that has lost seven consecutive games west of the Rocky Mountains.
I know about that other stuff. The Midshipmen have quarterback issues, and they were blown out by Air Force, and with Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book trending as the next Joe Montana as a prolific thrower, Navy can’t stop the pass.
I still won’t exhale until the final gun.