The Irish first played Navy in 1927, and the game has been played every year since. It is the longest uninterrupted intersectional series in college football (World War II forced a hiatus in the Notre Dame-USC series.)
Notre Dame has always relished competing with the service academies. But while all rivalries are equal, some are more equal than others.
Notre Dame & Navy’s Special Relationship
Pearl Harbor, Day of Infamy. America declares war. A nation puts college plans aside and fights the clear and present dangers from Hitler, Mussolini and Japan. Colleges become an afterthought, and without students and tuition checks, colleges go out of business. Even Notre Dame was not exempt from the strain, and was facing the wartime economic crisis without state funding, without guarantees of America’s great land grant colleges and without the decades of accumulated endowments of the Ivy League colleges. Simply, Notre Dame was on the brink of extinction.
Navy, to the rescue! The US Navy, comfortable in the Midwest at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, designated Notre Dame as a training center and paid enough for usage of the Notre Dame facilities to keep the University afloat. The good Holy Cross Fathers breathed a sigh of relief.
Frank Leahy left his position as Notre Dame coach to enlist, voila, in the Navy. Whether that silver tongued rogue had anything to do with initiating or increasing the level of Navy support is unknown.
Their du lac University would not be just another casualty of the war. Consistent with its Christian values, Notre Dame was and remained, and yet even today remains, grateful for the Navy’s support and solace in the midst of woe.
Notre Dame has given Navy an entirely appropriate open invitation to play the Irish every year. While a paper trail exists, the word of Notre Dame is its bond and Navy will play the Irish every year until Annapolis chooses not to.
Beginning in 2005, a “new tradition” was established with each team standing near the other’s fans for the post-game singing of the alma mater, win or lose. Notre Dame provides this recognition for no other opponent.
As with the other series with the academies, Notre Dame has dominated with a 75-12-1 series advantage through the 2014 game.
A Moveable Feast
Navy’s home stadium is tiny Army Marine Corps, with a capacity of only 34,000. The stadium is unique in that the names of great Naval battles like Guadalcanal and Midway festoon the edge of the upper deck. Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, when he was at William and May, noted those names when his team visited Annapolis for a game. Lou observed, gazing at the list of battles: “Boy they play quite a schedule.” Nevertheless the small Navy stadium has led to this game being played in a variety of venues such as New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Orlando and even Dublin. This has added color to the series.
Roger Staubach and the 40 Year Drought
In 1963, Navy was a National Power, contending with Pitt for Eastern supremacy, the then prized Lambert Trophy and a chance at the National title. Their quarterback was a Midwestern kid named Roger Staubach from Purcell Marian High School in Cincinnati. Staubach was magnificent in leading the Middies to a 35-13 romp over the beleaguered Hugh Devore’s Irish. Staubach went on to win the Heisman Trophy.
But then came Ara, and Notre Dame commenced a 44 year winning streak against the Naval Academy. Navy often put up a fight but only 6 of the 44 games were won by Notre Dame by a margin of 10 or fewer points. Lou, in the quintessential Holtzism, used to declare “The University of Navy scares me to death.”
Ara Raoul Parseghian never lost to Navy. Dan Devine never lost to Navy. Gerry Faust never lost to Navy. Louis Leo Holtz never lost to Navy. Bob Davie never lost to Navy. Lionel Tyrone Willingham never lost to Navy. But the 44 year win streak ended with a 46-44 Navy upset over the Irish in South Bend in 2007. To prove both that it was not a fluke and that coaching matters, ol’ schematic advantage managed to lose to Navy, in South Bend, in 2009.
Strength of schedule is one thing. But strength of soul and honor is more important at Notre Dame. Notre Dame will be playing Navy for decades to come. “Anchors Aweigh!”
Notre Dame Navy Series History
|1930||W||26||South Bend, IN||2|
|1937||W||9||South Bend, IN||7|
|1953||W||38||South Bend, IN||7|
|1955||W||21||South Bend, IN||7|
|1957||L||6||South Bend, IN||20|
|1959||W||25||South Bend, IN||22|
|1961||L||10||South Bend, IN||13|
|1963||L||14||South Bend, IN||35|
|1965||W||29||South Bend, IN||3|
|1967||W||43||South Bend, IN||14|
|1969||W||47||South Bend, IN||0|
|1971||W||21||South Bend, IN||0|
|1973||W||44||South Bend, IN||7|
|1975||W||31||South Bend, IN||10|
|1977||W||43||South Bend, IN||10|
|1979||W||14||South Bend, IN||0|
|1980||W||33||East Rutherford, NJ||0|
|1981||W||38||South Bend, IN||0|
|1982||W||27||East Rutherford, NJ||10|
|1983||W||28||South Bend, IN||12|
|1984||W||18||East Rutherford, NJ||17|
|1985||W||41||South Bend, IN||17|
|1987||W||56||South Bend, IN||13|
|1989||W||41||South Bend, IN||0|
|1990||W||52||East Rutherford, NJ||31|
|1991||W||38||South Bend, IN||0|
|1992||W||38||East Rutherford, NJ||7|
|1994||W||58||South Bend, IN||21|
|1995||W||35||South Bend, IN||17|
|1997||W||21||South Bend, IN||17|
|1999||W||28||South Bend, IN||24|
|2001||W||34||South Bend, IN||16|
|2003||W||27||South Bend, IN||24|
|2004||W||27||East Rutherford, NJ||9|
|2005||W||42||South Bend, IN||21|
|2007||L||44||South Bend, IN||46|
|2009||L||21||South Bend, IN||23|
|2010||L||17||East Rutherford, NJ||35|
|2011||W||56||South Bend, IN||14|
|2013||W||38||South Bend, IN||34|