If you don’t know the story behind the Notre Dame-Naval Academy rivalry, I’ll give you the Cliffs Notes version. In the spring semester of 1943, Notre Dame’s total enrollment declined to 2,623, just six students more than the 1933-34 Depression-era total and nearly a 20% reduction from the fall semester enrollment of 1940. By July 1, 1943, the Navy added 1,851 trainees to the campus. A contract between “The United States of America and University of Notre Dame Du Lac” called for a commitment of $487,711 for equipment, facility alterations, a drill hall and administrative expenses. Notre Dame received $9,000 each month for heat, light and repairs and the maintenance of a recreational drill field and athletic facilities.
One could argue, and I’d for the most part concede the argument, that the Navy’s decision to establish a Navy College Training Program during WWII on Notre Dame’s campus saved the school. It’s a debt we’ll probably never repay. Ending the ND-USNA rivalry is simply not an option, no matter how many times the anti-ND peanut gallery disparages service academies while ignoring their own team’s latest epic I-AA non-conference opponent.
What is with the inane service academy bashing anyway? Am I missing something here? No, Navy isn’t Florida. But ask Buckeye fans if the Midshipmen should be taken seriously. Ask the Mids’ six consecutive bowl game opponents since 2003. Ask the 100-odd teams in Division I-A (out of 119) who have had a worse overall winning percentage than Navy since 2003. Better yet, ask the myopic coaches, players, and fans of the 117 Div I-A teams not named Navy, Air Force or Army if they even know what the terms “warrior” or “hero” really mean. (Here’s a hint: these adjectives shouldn’t be used in the context of a football game, ever.)
Okay, have I fawned over Navy enough yet? Mentioned the history of the rivalry. Check. Mentioned Navy’s impressive 2003-09 record. Check. Saluted our men in uniform. Check. Now that I got that over with, it’s time to float an unpopular subject, Navy’s blocking schemes.
Look, I realize the Mids are not as athletic as most of their opponents and have to compensate accordingly. I realize the triple option is built around a smallish, disciplined o-line using leverage and angles to open seams. But let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Let’s talk about the freaking ankle biters.
With about four minutes to play in last year’s 38-3 embarrassment versus USC, Golden Tate got his second reception of the entire game. He just couldn’t get open. The Trojans loaded, veteran defense swarmed him on every play. Why? Because Michael Floyd wasn’t in. Why? Because in the previous week’s game versus Navy, a Midshipman took a shot at an ND player’s knee—again.
In 2008 Floyd set freshman school records for receptions (46), receiving yards (702) and receiving touchdowns (seven) in, basically, nine games. Then a Navy player “accidentally” collided with his knee on the third play of the Navy game. In the nine full games before Floyd’s injury, Notre Dame averaged 259.4 yards passing. From Navy onward…147.3.
Weis announced at his Tuesday press conference that Floyd is 100% for Saturday’s Navy game, and yet I’m not excited as I should be. Yes, I think he needs reps before we face Pitt at Heinz Field in primetime next week. But the thought of Floyd getting jacked again scares me. I guess I can take consolation in the fact Floyd hurt his collarbone and Navy seemingly doesn’t know how to hit you anywhere above the knee.
Before anyone jumps on me, make no mistake: before kickoff and after the gun sounds to end the fourth quarter, I fully acknowledge those Navy players on the opposing side of the field as bigger men and bigger heroes than I will ever be. But for those four 15-minute quarters I choose to suspend my respect, if only because I know there will be at least a half-dozen obvious plays that make me want to dig up John Paul Jones’ corpse and beat him over the head with his own shin bone.
Here’s to a well-played and CLEAN game. Please. Pretty please.