Notre Dame Navy Football Rivalry History

Notre Dame - Navy Football Rivalry
Photo: Matt Cashore // USA TODAY Sports

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

1927W19Baltimore, MD6
1928W7Chicago, IL0
1929W14Baltimore, MD7
1930W26South Bend, IN2
1931W20Baltimore, MD0
1932W12Cleveland, OH0
1933L0Baltimore, MD7
1934L6Cleveland, OH10
1935W14Baltimore, MD0
1936L0Baltimore, MD3
1937W9South Bend, IN7
1938W15Baltimore, MD0
1939W14Cleveland, OH7
1940W13Baltimore, MD7
1941W20Baltimore, MD13
1942W9Cleveland, OH0
1943W33Cleveland, OH6
1944L13Baltimore, MD32
1945T6Cleveland, OH6
1946W28Baltimore, MD0
1947W27Cleveland, OH0
1948W41Baltimore, MD7
1949W40Baltimore, MD0
1950W19Cleveland, OH10
1951W19Baltimore, MD0
1952W17Cleveland, OH6
1953W38South Bend, IN7
1954W6Baltimore, MD0
1955W21South Bend, IN7
1956L7Baltimore, MD33
1957L6South Bend, IN20
1958W40Baltimore, MD20
1959W25South Bend, IN22
1960L7Philadelphia, PA14
1961L10South Bend, IN13
1962W20Philadelphia, PA12
1963L14South Bend, IN35
1964W40Philadelphia, PA0
1965W29South Bend, IN3
1966W31Philadelphia, PA7
1967W43South Bend, IN14
1968W45Philadelphia, PA14
1969W47South Bend, IN0
1970W56Philadelphia, PA7
1971W21South Bend, IN0
1972W42Philadelphia, PA23
1973W44South Bend, IN7
1974W14Philadelphia, PA6
1975W31South Bend, IN10
1976W27Cleveland, OH21
1977W43South Bend, IN10
1978W27Cleveland, OH7
1979W14South Bend, IN0
1980W33East Rutherford, NJ0
1981W38South Bend, IN0
1982W27East Rutherford, NJ10
1983W28South Bend, IN12
1984W18East Rutherford, NJ17
1985W41South Bend, IN17
1986W33Baltimore, MD14
1987W56South Bend, IN13
1988W22Baltimore, MD7
1989W41South Bend, IN0
1990W52East Rutherford, NJ31
1991W38South Bend, IN0
1992W38East Rutherford, NJ7
1993W58Philadelphia, PA27
1994W58South Bend, IN21
1995W35South Bend, IN17
1996W54Dublin, Ireland27
1997W21South Bend, IN17
1998W30Raljon, MD0
1999W28South Bend, IN24
2000W45Orlando, FL14
2001W34South Bend, IN16
2002W30Baltimore, MD23
2003W27South Bend, IN24
2004W27East Rutherford, NJ9
2005W42South Bend, IN21
2006W38Baltimore, MD14
2007L44South Bend, IN46
2008W27Baltimore, MD21
2009L21South Bend, IN23
2010L17East Rutherford, NJ35
2011W56South Bend, IN14
2012W50Dublin, Ireland10
2013W38South Bend, IN34
2014W49Landover, MD39

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  1. So….here you go Ron:

    Question: Who can’t stop talking, even though they have nothing of their own to ever say?
    Answer: A dummy! You know, with an arm shoved up their backside.

  2. Here’s a great riddle….especially for Ron Burgundy:

    Who can’t stop himself from talking, yet never has any thoughts ?

  3. Agree. Navy is not to be taken lightly. Returning 8th year senior qb Keenan Reynolds is a veteran of the triple option and Irish D better be ready for him. Midshipmen also come in with a pretty good D–their best in last few years. Nice article by Duranko on history of Navy versus Notre Dame. A respected rivalry and always has been. I’ll tell you what though , Navy , after losing this Saturday to Irish , can very well finish season at 11-1. That ain’t no blarney. The Conference they joined this 2015 is not that impressive top to bottom. 11-1 finish for Navy would be best in their history. Playoff consideration ? Nah , not with their SOS. There will be a log jam of 11-1/12-1 teams in contention after Conference Titles are sorted out. Hope ND is in contention after beating Stanford and going 11-1. Go Irish.

  4. Traditional is one thing and this game as great tradition and when navy wins one it usually causes a stir if only on the two campuses. But let’s face it navy is generally a patsie and it becomes a rather boring game.
    I guess when you play USC, Clemson and Stanford, you hopefully have a breather now and again. navy does run the option and that usually causes ND a problem Let’s hope they are not looking ahead otherwise our battleship might get taken out! Go Irish!!

  5. A great series. I love when fans of other schools criticize ND for playing Navy year after year (the same fans of schools who play Savannah State and other Division II schools). I always wonder why the disrespect for Navy. They generally field at least an average team and teams overlook Navy at their own peril. I still remember a few seasons ago when Ohio State was caught flatfooted against Navy looking ahead to their “big” game against USC the following week. Ohio State barely got away with the win.

    Navy will beat you if you dare to overlook them.

    I remember that first loss to Navy a few years ago well. People complain about BK going for 2 early in the Clemson game, but that pales in comparison to going for 4th and long when a field goal would win it. I remember Weis’ excuse that our FG kicker was having difficulties and something about the wind direction or some nonsense. It was such a lame excuse. Even if you had the worst FG kicker in the world you had nothing to lose. The clock was almost down to 0, if you make the FG you win, if you miss you go to OT. Terrible decision that illuminated once and for all that Weis was not a good HC.

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