Some college football fans continue to wonder, “Why in the world does Notre Dame play Navy every year?”
After all, the Irish now hold a 72-12-1 series command over the Midshipmen after Saturday’s game at ND Stadium, the 85th consecutive year the teams have met in the nation’s longest running intersectional rivalry.
The roots of this series go back to 1927 and the reason they are still playing proves there is still loyalty in some aspects of athletics.
Notre Dame faced severe financial difficulties during the World War II years. The United States Naval Academy made ND a training center and paid enough for usage of facilities to keep the university in business.
Feeling they owe a debt of honor and to financially boost the Naval Academy, the Irish have offered to continue playing the Midshipmen each year indefinitely.
There is great mutual respect between the institutions, as evidenced by both teams standing at attention for each others’ alma maters following the game.
The Rev.. Theodore Hesburgh, president of Notre Dame from 1952-87, commented, “All I can say is without the Navy during the war, this institution would have gotten down to a few hundred students.
“Instead of that, we were almost twice our normal size during the war and were able to contribute something to the Navy.”
Notre Dame’s enrollment had dwindled to 2,623 in 1943 and that was boosted on July 1 that year by 1,851 Naval trainees.
The Navy training program continued during the Vietnam era.
Army and Navy played at Soldier Field in Chicago in 1926, drawing 120,000 spectators.
Navy held an “N” dinner on its campus the following May and the guest speaker was legendary Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne.
As a result, the first game between the Irish and Midshipmen was scheduled for Oct. 15, 1927 at the new Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.