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.
That was the same year Charles Lindbergh flew from Long Island to Paris and Babe Ruth belted a record 60 home runs for the New York Yankees.
Navy led, 6-0 at halftime but Notre Dame rallied for a 19-6 victory. The trophy for winning that game still resides in the Rockne Memorial Building.
In 1928, the ND-Navy game drew a crowd of 120,000 to Soldier Field.
Navy joins Purdue, Michigan State and Southern California as the most traditional Irish rivals over the last half century.
Notre Dame defeated Navy 43 straight times before the Middies captured a 46-44, triple-overtime sizzler at South Bend in 2007.
Before that, Navy’s last win over the Irish was 35-14 in 1963 with Roger Staubach at quarterback. That was 20 days before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
It has technically been a home-and-home series with Navy hosting games at such sites as Baltimore, Washington, New York, Philadelphia and Cleveland.
Father Hesburgh, while enjoying Notre Dame’s success on the gridiron, also had great admiration for the Navy program and academy.
He once remarked during a halftime interview, “I would like to see Navy win this game some year, but I don’t mean today.”
Rick Mirer, 1989 Goshen High School graduate and three-year starting quarterback at Notre Dame, enjoyed some of his better passing performances against Navy.
As a sophomore, Mirer guided the Irish to a 52-31 victory at East Rutherford, N.J., by completing 12 of 20 throws for 265 yards and one touchdown.
That victory temporarily vaulted Notre Dame into the No. 1 ranking for the nation, but the Irish were derailed a couple weeks later by Penn State.
Mirer passed for a career-high 303 yards against the Midshipmen in a home game his junior year. He was 17-of-23 and threw for three scores as ND won, 38-0, on a bitterly-cold late afternoon.
In his senior year, Mirer was 15-of-24 against Navy for 221 yards and two TDs as the Irish notched a 38-7 triumph at East Rutherford.
That made Mirer 44 of 67 in three years against the Middies for 789 yards and six touchdowns with the Irish having a 128-38 scoring advantage.
Contact former Goshen News sports editor Stu Swartz at firstname.lastname@example.org.