[Because I don't have time to draft a new post on the Naval Academy this week, I'm reposting last year's comments on the history of the game - enjoy.]
This game has always been my favorite game to attend. Notre Dame is all but guaranteed to win, but the game is always hard-fought for 60 minutes and no matter the outcome, game day is imbued with a higher level of respect between opponents than any other games the Irish play.
The service academies always demand a certain level of respect, considering that the men that take that field are first soldiers, then students, and finally athletes.
But Notre Dame - Navy is more. For Notre Dame and Navy, this game has a much deeper historic meaning than other games.
From Navy's game notes for this week:
"Notre Dame and Navy first met on the football field in 1927, while Knute Rockne was the Irish head coach. But to truly understand the Notre Dame-Navy series requires a trip back to the 1940s, when Frank Leahy had the Irish on top of the football world.
"Leahy coached the Irish to a national championship in 1943, his third year as head coach, just before enlisting with the Navy to serve in World War II. Following the war, Leahy and the Irish picked up right where they had left off, going four entire seasons without a loss and claiming national championships in 1946, 1947 and 1949.
"But World War II cost Notre Dame a lot more than its talented head coach and a slew of players (including 1943 Heisman Trophy winner Angelo Bertelli). It virtually wiped out the small, all-male school. The University was having terrible financial problems, and as an all-male school with so many young men being drafted and going off to war, there was almost nobody left to attend the University.
"As part of the war effort, the Navy needed more officers than the Naval Academy was able to produce in a short period of time. So a decision was made to utilize a number of institutions across the nation in which young men would attend college and receive training to become officers. Notre Dame became the site for one such program. Not only did Notre Dame now have a much-needed influx of students preparing to become Naval officers, but the Navy also built a number of facilities on campus that served Notre Dame for years. It's safe to say that if it wasn't for the Navy and the Naval Academy, Notre Dame may not exist today."
Legend has it that, pursuant to the Naval Academy's assistance during World War II, Coach Frank Leahy and President John Cavanaugh agreed to play Navy in football any time they wanted, and sealed the deal with a handshake.
Prior to that agreement, Notre Dame had played Navy every year since 1927, and have continued ever since. The agreement is not legally binding, but the integrity of both schools is in many ways a more enduring bond than any contract.
The stark reality on the football field, however, is that Navy cannot compete with Notre Dame in the current college football landscape. The last time Navy beat the Irish was also the last time Navy fielded a Heisman trophy winner in Roger Staubach. The Naval Academy is simply not equipped to compete with the upper level competition in Division I-A, especially with the height/weight limits placed on the service academies. [END of last year's posting]
The ND-Navy game last year also was one of the most moving experiences I've experienced at Notre Dame stadium. After the game, Coach Weis directed the team to walk over and stand behind the Navy team at the end of the game - the entire stadium fell absolutely silent as the Naval band played "Navy Blue and Gold," the alma mater of the Naval Academy. The level of respect that this team has for the service academies is apparent not just during this kind of outward display, but also in the way the players treat each other on the field. Tom Zbikowski confirmed earlier this week that there is no trash-talking on the field when they play Navy. They play to win, but the understanding that these young men will not be playing football or taking cushy jobs, but will instead be laying their lives down for our protection, is displayed in things like a helping hand after the play, or a quick tap on the helmet congratulating the opponent after a good play.