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Irish-Navy ties run deep

Justin Tardiff | Friday, November 11, 2005

Saturday’s home football game against the U.S. Naval Academy will continue one of the longest-running college football rivalries in the nation, one that began in 1927 and initiated a tradition that lives on via annual matchups.

But these two respected institutions share much more than a yearly football game.

One look around Notre Dame’s campus will reveal its deep ties to the U.S. Navy. The Rockne Memorial bears the seal of the Naval Academy – along with that of West Point – to commemorate the great rivalries that existed between the three powerhouses during the Knute Rockne era.

A pair of Navy-Notre Dame football tickets is buried in the cornerstone of the Rockne Memorial, and the campus power plant still uses two World War II era diesel generators from Navy submarines.

The rivalry dates back to 1913, when a fortunate opening in Army’s schedule allowed the Irish to play their first big game against a national football giant. Notre Dame’s impressive win led to an annual meeting between the two teams.

In 1926, Rockne’s Irish dropped only one game in an unlikely loss to Carnegie Tech – but Rockne was not present at that game. Instead, he was in Chicago watching Navy win the national championship over Army and setting his sights on challenging the new heavyweight.

That spring, the Naval Academy invited Rockne to be the keynote speaker at its annual N Club dinner, thus melding the two schools’ desires play each other.

On Oct. 15, 1927, the Irish defeated the defending national champions and took home the Stadium Football Trophy made especially for the highly touted match. The trophy still proudly sits on display in the trophy case in the Rockne Memorial.

In 1930, Notre Dame invited Navy to be its opponent in the game marking the formal dedication of Notre Dame Stadium.

But with the outbreak of World War II, Notre Dame’s football field was used for marching to military drills as often as it was for marching “onward to victory.” In 1943, enrollment plummeted to the same levels experienced at the height of the Great Depression – a 20 percent decline since 1940.

The Naval Academy was unable to meet the rising demand for educated officers during the war and established one of the first Naval ROTC (NROTC) programs in the nation at Notre Dame in 1941.

Between 1942 and 1946, approximately 12,000 officers completed their training at Notre Dame and served overseas. Civilian students agreed to double-bunk in already cramped dorm rooms to make room for the influx of officer candidates.

The tradition of training naval officers has remained constant over the years at Notre Dame.

“Other than the Naval Academy, Notre Dame has commissioned more officers in the Navy than any other school,” said Commander Jeff Morris, executive officer of NROTC. “That’s a proud accomplishment and a long legacy of academic and professional achievement.”

Junior NROTC student Victoria Danielsky said Notre Dame primes officers with campus values.

“Notre Dame has a history of excellence not only with academia and athletics, but of producing Naval Officers with high morals, discipline, intelligence and athleticism,” she said.

Due to the needed help during war years and strong tradition of naval training at Notre Dame since, the Irish agreed to play Navy every year both teams desired to meet. Even though the current overall record favors Notre Dame, and the most recent Navy victory came in 1963, the traditional game remains one of the most anticipated of the season.

“Tradition is very strong at both schools and part of that tradition includes playing football against each other every year,” Morris said. “That alone should be enough reason to continue the series.”

Andrew Todd-Smith, former Notre Dame student and aviation electrician mate E3 airman in the U.S. Navy, said the rivalry is rooted in respect.

“Lots of current football rivalries are all about screaming for blood and hating the other team,” he said. “But Notre Dame and Navy are so classy that this can be a fun rivalry based on mutual respect.”

Neither side is afraid of a little friendly competition, however.

When asked which team he would root for on Saturday, Todd-Smith said there was no question – “Irish blood is thicker than seawater.”

“The long-standing military relationship between the Navy and Notre Dame as well as the long rivalry between the two football teams leads to a mutual respect between these two schools closely comparable to the respect we have for other service academies,” said Naval Academy junior Austin Spina, who attended previous games in Notre Dame Stadium.

NROTC junior Patrick Maus went to Navy for the game last year.

“The fans at the Navy game are always great,” he said. “I painted up for both games so far because the Notre Dame-Navy game is always big and our traditions go back so far.”

Come Saturday, ties between the Naval Academy and Notre Dame will be as apparent as ever, as two Notre Dame alumni will fly Navy F/A 18F Super Hornets over Notre Dame Stadium prior to kickoff. Additionally, the Notre Dame and Naval Academy glee clubs will perform a joint concert after the game.