The loudest silence
Observer Viewpoint | Monday, November 14, 2005
It was another Notre Dame-Navy game this past weekend, an affair that these days seems to be as fresh as Grandma’s ubiquitous fruitcake. We all know the routine; these two teams face each other, Notre Dame wins, Navy loses, dance a jig, yadda yadda yadda. It’s been that way for 42 years now, and Saturday’s game was no different. Save a 7-7 tie in the beginning of the game, the Irish had their way with Navy, to the tune of a 42-21 final score. The weather was beautiful, the team looked great, and the home crowd at Notre Dame Stadium had plenty to cheer about on Saturday.
However, the most impressive event in that stadium was when 80,795 people did no cheering at all. No yelling, no talking, not even an odd sneeze. Dead silence. That’s what the Navy band received at the end of the game while they played their alma mater.
Well, it wasn’t entirely silent where I was standing for the game. Just a few rows behind me, a couple Knievelesque Navy fans had made it into the student section with the help of some erroneous ticket booklets and a Notre Dame senior. And while Navy played their alma mater, one of their fans sang along. An opposing student, singing his alma mater in our student section. Surely he must have a death wish. But on this day, no jeers, insults, or contentious voices were heard; thousands of opposing fans simply listened as a solitary voice in a crowd of thousands rang out and sang for the Navy Blue and Gold. That silence, that voice and the goose bumps on my arm after it was all said and done is what makes this rivalry special.
It’s easy to overlook the annual Notre Dame-Navy game. When one team wins 42 times in a row, there’s not a whole lot of drama reserved for the football field. However, this historic match-up goes far beyond anything that could happen between the sidelines. The game is more of a ritual than anything else, an opportunity for each team to show their respect for the other. Notre Dame is forever grateful to Navy for supporting the University through tough times during World War II, and the Irish pay back the Middies by playing them year in, and year out. It’s our way of saying “thanks” for something done half a century ago, and playing the game is all that matters, not who wins or loses. Of course, that’s easy to say when you’re on the winning end of 42 years of games, but I digress.
Remember when we were looking for a football coach, seemingly eons ago? One of the things that is always listed in the job requirements is a guy who gets Notre Dame. He has to get “it.” Notre Dame may not be able to describe in words what “it” is, but the coach has got to have “it.” If people weren’t convinced yet, the end of Saturday’s game proved Charlie Weis has “it” coming out of his ears. After convincingly crushing the opponent, Charlie led the team over to Navy’s corner of the field to sing their alma mater. Just minutes before, these two teams walked on that grass as dire enemies, but now they walked across as one. Hopefully next year Charlie can show Michigan State how a real team celebrates a victory.
With no time left on the clock and the outcome decided, this respectful gesture wasn’t about Navy’s football team; it was about Navy. It was a sobering reminder that what we just poured all of our energy into was just a game. Many times that’s easy to forget at Notre Dame, where football lies in the hierarchy of priorities somewhere between inhaling and exhaling. While we can spend countless hours worrying about Sagarin rankings, passing efficiency, and Mark May, Navy has bigger fish to fry. We may claim that we must protect this house, but Navy must protect something way bigger.
Sure, the last time Navy beat us, the twinkles in our parents’ eyes weren’t even us, but rather a Barbie Doll or a G.I. Joe. And sure, with Charlie at the helm, a loss to Navy doesn’t seem forthcoming in the near future. Lee Corso will never come to a Notre Dame-Navy game. Nonetheless, I know I’ll be looking forward to this matchup for years to come. I’ll look forward to being able to cheer for everybody, clap for both fight songs, and enjoy a game for what it is, a game. Thank you, Notre Dame football players, for showing respect to an opponent who rightfully deserves it. Thank you, Charlie, for leading the team in that gesture. But most of all, thank you, Navy, for nothing football-related whatsoever.
Peter Schroeder is a senior English major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hopes you’re having a good day.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.