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Irish players look forward to renewing historic rivalry with Midshipmen

| Friday, October 9, 2015

For the 89th consecutive year, No. 15 Notre Dame and Navy will meet on the gridiron in a rivalry that contains more respect than animosity.

“It’s a huge rivalry,” Irish junior linebacker Jaylon Smith said. “You have tons of respect for them. And it’s just anytime you get a chance to play against a great team like Navy, who represents something so much more than football, it’s just an honor to be a part of.”

“It’s a huge honor,” Irish graduate student cornerback Matthias Farley said. “It’s a lot different than any other game you play for a lot of reasons, the triple-option being one of them, but also these guys are playing football and preparing to go out and serve our country and protect our country.”

Although the two teams have played every year since 1926, the Irish (4-1) have traditionally dominated the Midshipmen (4-0, 2-0 AAC), leading the series by a margin of 75-12-1. That includes a 43-game winning streak from 1964 through 2006 before Navy pulled off a 46-44, triple-overtime victory in 2007.

But for the first time in series history, other than when the two teams met in Dublin at the beginning of the 2012 season, Saturday’s matchup is the first time neither team has more than one loss.

“[Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo has] developed not only his offense to the point where they compete nationally, but their defense as well has developed,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday. “It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top-25 team plays.”

Despite being an annual fixture since before the Great Depression, the series took on new meaning during World War II. With many college-aged students serving in the war overseas and Notre Dame struggling financially, the U.S. Navy made the University a training center, keeping it afloat.

The relationship went both ways, too, as many Notre Dame students, including 1947 Heisman Trophy winner John Lujack, served in the Navy during the war.

Irish players acknowledged the tough schedule the Academy’s midshipmen, including the football players, have every day.

“They have football and the Naval Academy,” senior defensive lineman Sheldon Day said. “We have respect for the grind they go through.”

“To them, probably [football’s] an outlet to get away,” Irish graduate student offensive lineman Nick Martin said. “Obviously what they do is unbelievable, and the respect we have for them is the utmost.”

“They’re a tough team, and they always play hard,” said junior receiver Corey Robinson, whose father, David, attended the Naval Academy. “Those guys are crazy. I thought I was busy, right? Those guys are busy. I don’t even know how they sleep. Everything they do, they demand excellence in.”

Even University President Emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh dreamed of serving as a Navy chaplain in World War II. Hesburgh, in an interview in 2013, said there was never a formal document or agreement signed saying the two sides should play every year.

“It just happened — it’s one of those unspoken traditions,” Hesburgh said. “I think myself and the guys who came before and after me as president never had the slightest doubt that they ought to keep playing Navy.”

While Navy is not considered a traditional powerhouse by any stretch of the imagination, the Irish all agree the Midshipmen will give Notre Dame all it can handle Saturday afternoon.

“It’s hard to put into words,” Martin said. “It’s a fun game. It’s an all-out war, it’s a battle up front. Always is. You have two teams that are going to fight to the finish each play. It’s fun.”

The last time the Irish welcomed Navy to Notre Dame Stadium, the game featured a fly-over by the Blue Angels, the first appearance by the elite fighter group since the government restarted after its shutdown that summer.

This week the respect the game has on both sides will be visually represented by both coaching staffs wearing the same outfits, and players for both teams will don the same gloves, cleats and undershirts.

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About Zach Klonsinski

A History graduate, Zach spent all four of his years on campus as a resident of Knott Hall. Hailing from Belgrade, Montana, he covered a wide variety of sports in his time at Notre Dame, including Football, Hockey, Men's Basketball, Men's Soccer, Women's Tennis, Fencing, Rowing, Women's Lacrosse and other events around campus. You can contact him in his post-graduation travels and job search at [email protected]

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