Oct. 27, 2011

By Lou Somogyi, Blue & Gold Illustrated

The news item this July 26 was brief and taken for granted, similar to the sun rising from the east. On that day it was announced that the University of Notre Dame and the Naval Academy added a 10-year extension to their football series that will take them through 2026.

Perhaps not coincidentally, 2026 will mark the 100th consecutive season the two programs will meet on the gridiron.

“Continuing this traditional and classic rivalry for years to come has always been a priority for both schools,” Navy athletics director Chet Gladchuk says.

His counterpart at Notre Dame, Jack Swarbrick, echoed the sentiment of not interrupting the series.

“When we’ve looked at future football schedules for Notre Dame, Navy has always been one of the opponents immediately penciled in — and this ensures that will be the case for yet another 10 years to come,” Swarbrick notes.

Since their first clash on Oct. 15, 1927 in Baltimore, the Irish and Midshipmen have annually met in a variety of the top venues in the East and Midwest.

The year after their maiden voyage in the series, the two programs squared off on Oct. 13, 1928, in Chicago’s Solider Field in front of an estimated overflow of 120,000 spectators, although the paid attendance was listed officially at 103,081.

In 1930, Navy was selected as the dedication game for the opening of Notre Dame Stadium, and Admiral S.S. Robinson spoke during the preceding night’s ceremonies.

Other than a 1937 meeting in Notre Dame Stadium, from 1931-52 the two schools alternated playing either in Baltimore or Cleveland.

By 1953, it was agreed that the Midshipmen would visit Notre Dame Stadium every other year, while from 1960-74 Philadelphia replaced Baltimore as the new neutral Navy road venue in the series.

After a return to Cleveland in 1976 and 1978, Giants Stadium in New Jersey became the road arena from 1980-92.

One more trip to Philadelphia was made in 1993 before returning to Baltimore and eventually the New Giants Stadium in 2010.

Oh, and of course there was the trip to Ireland for their 1996 meeting, which will be repeated for the Sept. 1, 2012 opener.

Why such a committed and unceasing rivalry, especially when Notre Dame won 43 straight games versus Navy from 1964-2006, an NCAA record against one opponent?

The answer harkens back to another July day, way back in 1943.

Navy Saves Irish From Sinking

While World War II raged in Europe during the early 1940s, it was becoming evident that the United States isolationist policy from entering the war would be in jeopardy.

In need of better cash flow as a private school, Notre Dame president Rev. Hugh O’Donnell offered the school’s facilities to the armed forces as a training ground. During World War I (1914-18), the Army operated a Students Army Training Corps (SATC) program on the Notre Dame campus. This combined military training for students who also were majoring in their college courses.

However, in the early 1940s, the Army did not respond to O’Donnell’s invitation — but the Navy did. In Sept. 1941, it established the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) where approximately 150 Notre Dame students per year enrolled.

In early 1942, Notre Dame turned over four of its resident halls on the South Quad — Badin, Howard, Lyons and Morrissey — to the Navy for its V-7 program, which also was known as the Midshipmen’s School.

During that transformation, the Navy constructed a drill hall and a headquarters/classroom building on the north side of the campus — where today’s Hesburgh Memorial Library with the “Touchdown Jesus” mural is located. (It was dedicated in 1962, after the Navy drill hall had been razzed after 19 years of standing.)

With the United States fully engaged in World War II by 1943, the Navy needed more men to serve and it again teamed with Notre Dame to form the V-12 program.

On July 1, 1943, Notre Dame welcomed 1,851 active-duty trainees — the largest of its kind in the country — to the campus. By comparison, Notre Dame’s civilian student enrollment was merely 700. Thus, five more resident halls were opened to the sailors: Alumni, Dillon and Walsh on the South Quad, and Cavanaugh and Zahm on the North Quad.

The V-12 men were scattered throughout Notre Dame’s five colleges, attended classes with the civilian students, were granted regular academic credit and, in contrast to the NROTC and the Midshipman’s School, were taught by the regular faculty.

“We were out of business during World War II,” notes 1952-87 Notre Dame president Rev. Theodore Hesburgh in a 1992 interview with the South Bend Tribune. “Navy came in and kept us afloat until the war was over.”

Hesburgh vowed that under his watch the football series between the two schools would be kept as long as Navy wanted it continued.

To this day, Navy has never wanted to back out.

Aiding Football

The V-12 program helped play a monumental role toward Notre Dame’s 1943 run to the national title in football, and it occurred while playing perhaps the most difficult schedule in school history, if not NCAA annals. Its benefits were two-fold. One, most of Notre Dame’s undergraduate football players could remain in school to partake in the V-12 program before serving in World War II. Second, its presence on the Notre Dame campus brought in other prospects from school without V-12 programs.

* The 1943 Irish team included 14 Navy apprentice seamen, most notably sophomore quarterback John Lujack, who would win the 1947 Heisman Trophy after helping steer the Irish to a third national title under his watch. Other seamen on the Irish roster included powerful lineman/left tackle Jim White — who finished 9th in the 1943 Heisman balloting — and starters such as left end Paul Limont, center Herb Coleman and his backup Frank Szymanski, plus fullback Jim Mello.

* There were 12 transfers who were part of the Marine branch of the V-12. Among them was starting right halfback Julius Rykovich, who after the War would transfer and star at the University of Illinois before going on to an eight-year NFL career.

* Notre Dame had 17 Marine privates, among them future College Football Hall of Fame inductees Ziggy Czarobski at right tackle, All-American right end John Yonakor, starting left guard Pat Filley and, of course, 1943 Heisman Trophy winner Angelo Bertelli at quarterback.

On Nov. 1 that season, after leading Notre Dame to a 6-0 record, Bertelli departed for officer’s training school in Parris Island, S.C. Lujack filled in more than capably to finish the national title run.

There also was one NROTC man, Jack Zilly, who would later serve as an Irish assistant coach from 1956-58.

In 1943, Notre Dame defeated the teams that finished No. 2 (Iowa Pre-Flight, a semi-pro World War II outfit), No. 3 (Michigan) and No. 4 — none other than the Naval Academy located in Annapolis, Md.

There are only two college football teams in history to defeat the teams that were the final Nos. 2-3-4 in one season: 1943 Notre Dame and 1971 Nebraska.

Furthermore, the 1943 Irish vanquished the teams that finished No. 9 (Northwestern), No. 11 (Army) and No. 13 (Georgia Tech). Beating six teams that placed in the final AP Top 13 might never again be replicated in college football.

The 9-1 season concluded with a 19-14 defeat to the Great Lakes Bluejackets, on a “Hail Mary” touchdown pass — the one way any school named after Our Lady should never lose — with 33 seconds remaining. Great Lakes, which finished No. 6, also was a semi-pro operation during the war years comprised of seamen (hence Bluejackets) that included future 1946-49 Notre Dame leading rusher Emil “Six Yard” Sitko, another member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

After the 1943 season, Notre Dame head coach Frank Leahy and his entire staff volunteered for active duty in World War II. They joined — what else? — the Navy.


When Leahy, Lujack, Czarobski and many others returned to the Notre Dame football field in 1946, after the end of War World II, the greatest four-year dynasty in college football history was established with a 36-0-2 record and three consensus national titles.

During that time, many schools, including Army after the 1947 season, dropped off the Irish schedule. Navy always remained despite having to persevere through its own tough times.

From 1946-55, Notre Dame defeated Navy all 10 seasons by an average of 22 points. Yet even in the throes of one of its worst seasons, a 1-8 record in 1946, Navy gave one more assist to Notre Dame’s football cause one year after WWII. On the final day of the regular season (Nov. 30), Navy took No. 1 Army to the wire before losing 21-18 when time ran out while the Midshipmen were a couple of yards short of the Black Knights’ goal line.

That close result prompted the AP poll to move No. 2 Notre Dame — which had the famous 0-0 tie with Army that season but was also a 28-0 victor against Navy — to the top spot and the national title.

During Notre Dame’s darkest days of football — a 34-45 ledger from 1956-63 — Navy won five of the eight meetings while producing Heisman Trophy winners Joe Bellino (1960) at running back and Roger Staubach (1963) at quarterback.

Those smooth sailing days ended with the arrival of Ara Parseghian as Notre Dame’s head coach in 1964 and the aforementioned 43-game Irish winning streak that ensued. Like all streaks, it finally ended in 2007, and Navy since has won three of the last four encounters.

Nevertheless, one streak that continues to remain safe as ever is the ties that bond Notre Dame and Navy forever.