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Throwback Thursday: Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Navy Midshipmen

Go Irish! Sink Navy!

Navy v Notre Dame Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Remember how I told you that the Notre Dame vs. Pitt rivalry was a family rivalry for me? Well, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Navy Midshipmen rivalry kind of is, too. My dad is a graduate of Notre Dame, class of 1965, and he was in the Navy ROTC program while he was a student at Notre Dame. He aspired to fly fighter planes for the Navy, and so for the summer between his Junior and Senior years at Notre Dame, he flew planes down in Pensacola. But, similar to Maverick in the movie Top Gun, he buzzed the tower a few too many times, and so they reassigned him into a nuclear submarine. In reality, he was always destined to be in a submarine. Admiral Rickover had his sights on my dad, from high school all the way through Notre Dame, but the Navy needed some reason to bump him out of a plane and into a sub.

I will share with you my favorite Notre Dame vs. Navy match-up in just a second, but first I want to tell you why this rivalry means so much to me. The Notre Dame vs. Navy rivalry is one of my favorites, not only because of my family’s connection to the Navy, but because of Notre Dame’s connection to the Navy as well. Notre Dame’s relationship with the Navy began in 1927 and was strengthened when University President Hugh O’Donnell “offered all of the facilities of this institution to the government.”

In 1941, the population at Notre Dame was a robust 3,200 students, but in December, the course of the nation was changed, and the effect of the war was greatly felt at Notre Dame. The all-male student body began heading off to the war, and within one month the student body population had dwindled to 750 students. In addition to that, University donors began redirecting their donations to fund the war, and so the University soon was in financial trouble. With no income and expenses still coming in, the University was faced with the possibility that they’d soon have to close their doors.

President O’Donnell reached out to the Navy, explaining the University’s current situation and requested aid, and in return the War Department began a 5-year rescue effort that kept the University afloat, and secured a long term relationship between Notre Dame and the Navy.

From Notre Dame Archives, in April of 1943 the V-7 Indoctrination School was created and the first group of 900 men, all college graduates enlisted for one month as apprentice seamen. [PNDP 30-Mi-02; “Notre Dame’s Naval ROTC Unit,” Notre Dame, Fall 1959]. The relationship with the Navy helped to sustain Notre Dame at a time that was economically dire for the entire country.

Naval training units in ranks on South Quad during World War II
University of Notre Dame Archive

Another reason why I love this rivalry so much? I’m sure you watched A Season With: Notre Dame Football on Showtime. But did you watch it when they followed Navy? Just like Notre Dame, they run their program the right way. Those young men have to balance football, academics, and drill on top of that. I already was proud, but ... I could not be more proud of the young men who serve our country after watching that show. I love Notre Dame, but the Navy and the Naval academy will always have a special place in my heart. Check it out, if you haven’t watched it yet.

There have been so many great Notre Dame vs. Navy match-ups over the years, but it is pretty easy for me to pick my favorite one. Notre Dame vs. Navy, 1964, Huarte vs. Staubach, (in Philadelphia). It was my dad’s senior year at Notre Dame, and Coach Ara Parseghian’s first year as Notre Dame’s head coach. It was an epic battle between two Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks, (Staubach in 1963, and Huarte in 1964). How can you not love this game? Featuring one of my favorite pass-catch duos ... ‘Huarte to Snow!’ This win launched a 43-game win streak for Notre Dame over Navy, and the Irish shut out Navy 40-0.

One last thing that I love about the Notre Dame vs. Navy rivalry ... how the players from the two teams stand side-by-side as each school sings their alma mater. If you’ve never seen it before, skip forward about one minute into this video and watch; it truly brings tears to my eyes. I know people don’t think this rivalry should continue, but it think it’s the most important one of them all. Go Irish! Anchors Aweigh!

So, what’s your favorite Notre Dame vs. Navy memory? Do you think we’ll be victorious this Saturday? I guess only time will tell.

Cheers & GO IRISH!