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Throwback Thursday: 1966 Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Navy Midshipmen

The Phantom Speaks

Navy v Notre Dame
Navy vs. Notre Dame
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Navy Midshipmen head to Notre Dame this Saturday, November 16th, to battle the Notre Dame Fighting Irish for the 93rd time. The last time the two teams met they played in San Diego, Calif., and the Irish won 44-22. (Did you know that Notre Dame has never played a game at the Naval Academy’s home field in Annapolis? ... I digress.) In that game the Irish racked up 584 yards of total offense (330 passing, 254 rushing) and quarterback Ian Book completed 27-of-33 passes for a then-career-high 330 yards. The first time the two teams played was in 1927, and Notre Dame traveled to Baltimore, Md. to face the Midshipmen. Next year when the two teams meet, they will travel to Ireland to play at Aviva Stadium.

This week I’m going to throwback to another game from the 1966 season. Last week I wrote about the 1966 Notre Dame vs. Duke game, and this week I’m writing about when the Fighting Irish traveled to Philadelphia in 1966 to play the Midshipmen at John F. Kennedy Stadium. The Irish were rich with talent that year and definitely kept the Midshipmen defense on the run, however it wasn’t a boring game by any stretch of the imagination. As described by Tom Lynch (captain of the undefeated Navy team which went to the Cotton Bowl in 1963, and also the brother of Jimmy Lynch, Notre Dame’s 1966 defensive captain), “I never saw a Navy team play so well and so hard and yet lose by so much.”

The Middies did walk away with a bit of satisfaction on the day after snapping Notre Dame’s shutout record of three straight games, on of all things a blocked punt. It happened in the fourth quarter, when the Irish were up 24-0. The Midshipmen ganged up on backup punter, Bob Gladieux. Leading the charge was Jim Goebel, who deflected the ball back to the goal line, and Jon Bergner fell on it for the score.

Notre Dame managed to score 31 points against Navy that day, even without their star end, Jim Seymour. “Hanratty went over for two touchdowns. Larry Conjar and Gladieux scored once each after Joe Azarro started the point production with a 42-yard field goal in the first period. He also kicked the four extra points.” (1966 Football Review)

When interviewed after the game, Notre Dame’s head coach, Ara Parseghian, credited his defense for the victory. “It was a superb defensive game,” he said. “Navy was juiced up and they had us off balance the first half with those gambling defenses. We changed some at the half and got the ground game going. The only thing that disappointed us was not getting our fourth shutout in a row.”

During each week of that 1966 football season, the coaches made up a game board. On the board were photos of that week’s opponents, and their strengths and weaknesses. And, on one day of each week, a sheet was tacked to the board entitled, “The Phantom Speaks.” Which coach wrote “The Phantom” message? No player knew. It was written in harsh exclamation marks, and in each week’s preparation it formed one level of the team’s readiness. Here’s what “The Phantom” wrote for Notre Dame vs. Navy 1966:

Fifty percent of your season is over. You are now No. 1 in the country. The five remaining teams will each week represent an aroused group to steal the mark you’ve made. If we can keep our heads, never feeling superior, still working to be so, if we can dedicate ourselves to each week’s opponent — as they come, we can be number one — all the way. This week — Navy!

Individually we are capable of being — common — very common. But coupled with team bonds, with common enthusiasm, with undying unity, and loyalty — no one can overcome us. Come on. Navy — take your pot-shot. They all want to!!

So ... how big do you think our margin of victory will be over Navy on Saturday?